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Stave off holiday excess by ‘greening the holidays’ this season

Posted by on Thursday, November 15, 2012 in Energy, News, Transportation, Waste & Recycling.

The holiday season is traditionally a time of plenty, but it also can be a time of excess. The average American household generates 25 percent more trash during this time of year – including, in some cases, those freezer-burnt holiday leftovers nobody got around to eating. Add in all the energy use from extra travel and hospitality, and the last six weeks of the year can have quite an impact on our natural resources.

Vanderbilt’s Sustainability and Environment Management Office has put together a list of 15 actions everyone can take to reduce holiday waste and make the season a little greener. For more information on how to have a sustainable holiday season, visit SEMO’s Holiday Greening Guide.


  • Serve meat and vegetables that are locally and sustainably grown. Visit your local farmers’ market to get fresh breads and more for your holiday feast.
  • Consider serving less meat and more vegetables. Meat requires more resources to produce than veggies, and the holidays are the perfect time to explore new vegetable dishes, casseroles and more.
  • Reduce the amount of food you cook to minimize food waste, or research recipes for leftovers and plan a post-holiday brunch or lunch. You’ll get two meals for the price of one.

Travel and entertaining

  • Carpool, encourage guests to carpool, and offset the carbon footprint of any air travel at, or
  • Turn your thermostat down when you are traveling or having a party—extra guests generate more heat.
  • Send e-cards and e-vites or make holiday phone calls instead of mailing paper greetings and invitations.
  • Use reusable, recyclable and/or recycled plates, napkins and utensils.
  • Provide recycling containers for your guests. Recruit the children to collect and sort items.


  • Purchase a live tree with a rootball and replant it after the holidays, if you can. Or recycle your tree into mulch—many cities and towns offer chipper service after the holidays.
  • Swap ornaments and decorations with friends instead of buying new ones.
  • Decorate using items you already have or items that can be reused and enjoyed after your event, such as whole fruit, small plants, herbs and pinecones.
  • Decorate with fewer lights—consider alternatives like popcorn strings.
  • Put your holiday lights on a timer. If you purchase new lights, choose LED lights, which use less energy.


  • Consolidate shopping trips, carpool with friends and family, or utilize public transportation to save time, gas and hassle and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Give gifts that require minimal packaging or wrapping—tickets, gift cards, charitable contributions or even just the gift of your time. Consider wrapping gifts in packaging that can be reused, such as baskets, bags or fabric, or use wrapping made from recycled materials, such as newspaper, butcher paper or bags from past years’ holidays.

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