by Alicia Pimental
December 03, 2009
This time of year, everyone’s minds turn to giving and spreading holiday cheer. But how much are you giving back to the environment in the process? Read our tips on the 12 ways to help the Bay during the holidays.
- Use reusable flatware and silverware for holiday meals. Disposable plates and forks may seem like a great idea when you think about the time and energy it will save doing dishes. But it’s not the best option for the environment. The less waste you generate, the less trash will end up in our landfills. Instead of using disposable items, use reusable dinnerware and only run your dishwasher when it is full. If you don’t have enough supplies to serve all your guests, encourage them to bring their own!
- Don’t dump used cooking oil or grease down your drain. Fats, oils and grease can clog sewer pipes, resulting in costly spills and backups that can harm local waterways. Instead of pouring oils and grease down the drain, pour them into a container and allow them to harden, and then throw the container in the trash. Alternatively, some landfills will accept used cooking oil for recycling; search for facilities in your area at Earth911.org.
- Save a shopping bag. While you’re out doing your holiday shopping – whether it’s for gifts or preparations for a holiday feast – be sure to bring your own reusable shopping bags. Many stores will give you a discount for using your own bags (Target, for example, will take 5 cents off your total for each bag you provide) and reusable bags usually hold more items than any plastic store-provided bag would. Save yourself the hassle of juggling loads of disposable bags and help to reduce trash in our landfills and along our roadsides at the same time.
- Invest in “green” Christmas lights. Did you know that LED lights use 80 to 90 percent less energy than regular Christmas lights? They also last significantly longer – up to 200,000 hours as compared to the 2,000 hours you get with traditional lights. They may cost a little bit more initially, but the savings in the long run will add up. If you don’t want to make the investment in LED lights, you can simply reduce the amount of time you have your Christmas lights on. Cutting down on your electricity use reduces the amount of energy generated by power plants, which lessens emissions of harmful pollutants that can enter our streams, rivers and the Bay.
- Send cards via e-mail. Many people savor the time when they receive handwritten cards delivered to them in the mail. But what happens to all of those cards? Most probably end up in a landfill, though some go to a recycling center. This year, consider sending holiday greetings via e-mail to cut back on the waste you generate. And for the cards you receive? Try recycling them in creative ways: make ornaments for next year or fashion your own gift tags for the future. Cutting back on waste any way you can will help reduce energy, save landfill space and protect our waterways.
- Give the Gift of Trees. If you live in Maryland, help the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reach its goal of having 50,000 native trees planted around the state by giving a tree in the name of a loved one. You can order the trees online or through the mail. The recipient will get a certificate notifying them of your gift. Trees are $40 each. If you give 10 trees, you can decide where you would like the grove to be planted. DNR has already registered more than 20,000 trees this year, which will help to reduce erosion and prevent pollution throughout the state.
- Buy yourself an energy-efficient gift. If you’ve been holding out on purchasing a new washer or dryer, now might be the time to do it. If you invest in an energy-efficient appliance this time of year, you’ll not only find some great sale prices, but you’ll also save money in the future. Energy Star-rated appliances can save you significant amounts of money on monthly electric and water bills, and you may be eligible for a tax credit. So go ahead and buy yourself that dream appliance! By conserving energy and water, you’ll save quite a bit of green by going green.
- Wrap your presents the green way. Think about how much wrapping paper, tissue paper and cardboard goes to waste each year around the holidays. After the presents are ripped open, most of the paper goes in the trash. This year, consider traveling down a greener path. Use recycled wrapping paper, or for a more personal touch, make your own creative wrapping paper out of newspaper and magazines. You can also give a gift in a reusable shopping bag and recycle the remnants of a wonderful day of gift-giving on a shopping trip with family and friends!
- Spread the word. Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is knowledge. During the holidays and all throughout the year, inform your friends and family about the issues facing the Chesapeake Bay and the ways they can help it. You don’t have to get up on a soapbox and lobby for the cause, but if you can give a party host or hostess a suggestion about how to make their occasion a little more eco-friendly, go for it!
- Give to charity. If you’re just not sure what to buy someone, why not make a donation to a charity? Charities are expecting to take a big hit this year due to the state of the economy. Giving to charity is one of the most eco-friendly gift options, since there is no waste created by making a donation in someone’s name. If the charity you choose works toward conservation, you’re making double the impact.
- Properly dispose of your old electronics. If you receive a new cell phone, TV, or video game system as a gift this year, make sure you properly dispose of your outdated products. Donating items to charity is always an option, but if you just want to get rid of it, think twice before throwing it out with the rest of your trash. Many electronics contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to fish and humans if they find their way into the Bay or a local waterway. Find a proper electronics recycling facility near you at Earth911.org. Also, some retailers may take trade-ins or have their own electronics recycling programs.
- Recycle your Christmas tree. When the holiday season is over and you’re cleaning up the house, make sure to dispose of your Christmas tree the Bay-friendly way. Instead of throwing it out with the trash, take it to be recycled. Christmas trees can often be chipped into mulch, thus reducing the amount of Christmas trees that end up in landfills. Go to Earth911.org to find a Christmas tree recycler near you.
Remember, everything we do as residents of the Bay watershed has an effect on our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Every bit of waste we create, as well as the water and electricity we use, requires energy to treat and creates contaminants that could flow to the Bay via our local streams and creeks.
So while you’re appreciating all the things in your life you have to be thankful for this time of year, make sure you take a minute to reflect on the Bay we so often take advantage of and figure out a way to reduce the footprint you leave behind.