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Stay 'green' giving and wrapping gifts
Keep Liberty Beautiful
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Sara Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.

The Christmas countdown has begun! Are you ready? With a little bit of planning, we can all make this the "greenest" Christmas ever. Santa makes a list, so why don’t we? In the less than 25 days ahead, we need to plan for shopping, decorating, gifting and food, of course, but we will get to that later.

First things first - let’s talk shopping and gifting.

Who does not love shopping? Well, besides probably every man in America. At this time of the year shopping gets more chaotic the longer we wait, so go ahead and plan your shopping trips now. To reduce the amount of time, chaos and hassle spent shopping, as well as the amount of gasoline wasted driving all over the place, plan your trips and plan what you need to purchase.

Let your fingers do the shopping. Consider shopping by phone or by internet. Just remember to look for items that are easy to ship and will require less packaging.

Purchase products with the least amount of packaging whenever possible. We live in an age where products have safety seals to prevent tampering and alarms to prevent shoplifting. That often translates into excessive packaging that ends up in the garbage can. Also consider buying several items in bulk to give as gifts. Buying in bulk will decrease waste and your total cost, too.

Use reusable shopping bags. Using a reusable shopping bag whenever possible reduces the number of those plastic bags that we accumulate and sometimes end up as litter on our highways. Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide. That comes out to about 1 million per minute. So many of these gazillion bags will end up as litter or in landfills.

So how do we take the stress out of gift-giving? Buying and giving gifts is meant to be a loving gesture, but the level of consumerism involved in Christmas gifting and wrapping has become excessive. How do you restrain yourself and still have a happy Christmas?

Consider giving gift certificates. You will save wrapping paper and possibly save your gift recipient the pleasure of standing in one of those long return lines after Christmas. Buying a gift certificate from someone’s favorite store or spa can be a great gift. Dressing it up in a pretty tin or mini-stocking will make it even more memorable.

Join with family members to draw names and reduce the number of possibly highly-likely-to-be-returned gifts to thoughtful, timely family gifts.

Consider giving gifts of your time or your talents. Creating coupon gifts promising chores or activities that you can do for family members and friends is great for kids, as well as adults. If you are crafty, consider making some of your gifts for your loved ones.

Consider making donations in honor of someone on your gift list. Making a donation to someone’s favorite charity or religious institution in his or her honor is another great package-free gift idea. It is a gift that will keep on giving.

Don’t forget to get with your family members before Christmas to pull together items like toys, games and clothes that are no longer used to give to local charities. Make sure they are in good condition though. Helping children participate in this gesture is a wonderful way to teach them to care for others.

So now we have gone shopping and we have the perfect environmentally kind gifts. Time to wrap!

Did you know if each family reused just 2 feet of holiday ribbon each year, we could save 38,000 miles of ribbon? That’s enough to tie a bow around the earth. That is a lot of ribbon!

In the U.S., the annual trash from gift wrap and shopping bags totals over 4 million tons. If everyone wrapped just three gifts in reused paper or fabric gift bags, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 hockey rinks. Here are some great eco-friendly ideas for gift wrapping:

• Buy gift wrap that contains recycled material.

• Avoid buying plastic coated paper and foils (alas, this is my favorite kind of gift wrap) that cannot be recycled or reused.

• Make gift tags from Christmas cards from last year. Make gift cards - and even Christmas cards - on your computer with a printing program.

Instead of gift wrap, use gift boxes, baskets and other containers that can be reused for other gift-giving events or for household purposes. Save and reuse gift bags and bows again and again. Use scarves or pieces of fabric to wrap gifts. Newspaper and comic pages can even make fun wrapping paper.

With a little planning, we can all have a green Christmas, so let’s start that Christmas countdown.

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