Sustainable Holidays

This year, PEEC’s staff and volunteers put together some videos and tips to help you celebrate the holidays sustainably in honor of Los Alamos WinterFest. Check out the below videos to learn about going green with crafts, in your kitchen, with your dog, and more!

How do you plan to celebrate sustainably? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Tip #1: Alternative Wrapping Paper

Ashleigh Lusher shares some ideas for wrapping paper alternatives.

Tip #2: Reviving Vegetables

Katie from Zero Waste Los Alamos shares some tips on reviving vegetables!

Tip #3: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle With Your Dog

Rachel Landman from PEEC shares some tips on reducing, reusing, and recycling with your dog around the holidays — and beyond!

Tip #4: Saving Energy This Holiday Season

Elizabeth Watts shares some tips from PEEC and the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities on saving energy this holiday season.

Tip #5: Turkey Broth

Cheryl Bell from the Los Alamos Zero Waste team shares how you can make turkey broth out of your holiday turkey!

Tip #6: Natural Ornaments

PEEC’s Ashleigh Lusher shares some instructions on how you can make simple, natural ornaments this year!

Tip #7: Reusing in the Kitchen

In our final tip, Katie from the Zero Waste Los Alamos team shared some tips on how to reuse items in your kitchen to reduce waste around the holidays.

Energy Saving Tips for the Holidays

By Elizabeth Watts

Last WinterFest, PEEC and the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities decorated this Tesla using entirely solar powered lights!

As we approach the winter solstice, the nights are getting longer. Many traditions around the world celebrate with lights during this darkest time of the year. Here in New Mexico, many of us decorate with farolitos (or luminarias depending on where you are from!). Whether you put up simple white lights or go full-Griswold, here are some tips on how to save energy and help protect our environment while brightening the dark nights of winter. 

NASA is able to see changes in the amount of light produced in the US during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years. This has effects on energy use as well as on wildlife and on ecosystems. Nocturnal animals may be confused by nighttime lighting while animals that are active during the day can be out longer and have greater exposure to predators. Also animals are in general more sensitive to shorter wavelength (blueish) lights than we are. LED lights use much less energy than traditional lights, but some of them emit more blue light than traditional ones.

One impactful change you can make for both your energy bill and the environment is to not leave your outside lights on all night. This will use less energy and cause less disruption for wildlife. With holiday lights, set them up with an inexpensive outdoor timer, and turn them off by midnight. It’s Los Alamos — no one is out after 10 PM anyway! For regular outdoor lights on a carport or porch, look for LED bulbs that have a warm light instead of a blue light, are shielded, and that have a movement sensor so they only turn on when someone approaches. Lights that are shielded from shining up into the sky reduce sky glow. Check out more recommendations for outside lights from the International Dark Sky Association

LED lights are much more efficient than incandescent lights, especially for larger sized holiday lights such as C9s. A string of 25 C9 incandescent lights uses 175 watts of power while a similar string of LEDs only uses 2.5 watts. For a string of 100 miniature lights, incandescent bulbs will use 40 watts compared to 7 watts for LEDs. This is less of a difference, but if you have multiple strings of lights, it can add up to a significant difference. Here is a handy online calculator that can show you how much energy you can save by using different types of lights. LED lights also have a longer lifespan than incandescent lights so even though they cost more initially, the total cost over 10 years is significantly less.

This video shows PEEC and the DPU’s Grinch-Proof Solar Sleigh in action!

If you are investing in new outdoor lights this year, consider solar-powered lights. There are many styles and colors available. With solar lights, you won’t add to your energy bill. You also don’t have to run extension cords to use them so they are great for decorating places farther away from the house. Most solar lights have a sensor so they only come on when it’s dark outside. You can also try to find ones with a timer so that they don’t stay on too long. Some solar lights will stay on as long as they have power but others have a timer for two, four, or six hours. With a little internet searching, there are even solar-powered electric farolito/luminarias available!

Don’t forget to check out natural light displays this winter. Earlier sunset times mean that you can see the stars without staying up all night! Bundle up if it’s cold, and have some hot chocolate ready for when you come back in. The night of December 13 and morning of December 14 is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This year it coincides with a new moon so there are great conditions for viewing this shower. On the evening of the solstice, December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction just after sunset. This will be their closest approach to each other in our sky for 20 years. 

If you have an energy-efficient holiday display, we’d love to see it! Send a picture to We will also be decorating the treehouse at the Los Alamos Nature Center with solar-powered lights so come check that out, too!

For more tips on saving energy this winter, check out our home winterization post!

