Green Your Holidays: Five Tricks for Green Holiday Shopping

You really never know what you might find on Freecycle. This family adopted backyard chickens through the network— though you’re more likely to find books, clothes and household appliances. Click on the image for more information on the joys of backyard chickens.

It’s that magical time of the year again—but is the tradition of giving gifts at odds with your feelings about consumerism? Do you worry about the environmental impact of buying a bunch of new things that might not really be used?  Do you want a fat wallet, happy friends, and zero carbon-guilt? Of course you do! Here are five tips for green giving:

1. Giving & Receiving with Freecycle

Family and gifts can combine to make your home feel a little cluttered over the holidays. Right now is the time to take a preemptive strike at mess by paring down the stuff you already own.

Joining a Freecycle network is a great way to send your unwanted belongings on to a loving home. After signing up for your local Freecycle listserv, you’ll be able to send out notices about the items you want to give to other members, allowing them the opportunity to take that stuff off your hands.

Once you’ve given to the community a little, feel free to claim other items up for grabs. “Shopping” for holiday gifts on Freecycle can have an incredibly low carbon footprint, save you money, and help you give back to your community.

2. Thrift Store Shopping!

Buying something secondhand is much more environmentally friendly than buying it new. The fact that it’s easier on your wallet is just an added bonus. In the last issue of the Green American magazine, member Nancy Madsen had this to say about thrift store shopping:

Check out this super sweet umbrella I found at my local thrift store!

“My large family didn’t want to stop exchanging gifts, but we didn’t want Christmas to break the bank, either—and we realized we were really losing the true Christmas spirit with all the stress of shopping. Probably 15 or 20 years ago, we decided to limit the amount spent to $5 per person and to encourage creativity. Many of us started resale shopping at places like Goodwill—or Value Village thrift stores, which support local nonprofits by paying them to collect used items.

“My family now spends one day shopping together in November, and we have lots of fun doing it. It has become a tradition that we all look forward to, and it has caused us to become resale shopping junkies. Now we buy most of our clothes at the resale shops as well. My sister and I have had numerous compliments on our outfits, and we often say Value Village is our clothing designer!”

3. Homemade Food & Body Care

Tiz the season for sneezin’—check out these home-made decongestant shower disks. Click on the image for a how-to.

Are you shopping for someone who seems to have everything they need, is moving to a smaller house, or otherwise cutting down on their belongings? Homemade food can be a great gift for these people.

Another option is homemade personal body care. Body care is often chock full of carcinogens and other toxins — check out our article on poisons in conventional cosmetics and a few tips for protecting yourself.

Your homemade body care gifts will be safe for your loved ones and have a wonderful, personal touch. Plus, it will be used up, which is great for people who don’t want “more stuff.”

Make a hollowed out book for a young kid to store treasures in. Click on the picture for a great how-to article by Heather Rivers.

4. Homemade Gifts from Recycled Materials

You can transform recycled materials into unique gifts with super-low carbon footprints.

  • A hollowed out book can be a thoughtful gift for a younger kid wanting a place to hide secret treasures.
  • Have some old jewelry and wine-corks? Check out this tutorial for making gorgeous tree ornaments (I especially love the pictures).
  • Cut out colorful little squares of used wrapping paper and holiday cards and write a few dozen things you appreciate about your loved one. Place the notes in a mason jar and decorate with recycled ribbon or a piece of colorful cloth. More on that here.
Win a set of these rainbow soaps by tweeting about this post using the link below.

5. Buying New? Buy Green! (Also Win Some Gorgeous Soaps.) If you’re like me and think you’ll end up buying one or two gifts new this year, consider buying from certified green businesses. You’ll be supporting the green economy, which includes Fair Trade, fair wages, and green practices from recycling to sustainable sourcing. Check out businesses in our National Green Pages® holiday guide.

If you want to go the extra mile, buy from businesses certified by Green America at the gold level. This certification means that, according to our screening process, they are “operating on the highest level of social and environmental responsibility in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their offices and factories.” You can read more about it here.

Simmons Natural Body Care is one business we’ve certified at the highest level—gold. Check out these gorgeous organic rainbow soaps. They’ve donated a basket of these to us to give away to one of you.

All you have to do to enter to win is tweet about this article using the following link: . If you don’t have a twitter account, just tell us about your own DIY gift traditions in the comments below, and we’ll enter you to win.

There are so many great ideas out there for greening your holidays. The most environmentally friendly ways are Freecycling, buying second hand or making gifts from recycled materials. If you’re going to buy something new, just remember that there are some wonderful green business owners who have sustainability ingrained into every level of their business.

