Buy a potted or balled Christmas tree (roots still attached) so you can replant it in the backyard or donate it to the parks department. LivingChristmasTrees.org has lots of advice for do-it-yourselfers; it also "rents" living trees to residents of Portland, Ore., for $75 each. Friends of the Urban Forest of San Francisco (Fuf.net) rents nontraditional trees, such as Southern Magnolia and Strawberry, for $150, and replants them on city streets. Prefer a regular cut tree? Choose a real one that's grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizersask local merchants if they have an organic farm supplieror order from Freshchristmastree.com, a grower that ships to 46 states and uses sustainable methods. Then recycle: many municipalities collect trees to mulch. Search Earth911.org to find programs in your area.
Choose LEDs (light-emitting diodes) instead of incandescent bulbs to decorate your tree and home. They're more expensive, but last much longer and use 80% to 90% less power than conventional mini bulbs. LEDs, which cast a bright white light, also stay cool to the touch so they won't singe the treeor your child's fingers. Brookstone.com's oversized multicolored LEDs$10 per 12-ft. strandlook just like the lights Dad used to put up.
Do the folks on your list really need more stuff? If not, skip the store-bought presents and give a home-cooked gourmet meal or free night of babysitting instead, or donate to a charity in their name. Oxfamamericaunwrapped.com invites donors to "buy," for example, a camel ($175), cow ($75), sheep ($45), building tools ($25) or the planting of 50 trees ($30) as a way to support Oxfam's programs in developing countries (the recipient gets a card with a photo, not an actual cow). For more ways to give, go to Treehugger.com.
Nobody will notice that you wrapped your gifts in brown bags from the grocery store if you add a pretty bow on top. Danny Seo, author of Simply Green Giving (he also blogs at http://dannyseo.typepad.com), recommends using old VHS and cassette tape (both curl nicely on a sharp scissors' edge), old Christmas lights, tape measures, shoelacesreally anything from the junk drawer that's long enough to tie around a boxfor a vintage look. Instead of plastic bubble wrap to cushion the contents, try unshelled peanuts, dry pasta or polyester fill from old pillows. Seo also suggests using bandanas and other reusable cloths, and for bottles of wine, sleeves of old flannel shirts. Not fancy enough? Try Poinsettia hemp wrap from Paporganics.com or Importica.com's paper made from naturally shed mulberry tree bark. Smithandhawken.com sells recycled-paper wrap for $9 per 10-ft. roll. For more stylish ideas, go to Idealbite.com.
Artist Jeff Clapp turns discarded aluminum oxygen canisters from Mt. Everest into decorative bells for $2,400 a pop. The leftover aluminum shavings make a nice tree ornament that someone might actually buy (the "Everest" balls are $48 for four at Eco-Artware.com). Or save your money and hang items from around the houseBarbie's accessories, Pez dispensersusing hemp twine.
An original door hanging fashioned out of retired aluminum street signs can be ordered for $140 at Eco-Artware.com, where you'll also find step-by-step instructions for creating a "silver bell" wreath using old soda cans and fishing line. McFaddenFarm.com, meanwhile, sells handmade garlands and wreaths of fresh bay leaf (harvested from the hills of Northern California, where it grows wild) that provide more than enough herb to cook with for six months or more.
Most eco-friendly bamboo tableware is too drab for festive occasions, but not this Bambu Lacquerware, available at Branchhome.com for $12 each and up depending on size. Made in Vietnam from 100% organically grown bamboo (deemed green because it grows so fast), the bowls are coated in a natural lacquer and painted in six bright colors.
Another way to conserve electricity: burn candles. But toss the old onesthey could have lead wicks, which are toxic when burned and were banned in the U.S. only as recently as October 2003 (visit cpsc.gov for details). And choose soy, vegetable wax or beeswaxall renewable and biodegradable materialsover paraffin wax candles, which are petroleum based. Big Dipper Wax Works' 100% beeswax candles run $10 to $24 at 3Rliving.com.