Sweet Ways to Use Leftover Chocolate Chips

Don't let perfectly good chocolate chips go bad in the pantry.

Don’t let perfectly good chocolate chips go bad in the pantry. Photo: Shutterstock

There’s nothing like a warm, chewy, right-outta-the-oven chocolate chip cookie. But cookies aren’t the only use for chocolate chips. If you’ve got a post-holiday bag sitting in your pantry, don’t save it for next Christmas (they might go bad before then). Instead, use them to make your next snack a little sweeter.

Blogger Rebecca Stokes from The Stir put together a list of five ways to use chocolate chips left over from holiday baking. Some of them are supersweet, such as a molten lava microwave cake (yum!), while others are great ways to add flavor to healthier snacks such as Greek yogurt or granola.

And if you love cookies but have leftover produce rather than chocolate, check out these five cookie recipes.

4 Eco Lessons from U.S. Presidents

Begun as a day to honor the February birth of George Washington, Presidents’ Day  is now a celebration of all 44 U.S. presidents. Their achievements are varied and many; however, I’m focusing here on some of their environmental messages that we can incorporate into our lives.

Statue of Teddy Roosevelt. Photo: Flickr/Ian Sane

Statue of Teddy Roosevelt. Photo: Flickr/Ian Sane

Nature is for Refuge and Retreat 

Or so preached Theodore Roosevelt,  famous for his conservation efforts as president. Under his authority, five national parks were created as well as 51 wildlife refuges, 18 national monuments and 150 new national forests. Go Teddy!

On a smaller scale, we can regularly recharge by immersing ourselves in nature. Studies show that disconnecting from electronic devices—even for a short time— can boost our creativity and improve well-being. Kids especially reap physical, mental and emotional rewards from spending free time outdoors. So thank Teddy Roosevelt for preserving our country’s wide-open green spaces… then get out with your family and enjoy it!

Protect Your Air and Water 

Richard Nixon made sure of this by establishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and signing legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Families can carry out this concern for our environment by focusing on the air and water in your home. Perform a home water audit, and follow some of these simple tips for conserving your water usage. Be considerate of what you pour down the drain because some of it could end up in local waterways. Clean your indoor air with plants or by switching to non-toxic cleaning products.

Consume Less

This was Jimmy Carter’s message to the country when he proposed an energy policy that supported alternative fuels and a lifestyle of energy conservation. While unpopular at the time, it’s a basic tenet of the green movement today.

Families know that reducing consumption reduces waste. And this extends far beyond turning the thermostat down, although that’s as good a place to start as any. It may mean repairing items to make them last longer. It may mean gifting experiences instead of plastic toys and gadgets. For parents, it may mean watching less TV since commercials are brainwashing our children (and ourselves) into materialism and overconsumption—otherwise known as affluenza.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

President Obama’s $80 million stimulus earmarked for clean and green energy solutions was unprecedented. And while it hasn’t worked out perfectly, the action underscored his goal of moving the country toward renewable resources.

We can show our kids where our values lie by taking action in any number of ways. Donating money to charities we support. Buying locally made or non-toxic products. Not buying products. Investing in socially conscious companies. Voting for leaders who focus on education or the environment. Participating in neighborhood cleanups. The list is endless.

Presidents’ Day is the one day that we honor our country’s leaders. Yet every day we act as leaders within our families—perhaps with more influence than we realize—in shaping our children’s perceptions and values.

Share the Love with Low-Waste Ideas for Kids’ Valentines

A child presents a handmade valentine. Photo: Depositphoto.com

A child presents a handmade valentine. Photo: Depositphoto.com

According to History.com, about 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually. That’s a lot of trees going down in the name of St. Valentine. But Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a compulsory swap of store-bought cards. Here are some less wasteful alternatives for sharing the love among your children’s friends.

