Coolest and Greenest Gift for Kids this Holiday Season

Give a gift they will never forget.

This holiday season, give the kids on your list an eco-friendly gift that is appropriate for kids of all ages and that they will enjoy for years to come.

If you are expecting to read a post about toy dump trucks made of recycled plastic, organic cotton t-shirts that say “Save the Bees,” or kid-size gardening tools, you may be disappointed because you will not find them here.

Literally, the coolest and greenest gift you can give your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews is to act like global warming and climate change is real.

“Really, you have got to be kidding me. I do not want to think about global warming during the holiday season!” is a reasonable response to the above statement.

It could be that I am just a perverse person, but I believe the holiday season presents you and me with the perfect opportunity to consider our holiday traditions and habits and how we might change them to live more lightly on Earth. A habitable planet now and in the future is the best gift we can give the children we love.

My goal for this post is to interrupt your business-as-usual holiday preparations and mine before they get too far along so that we can decide what we want to do differently and then do it before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Greening Your Holiday Season

Giving your holiday season a green makeover is one thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. Some of the ideas below are easy and some are hard. Feel free to come up with your own. There is no right answer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we humans excel at justifying our behavior so do not be surprised if you find yourself coming up with really good reasons why you cannot change and do things differently this year. If this happens, go grab a photo of the children in your life and try again.

Of course, I am not immune to justifying my actions either and as you will see, I do not always go for the eco-friendly option. I am constantly striving to live more lightly on Earth, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

Travel

This time of year, the USS Enterprise would come in handy (hopefully it is a zero-emissions spaceship). Imagine saying, “Beam me up Scotty,” and being magically transported across the country without the hassle of flying or its enormous carbon footprint.

Amtrak California Zephyr Traveling Along the Colorado River
Amtrak California Zephyr train traveling along the Colorado River – photo credit Amtrak.

Before you go online to book your flight, please seriously consider taking the train, riding on a bus, or carpooling. It could be a wonderful adventure and the start of a new holiday travel tradition. While not carbon-free methods of travel (unless the vehicle is electric), trains, buses, and carpools have significantly smaller carbon footprints than flying.

Even if you have already made a reservation to fly you could change your mind and choose a greener travel alternative.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are the quintessential symbol of the holiday season for me and about a hundred million other people. This year ask yourself if you can and want to green your Christmas tree tradition if you have one.

I have been a real Christmas tree enthusiast ever since I was a small child. But about five years ago, I began worrying about the environmental impact of real trees and wondering if an artificial tree would be better. After researching the issue, I concluded that the best choice as far as the environment is concerned is not having a Christmas tree at all.

My love for real Christmas trees overcame my inner environmentalist and I bought a real tree, but I also began a new holiday tradition, “A Tree for a Tree.” I asked readers to join me in planting a tree each year that we buy a real or artificial tree or put up an existing artificial tree. That year my spouse and I rescued a tiny cypress seedling from certain death on a street median and planted it in our yard (now it is about twelve feet tall).

Two years later, I upped the ante to “Buy One, Plant Two.” That year we planted two Big Sur coast redwood seedlings in our yard and last year we planted two small toyons.

Property developers and readers who follow climate change will recognize this tree planting as a mitigating action, which is when you do something to make up for doing something else.

Food and Drink

During the 6-week holiday season, you and I will have 126 meals (not including snacks) to try out environmentally friendly menu ideas and dining practices. No, I am not suggesting that you serve tofurky for Christmas dinner unless you want to try it.

Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish
Stir-fry vegetable dish – photo credit iStock/Mizina.

Feeding the people you love with healthful, nutritious food is an act of love. What better time than the holiday season to try out some new meatless or low meat recipes and include more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds into your menu planning? Eating a healthy diet does not preclude you from making Christmas cookies with your grandchildren.

This holiday season set your table with reusable dishes, glasses, cups, flatware, and serving pieces that you already own. Give yourself extra credit for using cloth tablecloths and napkins. Ask guests to bring extra tableware and reusable containers for leftovers. Use the time you spend washing dishes to catch up with family members and friends.

You can accomplish another green holiday action while shopping at the grocery market. Leave plastic bottles of water and anything that comes in an aluminum can on the store shelf or in the cooler. No amount of recycling can ever alleviate the environmental damage caused by single-use beverage containers.

