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The holiday (or vacation) season means something different to everyone.

But regardless of how and what you celebrate, December tends to be a wasteful month. Americans throw away an average of 25 percent more than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

Wrapping paper, party leftovers and broken champagne glasses add up to 25 million more tons of garbage over the last few months of the year. That’s a lot — but the good news is that much of it is easy to eliminate if we’re careful about what we use and how we use it.

Gifts are one of the major stuff sucks of the season. Not to say that you should hold off on earrings for mom, but carefully consider what you’re getting for people, and how you’re getting it to them.

Wrapping, packaging and shipping can be a big waste of paper. Fortunately there are a plethora of ways to reduce your waste.

Dig through your recycling bin to find wrapping material. Cereal boxes are easy to repurpose and so is newspaper. Get creative.

If you’re sending packages, or ordering things online, make sure they’re sent in the same box and that gift wrap is kept to a minimum.

It’s easy to get sucked in to the present-giving cycle and to feel obligated to spend a certain amount of money, or get a certain kind of thing. But keep in mind that homemade presents, donations or time are often just as, or even more, valuable, and infinitely less wasteful.

Teach your brother how to wax his snowboard, donate to a cause that your grandmother feels strongly about, make your mom those earrings. Showing that you’ve thought about a gift, instead of just grabbing something at the mall, will make it that much more meaningful.

One of the biggest perks of the holidays is time off from school and work. That means time to travel.

While there is nothing better than getting to see family, or even just getting out of town for a few weeks, travel can be a high-impact activity. Plan out your options so you’re not using more carbon than you need to. Incorporate carpools into your plans, share rides, take the bus to the airport. And if you’re flying, consider offsetting the carbon from your flight — carbon offsets make great presents.

There is also a flood of holiday extras that are easy to get caught up in: cards, decorations, party favors. All of those things can be expensive, stressful and will probably be thrown away in 2010.

Prioritize what is important to you, try to reduce waste and keep in mind that no one will be offended if you skip the blow-up yard Santa this year.

Holidays, no matter what you believe, are, at their core, about celebrating all the good stuff you already have, be it family, friends or health.

You don’t necessarily need more things to celebrate that stuff.

Heather Hansman is communication coordinator for the CU Environmental Center.

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