Handmade Cards

Originally, valentines were handmade. Handmade valentines offer a lot more meaning than what’s provided by those ubiquitous licensed-character cards that kids swap at school. Spark your child’s creativity with scrap paper and other household materials, such as the comic section of the newspaper, magazines, his or her own artwork, reused gift wrapping or pages from old books. Write a personal message, and decorate the cards with buttons, fabric scraps, fallen leaves, coins, etc. To extend the use beyond the holiday, consider making a bookmark instead of a card, scripted with a quote or silly joke. Need a valentine mailbox? Repurpose old containers (coffee cans, shoe boxes, etc.) and decorate them with nontoxic paints, crayons or eco-friendly glitter.

Seeded Cards

When I first discovered seeded cards a few years ago, I was amazed. Paper that blossoms into flowers — how cool is that? The perfect example of cradle-to-cradle design, these seeded (or plantable) cards are now used in everything from business cards to wedding invitations. It’s the valentine that keeps on giving, as the recipient can plant the biodegradable card and watch it grow into flowers, herbs or vegetables. If you have the do-it-yourself gene, you can make your own plantable paper. Learn how in this video.

Practical Presents

In lieu of cards, send your holiday greetings through items that kids will actually use. Here are some ideas:

Heart-shaped crayons. Photo: Chelsea Perry of Creative Mommas Blog

Heart-shaped crayons. Photo: Chelsea Perry of Creative Mommas Blog

Edibles

Many schools are “nut-free” these days; however, you can choose allergy-friendly treats to share with your child’s classmates. Surf Sweets — whose products are free from the top 10 food allergens — offers organic fruity hearts for the holiday. Find cute heart-shaped cookies at Smiley Cookie, a nut-free bakery and facility. And you and your kids can always make your own holiday treats. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter on thick slices of mozzarella, juicy melon or homemade raisin bread.

Items from Nature

This idea requires planning ahead unless you already have a collection of nature elements. Stones, seashells or leaves picked up from your travels make wonderful gifts. They can be painted, written on or otherwise decorated for a valentine exchange. Plus, nature items tend to be kept longer by children than a piece of paper. Glean inspiration from these Pinterest images of painted leaves.

What will you make this Valentine’s Day? Share in the Comments section below!

Upcycle Your Christmas Cards into Bottle-Cap Magnets

Bottle-cap magnets are a great way to upcycle photos from holiday cards. Photo: Dinah Wulf

Bottle-cap magnets are a great way to upcycle photos from holiday cards. Photo: Dinah Wulf

I love receiving the family-photo Christmas cards I get from my friends. The cards are great, showcasing my friends and their families as they change over the years. The whole family is dressed up and looking their best. The only problem is that the cards sit in a drawer, get tucked away in a box, or even eventually get tossed in the recycle bin. And I feel horrible throwing them away! So I decided to upcycle them into something that I can look at every day: bottle-cap magnets. Making these Christmas-card bottle-cap magnets, I literally turned trash (the bottle caps, not the photos) into treasure.

This project took me some time — days, in fact. Why? Because I, of course, took the cheap route! I chose to use decoupage medium because it was already in my craft closet. For quicker results, you can use resin or other mediums.

Materials

  • Bottle caps
  • Decoupage medium
  • Old pictures
  • A half-inch circle craft punch
  • Magnets
  • Strong adhesive, such as E 6000

Step One

First, fill each bottle cap three-quarters full with decoupage medium. Gently lift and tap the cap on your counter to even and smooth out the glue. This also helps eliminate small air bubbles. Set the caps aside for a while. (I waited 24 hours.)  Meanwhile, use the craft punch to punch out the pictures that you want to use.

Step Two

In step two, the photo is put in the cap. Photo: Dinah Wulf

In step two, the photo is put in the cap. Photo: Dinah Wulf

Your first layer of glue should have hardened slightly. Put another small dab of glue on top of that first layer and then insert your photo. Add a second layer of glue. Again, gently tap the bottle cap on a hard surface to even and smooth out the glue. Allow the second layer to dry. (This time, I waited 48 hours.)