Your money has an impact on the world after you spend it—the holiday season is a great time to make sure the impact is a positive one.

Congratulations to last week’s winner, Heather! Please email editors (at) greenamerica (dot) org to claim your Artisan Tea Blending Kit from Numi Tea.

Top Tips From Green Bloggers: How to Green your Halloween

This is a guest post compiled by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson of Celebrate Green

Summer’s long over. School is back in session. And that means Halloween is knocking at your door.

We thought that in addition to reminding you to check out GreenHalloween for ideas, we’d pass on some tips from our fellow green bloggers.

1. From green blogger and independent crafter Becky Striepe, comes an idea for a simple Halloween scrap banner. And if you’re into banners, here’s a paper one we created last year.

2. Do you read Healthy Home magazine? If not, you should. You can get awesome ideas for all things healthy and green, like this BPA-free pumpkin puree that’s easier than pie to make.

3. Lots of parents today are opting out of masks and choosing face paints instead. But these can contain chemicals that you don’t want on your children’s skin. What to do? Make your own! You can check out our recipe here, and for more ideas, check out this article on Greenwala by Danika Carter, or this one from Diane MacEachern at Big Green Purse.

4. Great tips on avoiding GMO sugar this Halloween from My Healthy Green Family.

5. Emily Roach at Random Recycling loves roasting pumpkins seeds. Here’s her recipe.

6. From Robbie Schneider at Going Green Mamawhat to do with that mammoth Halloween stash.

7. The Smart Mama, Jennifer Taggart, suggests using tee tree oil to keep your carved Jack-o-lantern from molding. And Danika Carter, from Your Organic Life says adding those little silica gel packets works well too.

8. And finally, Tamara Rubin, writing for, explains how to avoid exposing your kids to lead during Halloween festivities.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.

Fast Company: A leader in using recycled paper

Fast Company magazine is at the forefront of business innovation and progress, so it’s no surprise that they use recycled paper – an environmentally sustainable decision that sets them apart from the majority of the magazine industry.

“Fast Company: Obstacles and Opportunities” gives an in-depth look into how this magazine is leading the way in eco-friendly print publishing.  In our 3-minute video from the Better Paper Project, Fast Company’s Managing Editor, Allegra Lagani, shares how her magazine transitioned to recycled paper and improved its reputation with its readers and advertisers.

In the video, Allegra comments, “Sustainability is one of the core areas that Fast Company focuses on, so in order to practice what we preach, we need to use recycled paper.”

The process of switching to recycled paper taught Fast Company that the myths about recycled paper being lower quality than virgin paper are no longer true. As Allegra said, “I think a lot of the limitations are from years ago before the world of recycled paper had been explored.”

If the entire North American magazine industry included a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper in their publications, we would save:

  •     Over 10 million trees
  •     7 billion gallons of wastewater and
  •     Over 1.5 billion pounds of CO2 (the equivalent of removing over 160,000 cars from the road).

While 97% of the magazine industry still uses virgin fiber paper, Fast Company provides progressive business leaders with engaging news and editorials on recycled paper that protects forests, climate and communities.

The video can be found on our website or on YouTube.

Tell the Airlines to Recycle Their In-Flight Waste

As we exposed in our first report on airline recycling, there’s a huge amount of trash generated each and every time we fly — more than 881 million pounds every year. That’s 9,000 tons of plastic, enough aluminum cans to build 58 Boeing 747 jets, and enough paper to cover a football field 230 meters deep. What’s worse is that our report found only about 20 percent of this waste being recycled.

This work became our most-downloaded report ever, and was featured on CNN, in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and in other media outlets all over the country. It also sparked the imagination of our partners at MoxyVote (the shareholder action group), and so we’re pleased to share with you MoxyVote’s most recent action letter: a message to seven of the biggest airlines demanding policies that work toward zero in-flight waste, including 100-percent recycling, composting, and staff training in waste reduction.

Sign MoxyVote & Green America’s letter »

The good news is that your pressure is already working. After our successful actions in 2010 and 2011 (asking the airlines to do better, and documenting YOUR experiences with waste on your flights), we’ve heard back that the airlines’ policies on in-flight waste are changing.

Right now, our corporate responsibility team is collecting data from the airlines for our follow-up 2012 report, you’ll see that there’s some good news. Some airlines made significant improvements, and told us our report was the impetus for their changes. We’ll tell you which are doing better, and which are still lagging behind.

Please sign the letter today to keep the airlines on notice that the public demands more recycling, and look for our follow-up report later this spring.

Plastic Monday: The Final Post

Soap nuts!

