Channel your inner Santa without hurting Mother Nature.

Channel your inner Santa without hurting Mother Nature. Credit: Getty Images/TNS/ArtistGNDphotography

Holiday gift giving and decorating often means a lot of "stuff." And a lot of waste. Americans toss 1 million extra pounds of garbage each week between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation. Wondering how to channel your inner Santa without hurting Mother Nature? Use these tips to celebrate more sustainably this holiday season.

1. Deck the halls with LED lights

American cities shine 20 to 50% brighter from space between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to NASA. "While that can bring a lot of cheer during this dark time of the year, it also takes a lot of energy. LED bulbs use at least 75% less energy, so that's a much smaller climate footprint and much lower bills," says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Admittedly, the initial investment for LED lights is higher (generally about $5 to $15 more for a strand of LED lights compared to conventional), but Hoover says the lower energy bill quickly makes up for the difference. And they last up to 40 seasons, she says.

2. Opt for a real tree

"Real trees are almost always a better choice for the environment than artificial trees," Hoover says, since they're grown locally and are made from biodegradable materials. "You can also decorate a tree that exists on your property already, or even decorate a houseplant," she says.

Skip the landfill, if possible, and opt to recycle trees into mulch or compost. Check your local municipality's website to find out if — and how — they might be able to help recycle your Christmas tree.

3. Choose quality over quantity

Presents don't need to be new to be noteworthy. "The best way to reduce environmental impacts associated with gifts is to reduce and reuse — and then recycle, in that order," Hoover says. Yes, that means you have full permission to regift, or to shop for interesting finds at thrift stores or antique shops.

4. Give experiences, not things

If possible, give activities or services rather than items. Bonus points if it's something you and the recipient can enjoy together, such as tickets to a cooking class or a memberships to your local museum.

5. Donate to a charity

For a gift that will give back for years to come, consider a charitable donation in someone's name. Plus, donations to nonprofit organizations are tax-deductible.

6. Wrap in an eco-friendly way

Even if you share experiences and charitable donations, you'll likely have some items to wrap. In that case, seek out recycled options such as newspaper comics, old wall calendars, fabric and paper, or reuse wrapping paper.

Since Americans discard thousands of miles of ribbon each year, try twine or raffia instead (or just skip the bow altogether).

7. Send recycled cards

More than 2.6 billion holiday cards are sent each year, which can really add up in terms of paper use and environmental impact for transport. The best option is to call with a holiday greeting or send an e-card.

But if you're set on sending a handwritten note, invest in cards printed on 100% postindustrial recycled paper. For a go-green bonus, send plant-able cards that are studded with seeds that can be soaked and planted.

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