Step Three

Next, attach the magnets to the back of the bottle cap using a strong adhesive. The glue will dry completely clear over time (approximately 48 to 72 hours).

You could also package these cute magnets in a small treat bag with a personalized label and give them as homemade gifts!

What to Do with Leftover Alcohol

Don't pour that leftover wine down the drain. Reuse it in your cooking! Photo: Shutterstock.

Don’t pour that leftover wine down the drain. Reuse it in your cooking! Photo: Shutterstock

For some, “leftover alcohol” is an oxymoron. But others may actually find half-empty wine glasses and beer bottles lying around the day after the big New Year’s Eve party. If you’re in the second camp, your first thought may be to pour the alcohol down the drain. But why be wasteful when you could save it to use for cooking?

Yahoo! Lifestyle UK & Ireland put together several great recipes for leftover wine, beer and spirits. For example, beer can be a great addition to stew or baked into cakes and bread for added flavor. Several wines can be added to sauces, and spirits can be blended into many dessert recipes.

Get detailed recipes. Bottom’s up!

DIY: Eco-Friendly Glitter

The Red Bottlebrush Flower is one plant that can be used to create glitter alternatives.

The Red Bottlebrush flower is one plant that can be used to create glitter alternatives. Photo: Shutterstock

Earth911 readers love them some crafts, that’s for sure. And really, what’s not to like when it comes to finding fun, low-waste ways to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces?

If you’re using traditional glitter, there’s a lot not to like. Most of it’s made from plastic, which, even when ground up, takes eons to break down. What’s a glitter lover to do?

Look to Mother Nature, of course. Wildlife Fun 4 Kids blogger Penny Whitehouse offers a guide for making natural glitter, and this kind is much less likely to get stuck to your skin and clothing in the process. Red Bottlebrush, Cadaghi and Lilly Pilly flowers are just a few plants Whitehouse uses to make excellent glitter alternatives, and they smell much better too.

Don’t have these plants handy? No worries. Take a look in your own backyard and get creative.

What alternatives to glitter have you used?

How Christmas Tree Recycling Works

Photo: Flickr/sdminor81

Your Christmas tree could become mulch for community parks. Photo: Flickr/sdminor81

Christmas tree recycling, also known as treecycling, is a simple way to have a big impact after the holidays have come and gone, and a growing number of communities are offering seasonal programs to make it easy to extend your tree’s useful life.

Recycled trees are typically used for mulch in community parks, as well as erosion prevention, weed abatement and habitat creation, but how do these programs work?

Earth911 sat down with Jaime Souza of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful (KTMB), which heads up a Christmas tree recycling program in Reno, Nev., and surrounding communities, to find out how they’re putting tossed trees to good use.

How Tree Recycling Works

KTMB’s Christmas tree recycling program runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 12 at three drop-off points throughout the region.

Located at community parks, these drop-off sites are evenly spread out and conveniently accessible for most residents, which draws high participation rates. The organization processed an impressive 10,000 trees for recycling last year.

At each collection point, volunteers work alongside parks department employees to collect and sort discarded trees. From there, the trees are run through an industrial chipper and transformed into mulch.

Most of the mulch is used in local parks and playgrounds, as well as erosion-prevention and weed-abatement projects throughout the community, but residents can also pick up free mulch from KTMB after the program is over — providing additional incentive to bring trees out for the program, Souza says.

“The most important thing I feel about this program is that it keeps trees out of the landfill,” she tells Earth911. “We try to make it as convenient as possible for community members to recycle their Christmas trees in a responsible way.”

Compared with artificial trees, real Christmas trees are a renewable resource, with 98 percent of them being grown and harvested each year as a crop would be. They are carbon neutral and create organic, biodegradable waste, making them the more environmentally friendly choice for Christmas greenery.

That said, it is still important to keep real trees out of landfills, where they biodegrade slowly due to low oxygen levels.

