This year, Americans will send nearly 2 billion holiday cards, use more than 38,000 miles of ribbon and leave millions of Christmas trees on the curb. Does that mean you should feel guilty for having a great time? Nah. Neither does it mean forgoing any of the elements that make the holiday season special. "You don't have to sacrifice the celebration for sustainability," says Zem Joaquin, founder of ecofabulous.com and eco-editor of House & Garden. Her advice: be "eco-wise." Here are a few secrets for an environmentally friendly—but still festive— holiday season.
Lights. Buy strings of LED lights, which look the same as conventional incandescent bulbs but last longer and use 80 to 90 percent less energy. LED lights, like the 300-light garland for $8.99 at homedepot.com, are also safer since they barely warm up. And invest in timers that automatically shut off your lights and cost as little as $9.99.
Shopping. Instead of coming home with 15 shopping bags, bring your own to the store. Afraid of being stopped for shoplifting? Danny Seo, author of "Simply Green Giving," fastens receipts to the outside of his bag with a binder clip.
Wrapping. Instead of buying your paper, get creative with what you have around the house. Wrap presents in posters, decorated grocery-store bags or pages from glossy fashion magazines. Or put a small present in a beautiful scarf and "make the wrapping part of the gift," says Jennifer Hattam, lifestyle editor for Sierra magazine. If you love traditional wrapping paper, buy the recycled versions from sites like fishlipspaperdesigns.com and paporganics .com ($4.99 for two 24- by 36-inch sheets). The latter site also sells biodegradable ribbon made from cotton and soy-based inks.
Trees. "Always go real," says Seo. "A fake tree is petroleum based. It's not biodegradable." One answer is to buy or rent a live tree (see livingchristmastrees.org for more information). Or get a cut tree and, after the holidays, take it to the county recycling facility, where it can be turned into mulch.
Cards. This year consider going paper-free. Direct friends to your family blog or create a free multiphoto card or an online slideshow on photobucket.com. You can add holiday music, snowflakes and bits of text, and then e-mail friends and family a link.
Parties. Use metal flatware and real glasses and dishes —especially if you own an Energy Star-certified dishwasher, says Jenny Powers of the Natural Resources Defense Council. If you're using disposable plates, pick recyclable paper, not plastic or Styrofoam. Use cloth tablecloths instead of throwaways. Then wash them in cold water to save energy. See all-laundry .com/environment.asp for more tips. And if you need a new party outfit, check out treehugger.com for suggestions on how to "green" your wardrobe. Then kick back and toast the holidays with a glass of (organic) champagne.