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November 22, 2010

Tips for "Greening" Your Holiday Season

The Environmental Stewardship Committee at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has some tips for everyone who wants to help the environment by conserving resources. “One of the best ways to take good care of the environment is to buy less or at least buy products that are environmentally friendly,” said Cindy Parker, MD, MPH, assistant professor and co-chair of the School’s Environmental Stewardship Committee with Jessica Castro.

Gift Ideas

  • Give recycled gifts such as antiques, family heirlooms, or pre-owned items, or something of yours.
  • Make edible gifts such as breads, cookies, dried fruits, or nuts. Package them in reusable tins, baskets, jars, or decorative bags or boxes. Sew, knit, or paint a homemade gift. Record a personal message for family and friends. Write a poem, sing a song, or arrange an outing.
  • For kids, consider giving an environmental excursion, such as whale-watching or camping trips or make a gift to charity in a loved one's name.
  • Give non-material gifts such as tickets to an event, dance lessons, spa visit, or membership to a museum or gym. Offer your time for babysitting, dog walking, or car washing.
  • Avoid gifts that will be thrown away, use excessive packaging, or are made from environmentally sensitive materials, particularly tropical wood such as mahogany, teak, or rosewood.
  • Choose durable, energy-efficient gifts that use wind-up power or use rechargeable batteries.
  • Buy gifts made from recycled materials or use natural materials such as unbleached cotton or beeswax.


  • Combine shopping trips or share rides with friends, family, and neighbors to save fuel and have more fun.
  • Shopping for gifts online reduces energy consumption and air pollution.�
  • Use your own reusable bags for shopping or combine purchases from different stores into one bag.

Gift Wrapping

  • According to the Use Less Stuff Report, Americans increase their trash by 25 percent each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s—approximately 1 million extra tons of trash per week.
  • To wrap your gifts, buy recycled wrapping paper or add a personal touch by using old maps, sheet music, newspaper comics, pictures from old calendars, or colorful ads from old magazines.
  • Use useful items for wrapping such as scarves, dishtowels, or handkerchiefs.�
  • Use popcorn or newspaper for packing and reuse your packing materials. You can also reuse boxes, baskets, bags, and tins. Old cards can be recycled into gift tags.
  • Send e-mail holiday greeting cards. According the Environmental News Network, Americans send 750 million greeting cards each year. They estimate that a 10 percent reduction could save an estimated 30,000 trees.�


  • Buy a living Christmas tree and plant it outside after Christmas. Make sure you dig the hole before the ground freezes.
  • If you buy a cut Christmas tree, take it to a tree collection center so it will be recycled for mulch for use in city parks and does not become part of a landfill.
  • When decorating the tree, minimize the size and amount of electric lights to save energy. Use decorations like strings of popcorn or dried cranberries that can be fed to birds after the holidays.
  • Operating lights for no more than six evening hours a day keeps energy use and costs under control. Timers are a simple and safe way to turn lights off. For safety, always unplug lights before going to bed or leaving home.�
  • Use energy efficient lighting. LED light strings may cost more, but use one-tenth the energy of regular lights and will save you money. New “icicle-style” lights use more lights per linear foot than regular light strands and use more energy.


  • Set out containers to collect bottles and cans for recycling.
  • Use regular dishes instead of disposable one. If you must use disposables, use dishes made out of recycled paper and compost them.
  • Donate leftover food to local food banks and shelters.
  • Turn down the heat a few degrees before guests arrive. All those bodies will warm up the room.
  • Avoid using disposable cameras for pictures.
  • Above all, remember the spirit of the season is more than consumption. Enjoy sharing time with your friends and family.�
Media contact for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons 410-955-7619 or