Souza notes that landfills in Washoe County, which includes the Reno-Sparks metro area, receive a staggering 5,000 pounds of waste every day during the winter months (the equivalent of about 700 fully grown elephants), meaning tree recycling plays an important role in keeping local landfills empty.

Next page: Tips for Recycling Your Tree

What to Do with Your Used Christmas Tree

You could kick your old Christmas tree to the curb after the holidays, or you could reuse it! Photo: Shutterstock

You could kick your old Christmas tree to the curb after the holidays, or you could reuse it! Photo: Shutterstock

Although there are several alternatives to traditional Christmas trees, the classic cut conifer still reigns as the most popular pine during the holidays. But what happens when the season is over, the decorations are boxed up, and your tree starts shedding needles and turning shades of brown?

Well, you can always recycle it. Several cities have a tree pickup day or accept curbside trees. You can also drop off your tree at a local recycling facility. Check out Earth911’s Recycling Search to find a tree-recycling event in your area.

While recycling your tree is one great option, there are also several ways to reuse it. Networx compiled a list of 10 great ways to reuse your tree. For example, you can use the branches and trunk as fire starters to keep warm throughout the rest of winter. You can also use tree remainders as mulch, pathway edgers and even to preserve a fish habitat — read the article for even more ideas.

5 Ways to Reuse Holiday Cards

Be honest: How large is the holiday card mountain on your kitchen table? We’re guessing it rivals Everest by now, and you’re certainly not alone.

Holiday cards tend to pile up this time of year, and while it seems a shame to toss them in the trash, it can be tough to figure out what to do with them. Give a nod to your loved ones’ kindness by turning those cards into something useful rather than trashing them or tossing them in a box.

Photo: Mike/Atomic Shrimp

Photo: Mike/Atomic Shrimp

1. Upcycled gift box

This creative idea from Atomic Shrimp blogger Mike makes use of all those cards and prevents future holiday waste with an upcycled gift-wrapping solution.

Creating your own gift box may seem complicated, but Mike makes it look surprisingly easy. Just a few snips and folds, and your box will be ready for gift-giving.

For step-by-step instructions on how to make these yourself, head to Atomic Shrimp.

2. Holiday card ornament and alternative wreath

These two simple projects from CafeMom Studios will help you deck the halls with your upcycled cards — saving money and adding a personal flair to your seasonal décor.

The crafty moms will show you how to complete both projects in one YouTube tutorial, and, despite the chic results, both items are super easy to make.

Next page: Photo card keepsake

Low-Waste Wintry Décor Idea: Juice-Bottle Snow Globe

Photo: Kelly Dixon/Smart Schoolhouse

Photo: Kelly Dixon/Smart School House

This quick and easy project from blogger Kelly Dixon will help you add some festive fun to a lazy afternoon with the kids while giving your holiday décor a sparkly touch.

The young mom and Smart School House blogger created this snazzy juice-bottle snow globe with her toddler daughter, and the duo even made an adorable video tutorial to teach you how to do it yourself.

“It was such a fun — and easy — project made from an apple juice bottle,” Dixon tells Earth911. “Clearly my 3-year-old, Stella, enjoyed it, too!”

Photo: Kelly Dixon/Smart School House

Photo: Kelly Dixon/Smart School House

All you’ll need is some glitter and a secret ingredient from the kitchen to make your snow globes sparkle.

For even more crafty fun, let your kids choose their own colored glitter for a truly one-of-a-kind decoration that you’re sure to cherish for many holidays to come.

For step-by-step instructions on how to make it yourself, head to Smart School House.

Wrap Holiday Gifts in Upcycled Potato Chip Bags

Every once in a while, we stumble upon a reuse idea that is so sensationally simple, we can’t believe we didn’t think of it first. This ingenious gift wrapping solution from blogger Jen Kluftinger is one of those projects.

