Op-Ed, 594 words

How to Be a Merry Environmentalist

You don’t have to be a Grinch to get rid of this wasteful holiday tradition.


Here’s something to consider this holiday season: Stop sending greeting cards.

I know this sounds like a tip from the Grinch, but this well-meaning tradition causes very real environmental consequences. Americans mail over 1.6 billion holiday cards to each other each year. This exchange of festive greetings generates over 40,000 tons of waste.

These cards, with their accompanying envelopes, are hardly the only wasteful holiday tradition — think single-use decorations, uneaten leftovers, and of course all that wrapping paper. Yet changing this practice would take a lot of pressure off our forests and climate.

Our planet loses 15 billion trees every year. When a tree dies, it releases carbon it’s stored over its lifetime — significantly contributing to global climate change. According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, deforestation releases nearly 1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually.


Matti Mattila / Flickr

This devastation of our forests also causes staggering habitat destruction, killing off thousands of species who rely on the unique ecosystems of a natural forest to thrive. Paper production can hurt human health as well. It often requires toxic chemicals for pulping and bleaching paper, which impacts people living downstream of paper mills.

To curb the effects of deforestation, the logging industry must act more responsibly. For starters, it should stop clear-cutting forests. And it needs to reduce its use of “plantation forests,” in which single species of trees are cultivated in row after row, completely distorting the qualities of a natural ecosystem.

Planting new trees to replace the felled ones is noble and important. But our forests and climate would be better off if we could leave more trees in the ground in the first place. To do this, we’ve got to use less paper and other products derived from wood.

A great first step would be to drastically reduce the number of holiday cards we send each season.

Forgoing this tradition doesn’t mean you can’t pass on your well-wishes. Why not send a video message of yourself and your family all dressed up in festive clothing, saying out loud what you’d write in a card? This is a wonderful way to share holiday wishes with loved ones that they can play anytime they need a pick-me-up throughout the season.

You can also replace the paper cards with electronic cards (although there can be a considerable environmental footprint to sending those, too).

Better yet, replace the typical card with a phone call. This will spare your loved ones any guilt from having to toss the card you’ve sent out after the holiday season. Have you talked to everyone on your holiday card list in the past year? The past five years?

I know I haven’t.

If you can’t part with the tradition, opt for a better paper choice, such as Hallmark’s line of recycled content cards (Shoebox Greetings, My Thoughts Exactly), or support companies like Tree-Free Greetings and the Green Field Paper Company’s hemp fiber card line. If you’re ever uncertain about how green a paper product is, the Better Paper Project can help you find the most tree-friendly option.

And what about those cards you receive? You can cut off the front and reuse them as postcards next holiday season.

A little change in your festive habits can go a long way in lessening the environmental footprint the holidays leave on our planet each year. By making even this small change, you can help keep trees in the ground and forests intact, protecting our climate and communities.

Beth Porter directs Green America’s Better Paper Project. GreenAmerica.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

  • Mistydawn

    I would have to believe the wasted wrapping paper and product packaging have a far greater impact. And how about the gas consumption, merchandise bags, shipping costs, etc. from shopping impact? There are negative consequences from all aspects of modern society. The paper waste I see where I work on a daily basis is exorbitant. I reuse gift bags & paper, repurpose cards into crafts, and make gifts. Sending Christmas cards with personal notes is one of the brighter aspects of the holidays for me. I enjoy remembering the special people in my life and letting them know how much I appreciate them while sending them a small piece of seasonal artwork in the form of a card. Peace & harmony 2u!

  • Lynee Gerbrandt Graves

    I just read your article in the Brighton Blade. Your article is honestly ridiculous, and makes no logical sense. What about all the trees we’re now saving with nearly all accounting and bill-paying done on line? There are many people, including me, who thoroughly enjoy sending and receiving tangible greeting cards and photos! Why would anyone want to take that away?! I’m pretty sure most nursing home and long-term hospital/rehab residents aren’t checking their email and/or smart phones for e-greetings; and for them, greeting cards may be the only ray of sunshine they see this Christmas holiday! Why are you being a grinch?!

    • ruckndl

      Different strokes for different folks.

  • CoffeeGarden

    For me, plastic gift cards create a larger environmental impact. The majority of companies provide single use (rather than reloadable) cards which must be tossed in the trash. Although I agree there may be appropriate times to send a gift card rather than cash, we have come to use them as a way to not have to actually select and purchase an thoughtful gift. As we swapping gift cards among ourselves, we might as well be swapping cash with little to no meaning. You often remember gifts received no matter the monetary value; cherishing some, laughing at others, and, yes, even exchanging a few. My observation is that gift cards do not generate the same experience.