Ah, the holidays. A time of family, friends, good cheer – and lots and lots of waste. Wasted energy, wasted food, wasted money. Holidays can make a cynic out of the most noble hearted of us. For those paying attention, the month of December alone could turn even the most callous person into an eco-freak.
Like so many of the human world’s un-eco friendly practices, the holidays can only go green with effort on our part. Want your celebrations this year to include more green than a tree? Here are some easy ways to get going this season without loosing the cheer of the season.
First off, rethink shopping. I’m not telling you to not shop, just be smart about how and what you give. Consider shopping online – you’ll be one less person sitting in traffic. FedEx and UPS will be out there anyway. Some sites are introducing smart new initiatives for the holidays that can ease a green conscious – Amazon.com is launching a pilot that addresses “stressful” packaging like those clam shell packs you can never get open and those endless twisty-ties on kid’s toys. Also, online you have the option of shopping through a charitable portal like http://www.igive.com where retailers offer a percentage of your purchase cost to the charity of your choice.
Think about what you give. Look for toys that don’t require numerous batteries. Seek out products that use less packaging. Consider greener alternatives – solar power chargers for electronics nuts; reusable totes for shopping divas; fair-trade coffees for foodies; Amazon.com’s new Kindle reader for your book worm, an amaryllis for your gardener. As a rule, buy utilitarian gifts from responsible companies. In a companion to this post, I’ll offer some ideas on my favorite “greener” gifts for 2008.
Check the mailbox. If you’re sending cards, purchase those made from recycled content. White envelopes are easier to recycle (brightly colored ones require more de-inking to become recycled paper). Find new uses for the cards that come on your box – use the front panels as gift tags, or even as holiday postcards. Consider donating card fronts to charity – St. Jude’s Ranch, a non-profit home for youths collects them for craft projects through which residents can make money – St. Jude’s Card Recycling, 100 St. Jude Street, P.O.Box 60100, Boulder City, NV, 89006.
Next, re-do the wrap. You can do the obvious and look for wrap made from recycled paper. Or you can ditch the wrap altogether for reusable gift bags – look for ones in general colors like red, green, gold and blue, that can be used year round. And don’t burn wrap in the fireplace to get rid of it – it releases toxins into the air, but more importantly, it can cause build up in your chimney that can lead to a fire.
Three letters – LED. Upgrade your holiday lights for LED versions. STAT. According to Home Depot, LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy. If you can’t spring for new lights this year, consider décor without lights. And skip the giant inflatables – not only are they one of the more tacky innovations in holiday décor, the blowers used to keep them full of air are major energy hogs.
Eco-entertain. No disposable dinner ware. But, if you must, use a biodegradable plate like Chinet, and add used ones to your compost pile. Use your dishwasher for clean up – regardless of what some will tell you, current models use so little water, they’re a better option than hand washing. And using one gives you more time for guests. Set up a simple recycling area for wine bottles, aluminum cans, etc. near your bar.
Compost, compost, compost. The holidays are a great time to embark on this task if you haven’t already. If you have a nice size yard, you don’t need a fancy bin or even a bin at all. Just follow good composting policy and you can avoid both odor and pests – check out your local agricultural extension program for tips. One reminder – holiday time is a smorgasbord of rich foods. Stick to fruit, vegetable, paper and cardboard waste for your pile. Decadent, fatty foods and meats don’t compost well and will draw uninvited visitors.
Finally, the tree thing. If you’re more inclined toward an artificial, reusable tree, by all means, go for it. Just remember, artificial trees may be reusable, but they are manufactured products. Don’t shy away from real trees for environmental reasons. Tree farmers, in most cases, plant additional trees when replacing stock, and through the year, tree farms provide great wildlife habitat. Nearly every regional area offers some sort of post-holiday program for real trees – some collect them for mulching and composting (two things you can also do on your own), some for fish habitat building efforts. Some trees can be purchased with the root ball attached for planting after use. Consider moving yours outdoors for bird habitat after the big gift giving, until recycling programs go into effect.
So, with apologies to Bing Crosby, start dreaming now of a green Christmas. And don’t forget to share your ideas for a more responsible holiday on the Neutral Existence message boards.