Can you guess what her shiny gift is wrapped in? None other than a humble potato chip bag.

Photo: Jen Kluftinger/Drawings Under the Table

Photo: Jen Kluftinger/Drawings Under the Table

“I found some great metallic silver wrapping paper at the craft store, but it was so overpriced I just couldn’t justify buying it,” the creative crafter wrote on her blog, Drawings Under the Table. “So, I decided to try this instead.”

Once washed well with dish soap, this common kitchen item is transformed into stunning metallic wrapping paper that’s perfect for the holidays.

To cut back on waste even further, grab a few friends and join Terracycle’s Snack Bag Brigade to easily recycle the leftovers.

For step-by-step instructions on how to turn household waste into holiday cheer, head to Drawings Under the Table.

Bet you’ll love: 11 Low-Waste Gift Wrapping Alternatives to Buy or DIY

Make Miniature Snowmen from Old Pill Bottles

Photo: Bonnie Getchell/Revolutionaries via Crafting a Greener World

Photo: Bonnie Getchell/Revolutionaries via Crafting a Greener World

Decorating for the holidays can be expensive, and buying a bunch of new décor items from the big-box store can also leave a hefty footprint on the environment.

So, what’s an eco-minded merry-maker to do? Try using items you already have around the house to create festive decorations that will help you deck those halls with far less waste.

This inventive project from Bonnie Getchell of the craft blog Revolutionaries does just that by taking the humble pill bottle and transforming it into a miniature snowman that’s perfect for mantelpieces, kitchen tables or anywhere in the house that could use a dose of holiday cheer.

“My grandma loved to keep her empty pill bottles for me to upcycle into cute crafts,” Getchell wrote in her guest post tutorial at Crafting a Greener World. “I recently found a stash of pill bottles she had given me, and I was inspired by the hat-like shape that the lid had.”

After adding a few basic materials, Getchell had transformed the once-blah bottle into a cheerful snowman that’s sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face this season.

For step-by-step instructions on how to make these yourself, head to Crafting a Greener World.

Still feeling crafty? Book Smarts: Turn Old Paperbacks into Holiday Decorations

Deck the Halls with Upcycled Yogurt Cups

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

Looking to spice up your home on the cheap? With this simple project, the humble yogurt cup is all you need for a hefty dose of holiday cheer.

Dreamed up by blogger Monica Shanks of Mon Makes Things, this lovely garland is surprisingly sophisticated — considering it’s made from food packaging — and adds a touch of glow to any room of the house.

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

After a few coats of paint, yogurt cups begin to resemble bells in this festive garland. Just add some ribbon and string lights, and you’re ready to deck the halls!

The project was featured in All You magazine as part of a challenge to upcycle an everyday object into something fabulous for less than $5.

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

Photo: Monica Shanks/Mon Makes Things

For step-by-step instructions on how to re-create the magic for yourself, head to Mon Makes Things.

’Tis the Season to Recycle Old Electronics

Recycling old electronics isn't as simple as tossing the desktop in the blue bin. Photo: Shutterstock

Recycling old electronics isn’t as simple as tossing the desktop in the blue bin. Photo: Shutterstock

Stocking up on new smartphones, tablets and gaming systems this holiday season means figuring out what to do with our old gadgets. We want to recycle them, but, unfortunately, it’s not as easy as tossing the old PlayStation 3 in the blue bin.

How do you delete personal data? Where can you take your old electronics for recycling? How much trouble is it to recycle this gear?

To help address these questions, Earth911 and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) have launched Project Reboot, a program that aims to educate the public on recycling electronics responsibly.

“People too often clamor for the latest technology with little knowledge of how to responsibly recycle the gadgets they are replacing,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “The goal of this initiative is to educate people on the environmental, economic and social responsibility of proper electronics recycling, and ultimately to increase the rate over the coming year.”

