Green: Not just for the Grinch this Christmas

In the midst of the holiday season, people are rushing around to buy gifts, often without considering where their hard-earned money is going.

During the holiday season alone, Americans are projected to spend close to $475 billion, with a large portion of that amount going to gifts, according to the Hartford Courant. People compete to find the greatest deals but do not always consider the environmental footprint attached to these products or individual habits during the holidays.

With the green movement well underway, the following are a few ways that you can green-up your gift giving:

The greenest gift of all: The most significant way to make an impact on the environment during the holidays is to not give a gift at all! How many things do people really need?

However, if you feel obligated to give a present, donate to a local, national or international charity in the name of your recipient. You can use Web sites such as CharityNavigator.org to find a reputable charity that your family member or friend finds interesting.

Make your own presents: This may sound like the crayon-scrawled creations you made for your parents when you were younger, but as a poor college student, this may not be such a bad idea after all. If you have access to a kitchen, prepare a batch of cookies and put them in a tin (which is reusable) or invite a few friends over for Christmas dinner before the winter break.

Remember, even for the most cynical recipients, the holidays are not about gifts – they are about the people you are with.

Looking beyond the shiny and new: The next time you go shopping, find out where and how your gift was made before you purchase it. Does it have labels or seals with the terms “fair trade,” “sustainable,” “energy efficient” or “organic?” (Note: “Natural” doesn’t always mean organic or healthful, so be mindful of this marketing ploy).

If the item is made from an eco-friendly and socially conscious standpoint, consider paying a little extra; your gift will have immeasurable worth beyond the original price.

Beyond the plastic bubble: Be wary of extra packaging because it will most likely become trash. According to the Ecology Center, Americans generate 5 million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s alone. Opt for items that are not excessively shrink-wrapped, and if the item you are purchasing is packaged, check to see if the paper, cardboard or container is recyclable.

Gift-swaps save money, resources and sanity: We almost all face the awkward task of buying for people whom we originally did not consider, eventually forcing us to stretch our meager student incomes beyond capacity and leading to more stress.

Gift exchanges can avoid unnecessary anxieties and decrease the amount of “stuff” that will likely go into the trash.

Shop online and support local businesses: Finding the perfect present does not require a trip to the mall or a stop to fill up the gas tank. Online stores, especially those that specialize in eco-friendly gifts, are just a click away, so use them to find a wider selection of products.

But if you are running errands in town anyway, support small, local businesses who depend on holiday shopping for their survival. Farms and small gift stores often have handmade, quality gifts and personal customer service, all of which are features that can be extremely helpful during the craziness of the season.

Those old Minarets are good for something: Instead of buying excessive rolls of gift-wrap, reuse paper bags, magazine pages and newspaper. You’re not being cheap; you’re decreasing your impact on the environment, a nice outcome of which is saving money by not buying wrapping paper. If you really want to be green, avoid paper wrapping altogether and present your gift in a reusable tote bag.

Spending the extra time and money that goes into selecting the perfect gift or deciding to donate to a charity are ways to make the holiday season memorable for your friends and loved ones.

It is never too late to make your buying habits greener or to educate yourself on how to become more socially responsible. This holiday season is a great time to change.

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