With Christmas approaching, we are dreaming of all the wonderful things the season brings. We take time from our daily schedules and work to spend the holidays with our friends and families. The focus of our thoughts is on the importance of those around us, and the spiritual significance of this time of year. Many of us have taken some measures in our lives to be a bit more responsible for our environment and to diminish the impacts our activities have on the world. A little recycling or choosing reusable bags and containers can make a difference if we all do it. The energy expended and chemicals employed in creating new containers contributes to the loss of the natural environment. Here are some ways over the holiday season you can make a difference, and feel better about your impact on the earth.

No one would argue that Christmas lights and trees add something beautiful to the holidays, but they can be put on timers or we can set a schedule for turning them on or off. This would reduce the amount of energy we use over the holidays, and we can still appreciate them in the evenings while we are awake. If you go a step further and turn off computers at the end of each day the energy you save will add up over time.

When we think of Christmas presents, we think of wrapping paper. A new trend has been to use bags, which can be folded and reused again the next year by simply replacing the card. I have even reused bags in the same Christmas as I couldn’t imagine folding it for another use. We could burn the paper, but the chemicals used in the design emit a black smoke, which can’t be good for the air we breathe. Think of creative ways to decorate presents under the Christmas tree each year. If you just have to have wrapping paper, try to find the recycled type. This would work well for Christmas cards as well.

Instead of paper greeting cards, you could send e-cards this year, or even revamp an old tradition of actually visiting or calling friends and family. Just because Quebec is a world leader in pulp and paper production doesn’t mean we have to be a leader in consuming our forests.

Since we are almost all taking time off work, let’s try to increase the amount of carpooling we do when we have to go somewhere or reduce the number of trips we make to the store. We have extra time, so why not make lists and plan trips we feel we need? Why don’t we look for some outdoor activities that don’t require driving? The savings in gas will add up, and the non-driving activities will benefit your health.

When choosing gifts, think about the amount of plastic packaging they come in. In the past, we had homemade toys and clothes. Now it seems like we have to have these thick plastic molds that we cut and throw away into some land fill. If we want to make a difference, we could remove them from their packaging while we are in places that recycle these products. We could put them in things that do not require packaging. It’s still new, and it won’t end up buried in our lands.

With toys or electronic equipment, choose rechargeable batteries. While it might not save on the energy directly, it will mean fewer disposable batteries going into the garbage. The metal and chemical components of a battery may have lost their electrical charges but not their toxicity. Most phones, games and other electronics have built in rechargeable batteries, but for those that don’t or if you are planning to go wireless on your keyboard and mouse, consider this option.

If you are planning a break from cooking, it’s better to treat yourself and eat at the restaurant rather than getting takeout. Takeout usually comes with plastic bags, plates, utensils and condiment packages. There is less waste when you can wash plates, utensils and the condiments are stored in reusable containers.

A way to reduce water consumption over the holidays is to turn the faucet off when you are scrubbing dishes or brushing your teeth. Only turn it on when you need it to rinse. When you first turn on the water to get it cold, try putting a container under the faucet while it is warming up, and use the water to water your plants.

Finally, one of the biggest consumers of energy in our homes is heat. So, if we want to reduce electricity bills, we need to think of greener ways to heat our homes. Since we have more time, we could use some of it to make wood fires in our stoves, and turn down the thermostat a bit when we are outside doing activities with our families. We also seem to do much more cooking during the holidays, so when you finish cooking leave the oven door ajar a bit to let the heat out to warm the room. Though if you have small children around be sure to watch the kitchen.