Education around this topic is needed. Some 75 million Americans have never recycled electronics, primarily because they don’t know how, according to a recent Harris Interactive Poll. The poll also found that:

  • 26 percent of survey respondents did not know where to recycle electronics
  • 16 percent did not know how to recycle them securely
  • 14 percent did not know their device(s) could be recycled
  • 12 percent thought it was too much trouble to recycle
  • 6 percent thought the device(s) were supposed to be disposed of in the trash

“The ability for consumers to find electronic recycling opportunities in their community [is] essential to ensure these obsolete devices are properly handled,” said Brian Dick, Earth911’s chief executive officer. “Our partnership with ISRI and its membership will help educate consumers and help them locate responsible recyclers in their area. We are excited to assist ISRI to create awareness and provide options to an ever-growing industry.”

Project Reboot will bring together businesses, corporations and civic groups to not only focus on the need to recycle electronics, but also on the importance of doing it responsibly through a recycler certified to handle electronics to meet environmental, health and worker safety standards — and that guarantees secure destruction of all personal data.

In addition, there will be an electronics recycling pledge, social media components (including an interactive Facebook page), print materials on how and where to safely recycle, recycling and reuse tips, and more.

For continued coverage of Project Reboot, follow along on Twitter at @RebootProject.

Learn more about responsibly recycling electronics:

Recycling Mystery: Gift Cards

As we enter the holiday season, you’ll likely be giving and receiving loads of gift cards for your favorite shops, restaurants and online retail destinations, but can these cards be recycled when the money is gone?

Photo: Flickr/401kCalulator.org

Photo: Flickr/401kCalulator.org

Tossing a single gift card in the trash may not seem like a big deal, but these small bits of polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as PVC, the plastic resin used to make gift cards and other household items like CD cases) can really add up.

More than 75 million pounds of PVC material from plastic cards enters the waste stream each year — underscoring the importance of disposing of your old cards responsibly.

PVC is infinitely recyclable, but few curbside programs accept this form of plastic — meaning it is often tossed in the trash. While you can’t put old PVC gift cards in your curbside bin, you can still prevent them from heading to the landfill. A growing number of retailers have also begun using biodegradable gift cards, simplifying the disposal process.

Read on to learn more about recycling PVC cards and disposing of biodegradable cards responsibly, and celebrate a happy holiday for you and the planet.

Recycling PVC gift cards

Using a mail-back program is likely the easiest way to recycle your old PVC gift cards, but a recycler in your area may also accept them.

Check out Earth911’s recycling directory first to see if a drop-off point in your neighborhood may be more convenient (and less carbon intensive).

If you can’t find a recycler near you, Earthworks System accepts all forms of plastic cards — including gift cards and retired credit cards — through a mail-back recycling program.

The Cleveland-based recycler will accept your old cards for free, chop them up and melt them down into a sheet of recycled PVC — with no chemicals or extra plastic added.

Manufacturers then purchase these sheets to create new recycled gift cards — providing an easy disposal solution for consumers and closing the loop on planet-friendly gift cards for a new round of purchases.

Disposing of biodegradable gift cards

A growing number of retailers are beginning to offer plant-based biodegradable gift cards as an alternative to PVC plastic.

Target switched to biodegradable gift cards back in 2007, while Whole Foods Market rolled out a line of cards made from paper pulp last year. Other top names, including Aveda, Chipotle, LL Bean and Walmart, use biodegradable corn-based cards made by Nature Works LLC.

While we wouldn’t suggest tossing these cards on an organic compost pile, they will naturally decompose under the right conditions. Try the standard “dig a hole and bury it” approach to easily dispose of your biodegradable cards. Simply dig a small hole anywhere in your yard, place the cards inside and cover them for footprint-free disposal that won’t contaminate your compost.

Reduce Holiday Waste: 11 Low-Waste Gift Wrapping Alternatives to Buy or DIY

5 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Remember the environment and those in need this season by taking a moment to give back. Even small acts can make a big difference. Check out our list to get started.