Week 9, Day 5: The Future of Our Climate

Rendija Crack is a beautiful trail to hike anytime of year, but especially when the leaves begin to change in the fall. Today, we’re considering how climate change may impact the landscape that we know today. (Photo by Craig Martin)

During week nine of Take It Outside, we are learning about our climate! Join us on Monday as we kick off week ten of this initiative to learn more about reptiles and amphibians.

Today, we’re thinking about the future of our landscapes due to climate change and are considering some ideas for living in a more sustainable way.

Upcoming Event:

Tune in for tonight’s astronomy talk at 7 PM. PEEC volunteer Paul Arendt will take a look at what is coming up in May and June’s night skies by highlighting the planets, star patterns, nebulae, and constellations that may be readily observed. This program is perfect for beginner stargazers who want to learn more. The talk is free to watch, but registration is required. Find out more and sign up here.

Blog Post:

Los Alamos High School senior Kathryn Laintz reflects on how fire has changed our landscape and the ways in which climate change could continue to do so. Read her blog post here.


We had an upcycled outfit making station at our Earth Day Festival in 2018! (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Buying something new is often the easiest solution, but not usually the most environmentally-friendly option. Take time to consider new products or toys you are planning to purchase. Are there ways to make these items with upcycled materials around your house? Plastic toys especially often build up and are eventually thrown out. 

Learn about some upcycling ideas here and how you can make your own fairy houses, planters, drums, and even a bubble refill station! Get instructions for these fun, upcycled crafts and more here. Let us know what you make!


Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

We can learn a lot about living sustainably with our natural resources by observing native plants and animals that are adapted to our climate. Go outside today and look for beauty in the plants and animals that make do with the resources that nature provides.

Are there any ideas you can bring back for your own home and garden? Could you encourage more native plants in your yard? Could you be like a lizard and use the sun and shade to keep your home warm or cool?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Turn off your screen and use nature for your entertainment! Take a walk with a family member, read a book under a tree, or do some stargazing.

While you’re out there, think of an action you can commit to that will help mitigate climate change. It could be a change you make in your personal life, like adding one meatless meal a week, or walking instead of driving. It could be something you do with an organization, like changing processes and procedures at your work or school, or it could be something at the public level, like deciding to run for office, or organizing or participating in a climate movement. Tell a friend or family member your idea, and let them help you stay accountable!

If you want, you can send your idea to us at or by using the form below, and we can check back with you and see how you’re doing!

How You Can Help:

  • There are lots of things people of all ages and means can do to help mitigate climate change. Here are some ideas from NASA for things kids can do.
  • Here are some other ideas that adults can do. We have started doing many things differently during the coronavirus crisis, and some of them, like cutting back on travel, have positive environmental impacts. Challenge yourself to think of a change you can make permanent in your life.
  • You can increase your impact by involving your organization. Learn more about what PEEC is doing to try to be more sustainable in this Nature Notes article. We recently challenged the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce to adopt sustainability goals and practices of their own and hope they will continue to pass the challenge around town!
  • Make your voice heard! If you are eligible to vote in New Mexico, you have until May 28 to request an absentee ballot for the primary election at The deadline to register to vote in the primary election has passed, but now is a good time to get registered for future elections if you aren’t registered.
  • Ensuring that you are properly recycling is an easy way to live more sustainably! If you missed the live-stream, check out our Recycling 101 presentation on our YouTube channel.
  • Some Los Alamos youths are organizing a local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political movement focused on stopping climate change and creating green jobs in the process. Check out Sunrise Movement Northern New Mexico on Facebook or Instagram, or email them for more information.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our climate this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us next week to discover more about reptiles and amphibians!

Week 6, Day 5: Sustainability

A young visitor makes music from recycled materials at PEEC’s Earth Day Festival in 2019. The drums were brought to the festival by Kevin Kinane, Recycle Man. (Photo by Thomas Graves)

Welcome to Take It Outside! We’re finishing off our Earth Day-birthday week with some thoughts about how to live sustainably and reduce your footprint on our Earth.

If you haven’t signed our birthday card yet, you can do so here. Your stories are warming our hearts! Thank you, PEEC community.

Upcoming Birthday Events:

Join us for a virtual family-friendly happy (half) hour from 5 – 5:30 PM TONIGHT to celebrate our 20th birthday. We want to celebrate with you and share some highlights from our first 20 years! There will be fun, games, and memories! Pour yourself a drink of choice and raise your glass to the PEEC community via Zoom. Be sure to wear your PEEC swag and party hats!

