Energy Diet

Mind Over Material

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Steaming mugs of hot chocolate waiting to be sipped. Music punctuated by the steady rhythm of jingle bells on every radio station. And a family full of overtired and stressed-out shoppers eventually developing an eye twitch, or worse, from the annual charge to find the perfect gift.

The image described above captures the portrait of many American families around this time of year. As Christmas celebrants ourselves, we begin our holiday season with Dad saying something to the effect of “We’re really going to cut back on Christmas this year. We’re going to simplify. It’s too materialistic and that’s not the true meaning of Christmas.” And even though we know in our hearts he’s right, we promptly begin the mad dash to overspend and over-stress.

So why do we subject ourselves to financial and emotional torture while at the same time trying to enjoy the traditions and wonders of the season? Because at the end of it all, when we’re all sitting around the tree in our pajamas on Christmas morning, and someone you love is opening something you put so much thought and energy into, you can’t help but feel the joy when their face lights up in delight.

So with that being said, as a family, we are making an effort for this to be at least a more energy-efficient Christmas. According to the Clean Air Council, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an extra million tons of waste is generated in the United States each week, plastic bags accounting for approximately 300,000 tons of it annually. The state of California estimates they spend $25 million sending plastic bags to landfills each year where they are broken down by light (photodegenerated) and contaminate the soil and groundwater. On top of that, 38,000 miles of ribbon are thrown away annually, enough to tie a bow around the Earth. And many wrapping papers are laminated or made with extraneous materials like metals and glitter and therefore cannot be recycled.

So what sort of steps can you take to make it a greener holiday season? For starters, bring your own reusable shopping bags. Almost every major retailer now carries them and the small fee you pay will be overshadowed by the good deed you’re doing for the environment. Also, considering wrapping a few presents in paper that’s recycled or made from sustainable sources. According to the Carnegie Mellon Green Practices Initiative, “If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”

Finally, consider gifts that don’t create waste like concert tickets, restaurant vouchers, and other experiences. This year, we decided to cut back on the gifts and are taking a short family vacation right before Christmas to enjoy the Adirondack High Peaks in winter.

So go forth and shopeth ‘til ye dropeth, but maybe this year, do it environmentally consciously.


  1. Timmay
    December 1, 2011, 10:11 pm

    You’re the best! Great writer.