GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- It's the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving, but being thoughtful can go beyond what's wrapped under the tree.

This year, reducing the environmental impact of the holiday season will add to the festive colors as we go "green."

Not all gifts need to be store-bought. Think about giving the gift of experience this holiday season.

Museum or zoo passes are great for children of all ages, while coupons for home-cooked meals, or a free night of babysitting for friends with children are both gifts that keep giving.

Picking out a library book for your spouse or best friend will prove how much you know them and requires thought instead of cold hard cash. A day of pampering at the spa reduces both clutter and stress for your loved one.

Regifting is also an option.

The etiquette of this practice is up for debate, but why keep a gift you don't intend to use? Instead, declutter and pass the gift along to someone you feel may benefit from it, or bring it to a white elephant gift exchange.

If you do buy gifts, think about purchasing items from small businesses or artists that are both useful and practical.

Consider the durability of a product before you buy it as a gift, too. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing money. If purchasing electrical appliances and equipment, look for energy-saving models.

Discarded batteries are also an environmental hazard.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually.

This year, think about giving gifts that are battery-free or naturally powered.

The EPA also stated that Americans produce 25 percent more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than during the rest of the year.

So when it comes time to place those items under the tree, wrapping gifts in excess newspaper or magazine paper will reduce your carbon footprint.

For holiday decorations, ditch the tinsel and use natural ingredients like popcorn garland and acorn accents. You can buy fresh garlands, wreaths and other festive decor at Christmas markets or the local nursery and compost them (along with your tree) after the holiday season. The fragrance alone will be worth the switch.

When it's all said and done, left over material will no doubt be spread across your living room floor. Waste is inevitable during the holidays, so make it a point to become the recycling ambassador for your household, and ensure everything is placed in the proper recycling bins.

Dispose of your Christmas tree by bringing it to the Green Waste Collection Point across from the Directorate of Public Works' Self Help on Rose Barracks throughout the season or the compost yard across from Wash Rack 10 on Tower Barracks by 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 27 and Jan. 8. Both are free of charge.

Free curbside pick-up is also available for Rose Barracks on-post housing areas the mornings of Dec. 27 and Jan. 8.

For Vilseck residents, trees can be brought to the local community recycling yards (Wertstoffhof) during routine opening hours free of charge. This applies to all local communities within the Amberg-Sulzbach county.

Local youth organizations will provide curbside pickup on trees marked with a disposal sticker for residents of Grafenwoehr, Netzaberg and Eschenbach on Jan. 11. All banks in the respective city will sell disposal tickets prior to the pick-up date for 1.50-2 euros. Trees must be curbside no later than 8 a.m. on Jan. 11.

Also, remember to remove all decorations before recycling or composting your tree.

For more info on holiday tree disposal, call DSN 475-6664, 476-2600 or CIV 09641-83-6664, 09662-41-2600.