November is over, which means Plastic Mondays have come to an end. That doesn’t mean that the Plastic Challenge is over. I plan to continue the good habits I’ve learned or reinforced during this challenge, and I’ll continue to work on getting more Stupid Plastic out of my life.  (We’ll continue to blog about plastics from time to time, too—just not every Monday.)

If you took the Plastic Challenge with us, I’d love to hear about the changes you’ve made in your life. Here’s an abbreviated run-down of what I accomplished during the last few weeks:

  • I continue to NEVER buy bottled water or accept single-use plastic bags at the store. Since I am prone to forgetting my reusable shopping bags (I unload them in the house and then sometimes forget to put them back in my car), the Plastic Challenge provided the nudge I needed to come up with a good solution: I now keep a shallow cardboard box in my car, like the ones they give you at BJ’s or Costco warehouse stores. Now, if I forget my bags—other than the collapsible ChicoBag and two lightweight produce bags that live in my purse—I just put the box into a shopping cart and toss my purchases into it. I’ve gotten a few weird looks, but that’s never stopped me from doing anything before!

Plastic Sundays: Watch “Bag It” Online

Those of you who’ve read through our “Take the Plastic Challenge” Green American have undoubtedly seen several references to the documentary film Bag It inside. In fact, it was this film that coined the term “stupid plastic,” which we’ve adopted freely here at Green America to describe the type of single-use, unnecessary plastic that we’d like to see wiped off the planet.

The film takes an in-depth look at plastic bags and other types of stupid plastic in use today–from production to distribution to disposal (which usually means “dumped in the ocean”). You’d think that would make it one of the most depressing documentaries in existence, and yet, somehow, the film manages to be empowering and even entertaining, while treating its subject matter with the seriousness it deserves. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn something, and you’ll come away wanting to do more to get the stupid plastic out of our lives.

For the next four Sundays, you can watch Bag It online for only $4.99 at Constellation TV, a new online movie theater that allows you to interact with the entire audience via your computer.

  • Watch this Sunday, Nov. 27th, at 8:30 p.m. Afterwards, world-reknowned musician Jack Johnson and his wife Kim will host a live Q&A. Proceeds from this screening will benefit the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation, cofounded by the Johnsons, which supports environmental education in Hawai’i.
  • On Sunday, Dec. 4th, at 8:00 p.m., Surfrider Foundation founder and CEO Jim Moriarty will host a screening and live Q&A. Proceeds will support the Surfrider Foundation, which works to protect the world’s oceans.
  • On Sunday, Dec. 11th at 8:30 p.m., Rebecca Sutton of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will host a screening and live Q&A. Proceeds will benefit EWG’s programs to protect public health and the environment.
  • On Sunday, Dec. 18th at 8:30 p.m., Anna Cummins and Marcus Erickson of 5 Gyres will host a screening and live Q&A. Proceeds will benefit 5 Gyres, which is dedicated to stopping the flow of plastics into the oceans.
About Constellation: Just like a traditional theater, audiences purchase tickets to attend scheduled show times of films on Constellation.  Unlike other online platforms, watching movies on Constellation is a social experience.  Users pick a show time to attend, invite friends, and watch movies together!  Movies are presented by VIP hosts, such as the films’ directors, actors, or subject experts, who appear live in the online theater to answer questions from the audience during and after the film.

To learn more about Constellation TV, visit To learn more about the Bag It screenings, visit

If you can’t make one of the Sunday online screenings, you can also purchase the film on DVD to share with your community group, school, or house of worship. Visit the Bag It website for ordering information and to download a free screening kit.

Celebrate America Recycles Day!

Happy America Recycles Day! On November 15th, communities across the country are celebrating protecting our planet through recycling. Every day of the year, Green America’s Better Paper Project helps publishers use recycled paper in place of environmentally-damaging virgin paper. In this short video, you can learn about Tricycle Magazine’s green journey towards sustainable publishing. After you watch the video spread the word that recycling and buying recycled products is an easy way you can keep our planet green!

Of course, Green America encourages recycling in every business and home every day, and we have great information on our website to help you with your recycling needs, including  21 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle.  Also Green America members just received their latest edition of the Green American which contains a great Q&A about recycling plastics.  Green America members also have full access to Ask Green America, which has dozens of Q&A’s on recycling (and hundreds of other topics).  We’re also updating our research on recycling in the airline industry (which we exposed as having a low rate of recycling overall), and will be issuing a follow-up to our popular report soon.  So please join Green America by recycling at home and helping us promoting recycling in the magazine, airline, and many other industries.

And, please share with us your recycling stories.  What did you learn that you could recycle?  What things do you wish you could recycle but you can’t?