The holiday season is a time of merriment, but it also generates an astonishing amount of waste.
However, by adopting sustainable practices, people can revel in the spirit while reducing their environmental impact.
According to the Center for Sustainability & Commerce at Duke University, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, household waste increases by more than 25 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Extra food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons-it all adds up to an additional one million tons a week to the nation's garbage piles.
More sustainable practices include sending e-cards and e-invites, wrapping gifts in newspapers or scarves or using a cloth gift bag.
Entertaining during the holiday season can be a major source of waste. To reduce the output of waste, Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, recommended using cloth tablecloths and napkins, opting for reusable cutlery and china and replacing plastic cups with small, washable glasses.
She also suggested buying less food, keeping track of leftovers and composting what you can't eat.
People should also try to save electricity during the holidays, MacEachern said. She recommended using LED decoration lights, which use less energy and are more durable than regular lights. Set lights on a timer to ensure your lights turn on and off at specific times.
Old electronics also add to the excess waste over the holiday season. MacEachern said there's no reason to let electronics pile up--every big box store now recycles computers, printers, screens, tablets and phones.
For people who decorate Christmas trees in their homes, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing and decorating a potted tree. Then, when the holidays are over, you can plant it in your yard and reduce waste from cutting down and disposing of live trees. If you purchase a cut tree, look for local programs to recycle your tree.
"The biggest way to reduce impact is by buying less obviously," MacEachern said. "And then when you do buy things, use your power to buy the products that do the least damage."
MacEachern, who also founded the Big Green Purse website, said that people should consider buying gifts of service or experience that "don't require amassing stuff," such as tickets for concerts or sporting events, donating to a friend's preferred charity or preparing a candlelit dinner.
If you do decide to go shopping, look for eco-friendly gifts such as organic foods and clothes.
"A lot of times, it's just a matter of tweaking the traditions you love," said Edna Rienzi, director of the Beyond Consumerism Program at the Center for a New American Dream.
Rienzi is a proponent of thinking outside the box when it comes to holiday shopping. Several years ago, the Center for a New American Dream started SoKind, a registry and wish list service that encourages the giving of homemade presents, charitable donations, secondhand goods, experiences and more.
"You don't have to go in a lot of stores at all," Rienzi said. "The idea is that you're reducing your environmental impact, but you're also giving a meaningful gift."