Finally, for the last event of this Earth Day week, Rick Wallace will explore the latest theories on the formation of our planet and solar system during a live-streamed astronomy talk at 7 PM tonight. During this presentation, Rick will also discuss the formation of other solar systems and talk about implications for life beyond our own system.

Blog Post:

Sue Barns, a PEEC volunteer and member of the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board, shares ways she’s found to live more sustainably and minimize her footprint on the planet. Learn about her efforts, and some ways you can reduce your footprint, here.


Ziploc baggies and individually packaged snacks may seem like a quick and easy solution when saving food and packing lunches. However, 40% of the plastic produced globally ends up as packaging.

Reduce the amount of plastic in demand by buying bulk and then making your own beeswax wraps to store food. They are simple to make and can be used for lunches, picnics, and in the refrigerator!

Find out more about the climate change impacts of plastic.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

This dog is pleased to show off how much trash she picked up this morning! (Photo by Sue Barns)

Make a difference today by picking up trash or dog poop (why should I care about dog poop?) in an area near your house. You and your neighbors will appreciate it, and the trash and fecal matter won’t end up damaging our ecosystem.

Be sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves and following COVID-19 guidelines, and wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.

Send a picture of your efforts to, or share on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. Make it even better by challenging a friend or family member to pick up trash where they live!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Start thinking about how you can live more sustainably! Make it fun, and follow Sue’s advice and start with something that inspires you. Some ideas you could think about for outside your home:

  • Start a compost pile. Tune in to PEEC’s compost panel on May 12 for ideas. Keep an eye on PEEC’s website for more information on this event.
  • Identify places where you could replace existing landscaping with native and drought-tolerant plants.
  • Create outdoor wildlife habitat.
  • Consider harvesting water from your roof for your landscaping.
  • This is a great time to make sure your drip watering system is working properly!

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us how you like to celebrate the Earth! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us next week to explore our forest ecosystems!

More Sustainability, More Joy

Our backyard wildflower field sequesters carbon in the soil, attracts wildlife, and is a joy to behold. (Photo by Sue Barns)

By Sue Barns

When I think about it, reducing my environmental footprint is probably my longest-running hobby. From attending the first Earth Day with my mom in 1970, through joining the Recycling Coalition in my college town, to serving on the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board recently, I’ve been paying attention to this issue for 50 years! You might think that I have it all figured out by now, but to be honest, it continues to be more of a journey than an accomplishment.

My Personal Sustainable Swaps

What kinds of steps have my family and I taken to reduce our footprint? Some of the actions, like minimizing air travel, have involved some amount of sacrifice. Others involve buying “stuff”, like a hybrid car and high efficiency appliances, that have their own footprint. But, overall, I’d say that most changes we’ve made have not only reduced our impact, but improved our lives as well.

Upgrading the insulation of our home not only saves energy, but also saves money and increases comfort. Enriching the soil in our yard and planting wildflowers and native shrubs helps store carbon in the soil while providing year-round beauty and wildlife habitat. Opting for electric bikes (instead of a new car) is just plain fun! 

Identifying needs instead of wants, and reusing rather than buying new, saves time and money. Simplifying our lives has freed up time, space in our home, and cash, and helped us focus on the things that truly matter to us.

The biggest and best change we have made, for our health and that of the planet, was to our diet. A recent study shows that adopting a plant-based diet “… is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.” 

Of all the efforts I’ve made, choosing to eliminate animal products from my family’s diet, together with reducing food waste, has saved us the most money, improved our health substantially, introduced us to wonderful new cuisines, and reduced our carbon “foodprint” by as much as 85%. A win-win-win!

Changing to a plant-based diet significantly reduced our environmental “foodprint,” improved our health, and opened up a world of exciting new tastes! Here’s some vegan dim-sum that my family enjoyed in Portland, OR. (Photo by Sue Barns)

This sort of major overhaul of our eating habits came with challenges, of course. What can we eat? How do we cook? Where will we get our protein and other nutrients? What will our family and friends think? The answer to most of these questions was just learning new habits. 

There are now abundant resources on the internet and in the library to guide the way. And so many recipes and delicious plant-based products are out there! The family and friends part has actually been easier than we expected as well. Most are very accepting, and even accommodating, of our off-normal diet. Generally, they are just curious about why and how we have changed, since most have heard of the benefits of a plant-based diet and would like to try it out for themselves and their families. I am only too happy to help them!

Reducing Your Footprint

So, how could you proceed on your own journey to reduce your environmental footprint? A good first step is to use a calculator like this one to see where your footprint is heaviest and get ideas on ways to shrink it. There are some good resources out there that can tell you what personal actions would have the most impact. Of course, you’ll want to get the whole family involved in greening your life, and here’s a terrific, practical approach to getting started with climate and nature-healing activities.

