New year's resolutions are a month away but getting a jump start on making a healthier planet is never a bad idea.
Whether traveling far or staying close to home, Tri-Valley residents can have a fun, festive and environmentally friendly season by using these sustainable holiday tips from the Pleasanton-based nonprofit Go Green Initiative:
* To cut down on landfill waste, consider prioritizing quality over quantity and buy more personal and useful gifts that are made to last. Secondhand and homemade gifts are a great option, as well as gift certificates for movie passes, cooking classes or zoo memberships, or a charitable donation in someone's name.
* Gift wrapping items like bags that can be reused or recyclable wrapping paper are creative options for sustainably and attractively wrapped presents. The Japanese art of furoshiki has also caught on in the West as another earth-friendly gift-wrapping option over the past few years.
* Cutting out sending Christmas cards in the mail is also another great way to reduce holiday waste. Websites like Hallmarkecards.com and Punchbowl.com have a variety of digital seasonal card templates that can be customized and emailed to loved ones.
* Online shopping is also another way to minimize your carbon footprint. A number of major retailers like Amazon and eBay offer free or reduced shipping, but consider buying from a site like etsy, where many unique and sustainable handmade gifts are sold.
* Consider buying a "living tree" that can be replanted after Christmas; pesticide-free trees are also becoming more commonly available. To find an organic Christmas tree in your area, visit https://www.beyondpesticides.org.
* Plummeting temperatures mean that heaters will be used more often, but try reducing energy intake by wearing warm clothes and slippers inside the home while also setting the thermostat to a lower temperature. Using a programmable thermostat or turning it down when sleeping at night or not at home will help, too.
* Ceiling fans should turn clockwise during the winter (and counter-clockwise in summer); by setting the ceiling fan on a low speed and clockwise, cool air is pulled upward while warm air is gently pushed down.
* Insulating the attic is the best way to cut down on a heating (and air conditioning) bill; depending, yours should have 12 to 15 inches of insulation, or more.
* Gathering around the fire with family and friends is a beloved seasonal tradition but that fireplace may actually draw more heat from your home than it generates, in addition to pollution from the smoke. Consider limiting how much your fireplace is used this year, and always close the damper once the fire is entirely out.
* The holiday season wouldn't be the same without festive light displays, and modern upgrades make it possible to illuminate the home while saving energy -- and money.
One U.S. Department of Energy study found that at least 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity -- enough to power 200,000 homes for an entire year -- could be saved in a month, if everyone swapped out their old holiday lights for LEDs.
LED lights, which release minimal heat, use 90% less energy than conventional holiday lights and last for about 200,000 hours (another bonus is the rest of the lights stay lit, should one burn out). Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs) will also significantly reduce lighting bills.
* It may seem unnecessary but water conservation during the rainy season is still important. Visiting relatives means more water will be used for bathing and laundry, so consider asking people to shower instead of taking baths, and to only wash full loads of laundry. Low-flow plumbing fixtures can also help save those precious drops.
* Piles of dishes by the kitchen sink is always the end result of those great holiday meals. Using the dishwasher will save more water instead of handwashing those dishes, so let technology handle them instead--a major win for anyone hosting this year.