Gifts

Living more lightly on Earth requires amassing less stuff. Yes, that includes gifts.

In 2013, my spouse and I made the decision to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with our family and friends. We have never regretted it. Now, each year, we look forward to a stress-free holiday season with time to enjoy it.

If you have ever contemplated opting out of Christmas consumerism, now is the time to do it. You might be surprised how readily your family members and friends accept your suggestion to stop exchanging gifts during the holidays (at least between adults).

For those of you not willing to give up exchanging gifts, please ship your gifts via ground transport. You may not realize it, but when you select 2-day shipping or overnight delivery, your package is probably hopping on an airplane significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your gift

Decorations

Decorating for the holidays is fun and brightens up the cold and dark winter months.

The challenge, at least for me, is to avoid obtaining new items because everything looks so festive and enticing in stores and online marketplaces.

Quilly's Antiques Shop - Dickens Village
Dickens Village Quilly’s Antiques Shop – photo credit Department 56.

Giving decorations to other people or donating them so you can acquire new items is decoration churning and does nothing to curtail the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and distributing new decorations like Christmas tree ornaments, inflatable snowmen, and Santa figurines.

Over the past couple of years, as part of my mission to live happily with less stuff, I have pared down my Christmas decoration collection to the items that I really, really like and can see myself enjoying indefinitely, but there is a hitch.

One of my favorite things is my Dickens Village collection of tiny Victorian-style buildings, trees, and figurines inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, like A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge.

Recently, after I had donated my London’s Chocolatier Shop and chocolate street vendor figurine to make room for my friend’s Quilly’s Antique Shop, I finally had to acknowledge that I have been engaging in decoration churning for several years. Oops.

My green holiday change this year is to focus on healthy eating, which is also good for the planet, by eating more plants, less meat, and enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Okay, now it is your turn to evaluate your own holiday traditions and habits and decide what, if anything, you want to change to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly.

Your children, my children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to keep Earth habitable now and in the future, so everyone can enjoy life and thrive.

Happy Holidays!

Featured Image at Top: Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Holmes Su

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Greening Your Vacation – 5 Easy Ways to Do It

Earth is the only place we have to vacation so let’s take care of it.

If you could make your vacation more eco-friendly without a lot of hassle and little or no expense, would you be willing to you try a green vacation idea or two?

Does that first line have you thinking something along the lines of, “Get real? Vacation is about having fun and indulging yourself. When I am on vacation, I do not want to worry about the environment.”

That was the reaction of my family dinner table editorial board when I broached the idea of writing a post about greening your vacation. They emphatically stated that vacation is about getting away from it all, splurging, and just enjoying yourself.

Bravely, I countered with you can do all that and do something to green your vacation. They sighed. Clearly, I was not getting the point that no one wants to think about the environment on vacation.

Actually, I do get it, but rather than being deterred, I decided to challenge myself to present you with five easy and low or no cost ideas and attempt to convince you that you can do at least one these without decreasing your enjoyment or making you feel deprived on your vacation.

Vacation and the Environment

You do not need me to tell you that we all live on a big sphere where global warming, climate change, and pollution do not stop at state or country boundaries but I feel it is worth repeating so we are on the same page.

In part, a healthy environment is what makes a vacation destination a place you want to visit. Envision your favorite vacation spot disappearing under the ocean forever, vaporizing in the flames of a mega-fire, or devastated by an unending drought. Imagine a place you have been longing to visit so damaged or polluted that you no longer want to go there and even if you did, it would not be safe.

We each have a responsibility to live more lightly on Earth safeguarding not only the communities where we live and work but also the places we go to relax, refresh, and live it up for a short time before going back to our daily lives.

The number one thing you can do to green your vacation is to avoid air travel.

That said I realize that millions of people choose to fly to and from their vacation destinations for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, regardless of your travel method, making some part of your vacation more environmentally friendly is within your power.

If millions of vacationers, including you and me, did just one thing, we could collectively make a sizable positive impact. Every drop in a bucket does indeed fill it up.

Reusable Water Bottle

On your next vacation, bring your own reusable water bottle and keep it filled. Make a point of drinking fewer bottles of water that come packaged in single-use plastic bottles or aluminum cans or better yet skip it altogether.