Remember the environment and those in need this holiday season by taking a moment to give back. Photo: Shutterstock

Remember the environment and those in need this holiday season by taking a moment to give back. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Clear your cupboard to feed the hungry

Canned and dried foods that have been sitting in your pantry for months aren’t technically “food waste.” After all, they’re still perfectly edible and have yet to be tossed in the trash.

But with the growing demand on food pantries across the country, all that nonperishable food could definitely be put to better use than sitting forgotten on the back of a shelf.

Clear out your cupboards, and set aside nonperishable food you won’t realistically use in the near future for donation to your local food bank. A few minutes of pantry purging will help local food banks and soup kitchens meet demand as well as prevent future food waste (that stuff expires eventually, you know).

2. Donate toys to make a child’s day

Kids in low-income families often go without during the holidays. Help make sure every child in your community receives a gift this season by donating toys and clothes to charities or thrift stores in your area.

Parents on tight budgets may be doing some of their holiday shopping at secondhand stores, and charities that collect toys will surely be distributing them during the holidays. You’ll prevent unwanted toys from going to waste and just may make a child’s holiday a little more special.

3. Volunteer for neighborhood ‘treecycling’

An ever-increasing number of communities now offer Christmas tree recycling (often called “treecycling”) programs that transform discarded trees into mulch for playgrounds, parks and other public spaces.

Many of these programs depend on volunteers, and giving a few hours of your time helps ensure your neighbors can recycle their trees rather than send them to the landfill.

Use Earth911’s recycling directory to find your local treecycling program, and check out its website to see if volunteers are needed. A bit of time spent mulching trees isn’t bad for burning off all those holiday calories either.

4. Fight litter while making merry

Holiday schedules are often packed with parties, community activities and seasonal shopping. While you’re out and about, make it a point to pick up litter when you see it. Bring a bag with you while shopping or caroling with the kids, or de-litter rest areas when traveling to visit family and friends.

It may seem simple, but the planet and your community will be far better off as a result.

5. Choose charitable gifts

If you’re stumped on what to give to a friend or family member this season, think outside the box and choose a non-material gift such as a charitable donation.

Provide clean water to a family in need through The Water Project, or donate livestock and seeds with Heifer International. Kiva now offers Kiva Cards, which are like gift cards that allow recipients to choose from a library of micro-financing projects around the world.

Choose a cause that suits your loved one best for a thoughtful gift that’s entirely waste-free.

More Ways to Give Back: Feed People, Not Landfills

How Green Are Those Toys Under the Tree?

Lego has long-term plans to become a zero-waste company. Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock.com

Lego has long-term plans to become a zero-waste company. Photo: Stefano Tinti/Shutterstock.com

While toy makers depend upon children to want their product, they also know that it’s the parents who have the final say in whether or not those toys make it under the tree on Christmas morning. As more parents are turning an eye to environmental concerns, toy makers are greening up their act, not only in the products they use to create toys, but in the policies they’re putting in place for manufacturing them. Knowing that their business is as much about gaining trust as it is about making toys, toy makers are taking some impressive steps to become more environmentally friendly.

Read on to learn more.

Next page: PVC Gets the Boot

Low-Waste Décor Idea: Juice Box Snowmen

Photo: Rachel Hollis/The Chic Site

Photo: Rachel Hollis/The Chic Site

Turn ordinary kitchen waste into seasonal décor with this kid-friendly project from Rachel Hollis of The Chic Site.

Hollis slips these juice box snowmen into her kids’ lunches for a special treat, but these cute little guys would also make whimsical additions to your holiday decorations.

After rinsing your empty juice boxes thoroughly, you’ll only need a few basic materials to transform them into a set of cheerful snowmen for windowsills, mantlepieces or anywhere in the home that could use a little cheer.

Photo: Rachel Hollis/The Chic Site

Photo: Rachel Hollis/The Chic Site

For step-by-step instructions on how to make these yourself, head to The Chic Site.

