Each year the holidays are filled with an excess of decorations, parties, food and, of course, presents. Since material goods have such a huge presence this time of year, my conscience has a hard time coming to terms with the environmental impact the holidays can have. Therefore, I have compiled a few helpful hints on how your holiday decorations, food and gifts can be more eco-friendly.

Driving through the streets of Auburn, almost every house is decorated with lights. However, each string of Christmas lights comes with a huge increase of energy use and energy waste. Rather than becoming a Scrooge and tearing down all your decorations, there are a few simple things you can do to save energy (which will save you money, as well). Switching to LED lights has many benefits. You can connect more strings together with LEDs and they last longer, are cool to the touch, are virtually unbreakable and have 80-90 percent energy savings. Other than switching your lights out, limiting the time you have them on or setting a timer can save a great deal of energy. Reusing lights year after year also will have a beneficial effect on our environment. Every Christmas, more than 20 million pounds of discarded lights are sent to Shijiao, China, which is now known as the world capital for recycling Christmas lights. Because of their low environmental standards, the recycling methods they use release massive amounts of toxic fumes into the environment.

This season also comes with numerous family, friend and work parties. Food, of course, is the centerpiece of each gathering. For each large meal, try to buy organic, local and less whenever possible. This will limit the food miles to your food, benefit local farmers and limit the amount of leftovers. When entertaining, try to avoid serving with paper or plastic plates and cups. Buying drinks in larger bottles rather than individual cans will also generate less waste. Defrosting your freezer before Christmas is another helpful hint. This will allow your freezer to work more efficiently, and create more space for leftovers.

The largest form of waste is generated while exchanging presents. There are a few different things you can do to be more eco-friendly. As with food, try to buy local presents. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, but you will reduce your carbon footprint. For gifts that require batteries, buy rechargeable because batteries are difficult to recycle, are not biodegradable, and contain many toxic chemicals. Another option is to give an "experience" rather than a tangible gift. Experiences could be movie tickets, ski passes, club memberships or a donation in a person’s name.

After every Christmas, a huge amount of toys and clothes are discarded to make room for new presents. Rather than sending these items to the landfill, donate old clothes and toys our local Salvation Army or a neighborhood church. Remember that your Christmas tree can also be recycled through our Trade-A-Tree Program that will be run from the end of December to mid-January at the Cayuga County Natural Resource Center on County House Road. Dates and times are as followed:

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26 through Friday, Dec. 28

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2 through Friday, Jan. 4

8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 5

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7 through Friday, Jan. 11

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14 through Friday, Jan. 18

Happy holidays!

Maggie Hoercher is an intern for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County.

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