There's no way to guarantee a white Christmas.
But anyone can have a greener Christmas, according to environmental advocates who say people can celebrate a healthier, more eco-friendly holiday with a few simple changes in their routines.
A typical family can easily fill two or three garbage bags with discarded wrapping paper, ribbons and plastic packaging. Reusable gift bags, boxes and bows can reduce how much trash goes to the landfill. So can saving Christmas wrap and reusing it again next year.
But one of the best solutions may be cloth wrap, says pediatrician Alan Greene, whose family now wraps their presents in holiday-patterned fabrics. While fabric wrap and cloth ribbons may cost more up-front, they save money in the long run, because they can be re-used for years, says Greene,author of Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care. Greene says he's been inspired by books such as Jennifer Playford's Wrapagami: The Art of Fabric Gift Wraps, which illustrates how to fold fabric in ways that keep it from falling apart, even without tape or ribbons.
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Greene says he also likes the idea of combining gift and wrap, by wrapping presents in a pretty scarf.
Writer Alexandra Zissu, editorial director for Healthy Child Healthy World, an environmental advocacy group, wraps her gifts in a renewable resource: "the endless amounts of art work that my daughter creates on a daily basis."
LED lights use a lot less electricity than traditional Christmas lights, and present less of a fire hazard, Greene says. Some LED lights now are even solar-powered, eliminating the need to find an electrical outlet.
But like artificial trees, electric Christmas light cords are usually made with PVC plastic, which often contains lead, says Alicia Voorhies, co-founder of thesoftlanding.com site and blog, which focuses on green living. A study on HealthyStuff.org, run by the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based advocacy group, found lead in 79% of lights that were tested.
For lead-free lights, Voorhies suggests looking for ones labeled "RoHS-compliant." That refers to the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, the European Union's standard for regulation of toxic materials.
Strings of plastic beads, such as those used as Christmas tree garlands or Mardi Gras necklaces, also contain toxic chemicals, including lead, according to a new study at HealthyStuff.org.
Greene says he likes old-fashioned decorations from nature - strings of popcorn and cranberries, and fresh greenery.
Presents don't have to come in packages, says Jennifer Taggart, author of Smart Mama's Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child's Toxic Chemical Exposure.
She enjoys giving loved ones "experiences," such as a trip to the movies or family outing.
For stocking stuffers, Zissu suggests giving kids packets of seeds, oranges and organic lollipops.
Zissu says she stays away from perfumed candles and air fresheners, which often are made with petroleum and which can emit volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals that form a gas or vapor at room temperature. Some greener ways to make the house smell great is to decorate with freshly cut pine or fir branches, make home-made potpourri, or boil cinnamon and oranges on the stove.
Zissu suggests looking for rechargeable batteries for any electronic gifts.
In many communities, people can also recycle "e-waste," or old electronics, such as TVs. Many charities accept donated cell phones, then give them to veterans, women in domestic violence shelters or others in need.
By Lis Szabo