While the holiday season is often called “the most wonderful time of the year,” it can also be one of the most wasteful. Between packaging, gift wrap and holiday cards, Americans increase their waste production by 25% from Thanksgiving to the new year – not to mention the carbon footprint of holiday travel to visit family and friends.

“There are, however, small things people can do to reduce their carbon footprint this year – it’s as easy as reusing gift bags and being more mindful when disposing of Christmas trees,” says Wynne Armand, MD, associate director of the MGH Center for the Environment and Health.

“Christmas tree farms are wonderful for the environment. They provide jobs and raise trees that serve as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the air. Buying a real tree, ideally local, keeps Christmas tree farms in business. What’s also important, though, is how we dispose of them.”

Some towns help families dispose of their Christmas trees by collecting and chipping them into mulch. For those without access to this service, Armand says they can compost their own trees by breaking them down into smaller pieces. Stripping the pine needles will also help to speed along the disintegration process.

Gift-giving can also be made more sustainable by reusing gift bags or giving “gifts of experience” such as concert tickets or cooking lessons.

“Gifts of experience are underrated,” Armand says. “Not only are you generating less waste, but you’re spending time with your loved ones and putting money back into the service economy.”

The MGH Center for the Environment and Health works year-round to integrate environmental sustainability into the clinical, research and educational activities of the hospital. To learn about more initiatives, visit www.massgeneral.org/environment-and-health.

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