Besides the negative environmental and social impact of bottled water, dealing with billions of single-use plastic bottles discarded in the trash, placed in recycle bins, and tossed on the ground is a challenging and costly problem for tourist towns, national parks, beaches, amusement parks, and transportation hubs.

So much so, that municipalities, recreational areas, and airports are increasingly installing drinking fountains and water bottle refilling stations in an effort to reduce their costs. This is good for you because it makes it easier for you to refill your bottle when you are out and about.

I travel with two or three reusable BPA-free 24-ounce plastic reusable water bottles and one bottle carrier with a strap.

Three Reusable Water Bottles with a Bottle Carrier

You can buy a good quality reusable water bottle that will last indefinitely for $15-$25. Many organizations and non-profits offer reusable water bottles emblazoned with their logos for less than $10 or even free (it is good marketing for them).

Reusable Shopping Bag

A simple way to green your vacation is to stash a compact reusable shopping bag in your pocket, purse, daypack, tote bag, or rental car and then hand it to the store clerk before he or she puts the souvenir coffee mug or the makings for a picnic lunch you just bought into a disposable bag.

Unfortunately, single-use plastic bags are ubiquitous and like single-use plastic bottles, they have a large environmental footprint and generate tons of waste. Because they are lightweight, plastic bags tend to fly all over the place getting stuck on fences and trees, clogging storm drains, and ending up inside unsuspecting animals.

I travel with two or three reusable bags that roll up.

Three Roll Up Reusable Shopping Bags

You can buy a good quality and attractive reusable shopping bag for about the same price as a reusable water bottle and sometimes organizations give them away.

Provisions and Packaging

Another easy way to reduce the carbon footprint of your vacation is to cut down on using throwaway packaging.

For instance, you can be green and forgo the exorbitant prices you often find at travel departure locations like airports, train depots, and bus stations by taking food with you such as nuts and raisins, pretzels, chocolate chips cookies, a sandwich, or a salad in a reusable bag or container.

Another eco-friendly practice is to eat at least some meals in restaurants with reusable flatware, dishes, and glassware. This requires no effort on your part other than selecting a restaurant.

If you are staying in a vacation rental with any sort of a kitchen, consider making some of your own meals. Breakfast is a good choice because it is a relatively simple meal to make and you are fresh in the morning. Give yourself extra green credit for packing up snacks or lunch for the day.

Just say no thank to excess packaging. You do not need a little, waxed paper bag for the raspberry truffle you are going to eat as soon as you leave the candy store. Nor do you need a paper bag to carry one sandwich and a bag of chips on your way back to the beach for lunch.

Travel-Size Toiletries

Bringing your own toiletries from home either in full-size original containers or in travel-size reusable containers is easy and cuts down on waste. Another benefit is that if you have sensitive skin (like me), you can avoid potential allergies and rashes from using unfamiliar products.

Those tiny plastic bottles of shampoo and lotion have a similar environmental impact to single-use water bottles and plastic bags.

I travel with small reusable containers filled with my usual 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, shower soap, lotion, and bar soap.

Four Reusable Travel-Size Toiletry Containers

You do not want toiletries leaking in your luggage so look closely at the containers before you buy them. An alternative is to buy travel-size containers of the toiletries you usually use and then refill them for future trips.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs and shopping are an important part of the overall vacation experience for some people (including me) so this is probably a touchy subject. However, minimizing or eliminating shopping and buying souvenirs can free up your time for more sightseeing and other fun activities while decreasing your vacation carbon footprint.

To help you evaluate your vacation shopping habits and potential willingness to change them consider asking yourself the ten questions I raised in the post entitled Greening Your Vacation – Souvenirs and Shopping. I wrote this post past last year when I was grappling with own vacation shopping habits and trying to establish a balance for myself between buying nothing and buying too much.

Setting some limits on shopping before you leave home does not preclude you from being spontaneous or indulging yourself on vacation.

In September, I am going on vacation with friends to Omaha, Nebraska traveling by train from my home on the Central California Coast. I intend to implement my revised vacation souvenir and shopping philosophy on this trip.

After reading this post and thinking about it, I hope you can see yourself enjoying and greening your next vacation.

Featured Image at Top: Tiny Green Suitcase and Luggage Tag Made to Look like Plants on a Wood Background – Photo Credit iStock/Petmal

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