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Deck the halls with LED lights

A more environmentally friendly holiday doesn’t have to feel as if the Grinch already stole Christmas.

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And what you serve your feast on also can have an impact, she says. “The American family generates on average, according to the EPA, 4-1/2 pounds of garbage every day. It’s even worse at the holidays,” says Coronato. In other words, load up the dishwasher and skip the paper plates. If you’re having a large party, she suggests borrowing an extra set or two of dishes from friends. (Helmer says if you really can’t face all those dishes, look for disposable plates made from sugarcane or corn that can be composted.)

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When decking the halls, LED Christmas lights use 90 percent less energy than conventional lights. But if you’re all stocked up with conventional already, just put them on a timer. You’ll use up to four times less energy, says Helmer.

Ms. Sarnoff and her family cut their tree from a sustainable farm every year, but she has altered her decorating in one respect: “We don’t put lights on the outside of the house anymore,” says the Los Angeles mother of three. “I put out luminarias.... It’s so much more special than just flipping a switch. The kids love them.”

Coronato says that hostess gifts are another area that could use a little greening. “We spend a lot of frivolous money on those last-minutes gifts. We feel like it has to be a bouquet of flowers. At this time of year, they’re the most highly treated things in the supermarket,” she says. “It’s like saying ‘Hi, thanks for inviting me over. Here are some toxins.’ ” Instead, she says, “keep some small potted plants in the windowsill at home” and grab one of those before heading out to a party. If you’re so inclined, she adds, you can “have the children decorate the terracotta pots.”

A windowsill herb garden is another green gift for people who love to cook, says Urvashi Rangan, director of GreenerChoices, an environmental website run by Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y. “It hasn’t been sprayed with anything, or shipped anywhere.” Or, if it’s in your budget, consider giving a share to a cooperative farm. Your recipient will get fresh local produce all year long.

As for the presents, Coronato and her husband “committed to getting all the presents at garage sales” for their preschooler and toddler. “We bought them this fall when they had all the great garage sales. It breaks my heart that there’s so much plastic at the holiday season.” She fully acknowledges that this is much easier with younger children. (And you want to be careful that the toys meet current safety standards.) Forty percent of all batteries (which can leach toxic metals into the ground if they end up in landfills) are bought at the holidays, so Helmer suggests including a pack or two of recyclable batteries in your holiday budget. You’ll get the money back in the long run.

For older children, Coronato suggests reducing consumption by thinking about a family gift – such as a Nintendo Wii – that everyone can enjoy together. Or, if the family’s up for it, try a homemade Christmas. (For parents who aren’t crafty, she says gift certificates for a “yes” day or a special date with one child can be very memorable). Helmer recommends experiential gifts, such as “a zoo membership or tickets to the theater” – or gift cards, which are unlikely to end up in the trash. (This year, you might want to consider the health of the retailer before buying, though – bankrupt companies don’t have to honor gift cards.)

“Conservation is the simplest way to be green – whether that’s using less wrapping paper, or putting the lights on the tree on a timer,” says Ms. Rangan. “Saving energy, saving money is being green.