Feature Stories


Ana Toepel, Green Impact, December 2018


7 Tips for a Greener Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and for many people this means good cheer and fun times with family. At the same time, the holidays can create harmful impacts on the planet from the increased use of resources. According to the EPA, household waste increases by more than 25% from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Additional food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows, and ribbons net 1 million tons per week of trash to our landfills. Fortunately, there are many things we can all do to lessen this impact and make the holiday season both eco-friendly and fun. Here are seven ideas:

#1 Take your tree choice seriously

There is a running debate about which is the more environmentally-friendly choice of tree, real or artificial. Both real and artificial trees typically contain harmful chemicals. According to an article in The Verge real trees are probably better for the environment in terms of their carbon footprint, and the best choice would be a live tree with its root ball still attached that you can plant it in your yard or donate it to a local park. If a live tree isn’t possible for you, then look for locally-grown, organic, FSC certified, and chemical-free trees. Don’t forget to recycle your tree, so it can be put to good use as mulch rather than end up in a landfill. If you choose artificial, make sure its lead-free, PVC-free, and made in the USA. Better yet, create a new tradition with an alternative tree, like a rosemary bush or one made of cloth or cardboard. Check out this blog post for a good overview of tree options.

#2 Offset your travel and shipping

We tend to travel and ship more during the holidays, both of which generate carbon emissions, especially when done by plane. According to an article in the New York Times, one flight between California and New York creates about 20% of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that a car emits over an entire year. If you are travelling or shipping gifts this season, you can offset your carbon pollution with Cool Effect. Carbon offsets are also a great green gift idea.

#3 Limit energy use from lighting

Use LED light bulbs for your holiday lighting and you’ll be using at least 75% less energy than you would with incandescent bulbs.  LED bulbs will last 25 times longer, too, so you won’t have to replace them next year. Check out this LED Christmas Lights Guide to learn more about the benefits and options. Save even more energy by waiting to turn your lights on until dark and remembering to turn them off before you go to bed (put them on a timer to make this easier).

#4 Unplug when you hit the road

When left plugged in, our electronic gadgets and basic appliances still use what’s called phantom or vampire energy—even when they are turned off or in sleep mode. This includes everything from TVs and computers to toasters to phone chargers. Unplug these items before you go on vacation and enjoy the energy savings you’ll receive. According to Native Energy residential standby power is responsible for an estimated 28.7 million tons of CO2 emissions per year in the United States and can cost the average home $200 per year.

#5 Reduce your food footprint

Your food footprint is the amount of GHG emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat. For UCSF holiday events, go here for tips on reducing your food footprint. Reduce it at home this season by shopping at the farmer’s market or buying locally grown food, choosing organic produce and pasture-raised meat, and serving more vegetarian meals. Avoid food waste at your holiday gatherings by using this handy calculator to estimate how much food you’ll need. Compost any food waste you do have, rather than throwing it in the trash. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, uneaten food is the single largest source of trash in landfills, accounting for 18 percent of the country’s methane pollution, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Tackle food waste at UCSF events with the new Food 4 UCSF Students app.

#6 Choose energy efficient toys and electronics

According to Eco-Cycle, 40% of all battery sales happen during the holiday season. Instead of regular batteries, which are classified as hazardous waste, include a battery charger and rechargeable batteries with toys and electronics. Ask about energy-efficiency when buying gifts, and if you’re buying appliances or electronics, check out the ENERGY STAR holiday gift guide for the most efficient options.

#7 Go zero waste 

When hosting your holiday meeting, event, or party, a little bit of upfront planning goes a long way toward creating a festive gathering that doesn’t leave a wake of waste behind. Support UCSF’s goal to achieve zero waste by getting certified as a UCSF Green Event Planner. Contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more information. For more tips on how to host a zero waste, eco-friendly celebration, check out 5 Tips for Making Your Next Event Zero Waste and the UCSF Guidelines for Green Meetings & Events.