Earth911 Tip: Cartons are recyclable, and more than 40 percent of U.S. households now have access to carton recycling. So, check out your local recycling program’s “accepted” list, and remember to toss your juice boxes into the blue bin after the holidays.

Still feeling crafty?: Turn Old Paperbacks into Holiday Decorations

Holiday Tip: Don’t Recycle Gift Wrap

Most gift wrap is not recyclable, but there are greener options.

Most gift wrap is not recyclable, but there are greener options. Photo: Shutterstock

Obviously, we don’t usually like to tell anyone to not recycle. But in the case of gift wrap, it’s better to reuse, or not use at all.

A common mistake many people make around the holidays is loading their recycling bins with wrapping paper, tissue, ribbons and more. Unfortunately, the shiny, laminated paper is actually not recyclable. Including it in the bin with other paper products can make an entire load unrecyclable.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives. Check out our guide to greener gift wrapping to learn more.

Paperworks Studio Makes 'Cards That Change Lives'

Paperworks Studio artist Ryan shows off two holiday card designs. He and 30 other artists with disabilities have been making 2013 holiday cards since February! Photo: Paperworks Studio

Paperworks Studio artist Ryan shows off two holiday card designs. He and 30 other artists with disabilities have been making 2013 holiday cards since February. Photo: Paperworks Studio

Operated by Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan, Paperworks Studio is a unique social enterprise that employs individuals with disabilities and disadvantages to create beautiful greeting cards from recycled materials.

Made from unconventional items like blue jeans, wool sweaters, linens and coffee grounds, the Paperworks Studio collection includes wedding and party invitations, as well as cards for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and — of course — the holiday season.

The company currently employs more than 30 talented artists from the Traverse City, Mich., area — who make and decorate the cards by hand.

For these artists, a job at Paperworks is more than just a paycheck. It also provides purpose, empowerment and vital skills that break down barriers to employment, says Brian Lewis, director of sales and business development for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.

“While they’re working here, it prepares them,” Lewis tells Earth911. “They learn life and work skills that earn them more independence in their lives and even further job opportunities.”

Paperworks Studio’s social enterprise model offers a welcoming work environment, along with skills and training that foster independence and build self-esteem. Each artist has his or her own role in the card-making process, ranging from drawing to making paper.

“It is impossible not to fall in love with them,” Lewis says of the artists. “Despite the fact that you might think that you’re going to give them something and help them, they always give more back to the people who work with them.”

“There’s nothing else like Paperworks Studio in the country,” he continues. “It truly is unique.”

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Holiday Gift Guides 2013

Miss one of gift guides this year? Want to refer back to them? Here are all five of our gift guides, all in one place.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Best of 2013

To kick off Earth911’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, we took a look back at some of our favorite featured products from this year.

For the Gardening Guru

Still searching for that perfect gift for the gardener on your list? Before you head off to the big-box store, consider a low-impact alternative instead. To get you started, Earth911 rounded up 10 planet-friendly presents that are sure to make any garden lover smile this season.

For the Gadget Geek

Finding the perfect gift for the gadget lover can get a little more complicated when you’re trying to keep it green. You want your gift to be cool — but not put more demands on the power grid or possibly generate more e-waste. So what’s the shopping solution for that eco-friendly gadget geek in your life? Our geek-friendly gift guide, of course!

For the Gung-Ho Globetrotter

Oh, the places your traveling friends go. For Day 4 of our gift guide, we celebrated those adventurous souls who love to hit the road — and offered some ideas on what you can get them to send them off on their next journey in eco-style.

For the Coolest Kids

Last but not least in our gift guide week, we turned our attention to the tiny tots in your life. Finding the perfect gift — one that is both entertaining and earth-friendly — for the kiddos on your holiday shopping list can be a challenge. Worry not! We scoured this year’s offerings to find the best sustainable gifts for the little (and not-so-little) ones.