I think the best way to really make a big contribution to reducing your footprint is to find some aspect of sustainability that inspires you. Does cooking or gardening make you happy? Great! Find amazing plant-based recipes to feed your family or start growing your own food using homemade compost. How about cars or finance? Check out electric vehicles, or research ways to divest from fossil fuels and invest in more sustainable technologies. Are you an artist, musician, or writer? The world needs your talent and vision to inspire us to care about the Earth! 

Whatever your passion, the planet needs you to put it to work for nature, for future generations, and for all of us right now.

Making Connections With the Earth

Hikers appreciate the views from Cerro Grande Trail in Bandelier National Monument. (Photo by Sally King/NPS)

In honor of Earth Day, we asked PEEC volunteers and community partners to share the ways that they feel connected with our planet. Read some of their thoughts below!

How do you connect with the Earth? We’d love to hear from our community. Send an email to to share your story.

A mountain lion visiting the pond in Selvi’s backyard wildlife habitat. (Photo by Hari Viswanathan)

“I started connecting to the Earth and loving nature through watching birds when I was growing up in India. It was a tradition in our family to feed the crows before we ate in the mornings and this was a chore that I was given. We didn’t eat until the crows had been fed.

I got married and moved to New York in 1967. My bird-watching hobby faded during this time, but I began to pursue it again when we moved to Los Alamos in 1996. We found a nice home located between two canyons — a haven for wildlife. We built ponds and started attracting animals to our yard, which has allowed me to deepen my connection with nature.”

— Selvi Viswanathan, PEEC Volunteer

“Many of my generation were advocates and activists for our environment on that first Earth Day 50 years ago. Since then, we have gained great knowledge on ecological principles and have experienced progress and setbacks with regards to policies and practices in the interrelationships of life and the environment.

None of us are comfortable with the current situation, yet it should bring awareness on how human behavior can minimize negative impacts. In just a matter of weeks, we have noticed major cities with cleaner air and an increasing presence of wildlife in nature preserves and other habitats across the world.

Perhaps a positive lesson of this coronavirus is that of the power of society and nature on the interdependence of all life. Hopefully we pay attention.”

— Tony Sena, Professor of Biology at Northern New Mexico College and PEEC Featured Naturalist

Ana and her brother, Olie, hike along the Blue Dot Trail with backpacks full of legos. (Photo by Natanya Civjan)

“During my time at home, I have been going on a lot of long walks with my family. We also made scenes of legos in different places we found on the trails. I like to play fun games with my brother in our awesome treehouse and also pretend we are mountain goats when we hike on Blue Dot Trail.

One of our favorite games to play outside is “I’m an animal”. When we are hiking on a cliffside with lots of rocks, we are mountain goats. We jump from rock to rock and sometimes rest in the shade. When we are hiking under a tree cover with lots of leaves on the ground, we are panthers. We pretend to sneak up on unsuspecting prey, and at the last moment, we pounce. When we go on family walks, we run up ahead and become wolves. We always hide from our parents and then scare them when they pass!”

— Ana Saenz, PEEC Volunteer

“My thoughts this spring naturally turn to the complex interactions between our view of nature and the viruses and other microscopic inhabitants of our Earth. Our experiences in the past few months have reinforced for me the complexity of nature and our connection to even the smallest parts of it.

I am reminded that nature is full of unexpected interactions and that we will continuously be surprised by the parts of the natural world that we do not yet fully understand, whether that is disease, climate change, wildfire, pollution, or endangerment of wild species. I am also reminded of the crucial role that science and education play in trying to understand and mitigate some of these unexpected complexities, and saddened by the willingness of some people to spread harmful, unfounded information based purely on ignorance or malice.”

— Rick Wallace, PEEC Board Member and Volunteer

Sue’s backyard is now full of flowers and has become a haven for insects, birds, and other wildlife. (Photo by Sue Barns)

“Two years ago, I decided to connect to nature by inviting it into my yard. I worked with Ecolutions to bury logs under my soil to hold water, brought in compost, and planted pollinator-attracting flowers and bushes.

What a delight unfolded the next spring! Wallflowers, Yarrow, Flax, and every color of Poppies attracted myriad insects. When winter came, the Black-Eyed Susans provided seeds for so many birds. This year, we have hundreds of Penstemons coming up. Deer, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and snakes have come to life, and I know there are untold millions of critters at work in the soil beneath my feet.”

— Sue Barns, PEEC Volunteer