The holiday season is in full swing, and folks are hard at work finding the perfect Christmas tree, decorating their roofs with bright lights and shopping for gifts.
But all those Christmas dinners and wrapping paper produce a lot of waste, while those beautiful lights use lots of electricity.
"This holiday has a huge carbon footprint, more so than other holidays," says Eric Stiles of the New Jersey Audubon Society.
Conservation appears to be on people's minds more than ever this holiday season. A recent holiday survey found that one in five consumers will consider skipping gift-wrapping to save paper, and 18 percent will buy more eco-friendly gifts this year than in the past.
Meanwhile, the famous trees at New York's Rockefeller Center and the White House have the energy-efficient LED lights this year.
"A lot of people say, 'It's the holidays - don't be so Scroogy,' " said Laura Lynch, the conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club of New Jersey. "But this is your planet."
Here are some tips from the environmental experts to make your holiday even greener by conserving energy and reducing waste.
Light 'em if you got 'em
LED (light-emitting diode) lights use only 10 percent of the energy required for traditional incandescent "mini" bulbs and less than half a percent of the energy used by the larger incandescent Christmas lights.
A household that uses 10 regular 100-bulb strands can save $10 to $15 during the holiday season by switching from incandescent mini bulbs to LED bulbs.
It can save as much as $230 by replacing the larger incandescent bulbs.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimated in 2003 that if every household switched to LED holiday lights, the country would save 2 billion watt-hours - enough to power 190,000 homes for a year.
LED lights are more expensive than incandescents but they are also brighter and last 100 times longer. They are available at many stores.
Regardless of the type of lights you use, unplug them when you're not using them.
And put outdoor lights on a timer so they are not on in daylight or overnight.
Give the gift of green
Avoid gifts with large amounts of packaging. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable, so try using gift bags and tissue paper, which can be recycled.
Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags from year to year, as well. Another option is to give tickets to events as gifts, or buy "green" gifts from eco-sellers.
Out with the old
And what to do with the old items your new presents are replacing? Stiles recommends visiting freecycle.org, where you can offer your items free to others who come to pick them up from your home. "I've gotten rid of an old computer and an old table that way," he says.
How about a live tree?
Instead of an artificial tree, or even a cut tree, consider a live tree that you can either replant in your yard or donate to a park or school. If you choose a cut tree, buy it from a local tree farm, or from a reseller who got it locally.
Once the holiday is over, recycle your tree. Call your public works department to find out if it recycles trees, call 1-800-CLEANUP (253-2687) or visit earth911.org to find a tree-recycling center.
Don't stop now
Why not continue your eco-friendly ways throughout the year? Make a New Year's resolution to work on reducing waste and energy consumption by buying compact fluorescent bulbs for your lamps or driving less.
"There's a lot of little changes that people can make every day to make the world a little greener," says Mike Herson of the Sierra Club's northern New Jersey Group. *