Green Holidays

By Javier Sierra

The best presents are those we give to others. Nothing can compare with the satisfaction we draw from seeing our loved ones’ faces when we give them something from the bottom of our heart.

This holiday season, I wish to offer you a few suggestions that will not only cost you little or nothing but, at the same time, will be presents for the future of your children and grandchildren.

These are presents that won’t require you to go shopping, to tear wrapping paper or to untie bows. These are unselfish acts that will eventually benefit all of us. Let’s call it “Green Holidays,” a series of tips to celebrate the holidays in harmony with nature and respectful of our precious natural resources.

Let’s start with something as simple as wrapping paper. Most conventional wrapping paper is not recyclable and ends up in a landfill. Instead, use old maps, the comics section of your newspaper or a drawing done by your child. If every family in the U.S. wrapped just three presents this way, we all would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields and save whole forests.

And speaking of trees, if you decide to buy a Christmas tree and not use a live one, make sure it was grown without pesticides. Some producers use 40 different pesticides as well as chemical colorants. There are organic alternatives that allow trees to grow in a natural way. To find an organic producer close to you, visit

And once the holidays are over, recycle your tree. Each year, 10 million of them end up in landfills. It’s true it’s more complicated to recycle a tree than a bottle or a can. But many cities provide collection services to turn the tree into mulch or wood chips. Call tool free 800-CLEANUP or visit to find out about recycling programs in your community.

And to compensate, plant a tree and turn this into a family outing, especially for the children. Teach them that protecting our forests, the lungs of our planet, is protecting the air we breathe. Abusive agricultural practices and rampant clear-cutting have eliminated 90 percent of the U.S. native forests. Planting one tree is following the Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Another bright idea is to replace your regular light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. By installing only six of these light bulbs in the house, an average family can save $60 a year on their utility bill. To see more home efficient tips that benefit your wallet and the environment, visit

Make these holidays even brighter by getting LED Christmas lights, which use 90 percent less energy than conventional ones and can save you up to $50 during the holidays. These lights are available at most major retailers.

Do the planet a favor, and indulge your taste buds in the process, by buying organic foods, such as meat and vegetables. These products, raised or grown in a sustainable way, are also much tastier. A good place to get them is your local farmers’ market. Non-organic meat almost always comes from factory farms, where all too often animals and workers are treated equally poorly. Likewise, chances are that non-organic produce comes from growers that overuse pesticides and therefore abuse the farm workers that tend the fields.

Is there a cell phone on your wish list? If so, do not throw the old one away. Recycle it. Each year, we discard 130 million cell phones, which weigh 65,000 tons, including toxic compounds such as mercury, cadmium and lead, which poison our soil and our water. You can recycle your cell phone by taking it to your nearest Staples as part of the Sierra Club recycling program.

And finally, during these holidays when we visit so many friends and relatives, make sure your car is tuned up and that the tires are correctly inflated. This will save you money at the gas pump. In any instance, if at all possible, use public transportation, bike or simply walk.

Have very happy and green holidays.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.