Green Christmas

By Linda Pescatore

September 5, 2008 5 min read

GREEN CHRISTMAS

Protect the environment while celebrating the season

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

In this season of giving, it's easy to go overboard. It may hardly seem like Christmas without heaps of gifts piled beneath a room-filling tree laden with garland, tinsel, ornaments and, of course, twinkling lights.

But all that comes at a price to the environment. The volume of household trash increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That represents 25 million tons of extra solid waste in landfills. And that doesn't count other costs such as the power needed to keep those lights twinkling.

But can you help your family go green without feeling like a Grinch? Happily, the answer is yes. Here are some ideas to help Santa Claus leave a smaller carbon footprint this year:

KEEPING IT REAL

Which is better for the planet, real or artificial trees? If you know the environmentalist mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle," you may assume that artificial is better because it leaves forests intact and fake trees can be reused.

While it's true that one plastic tree can take the place of several real ones, the fake is likely to spend much more time in a landfill after its life is over since it is typically made from polyvinyl chloride, according to Jennifer Basye Sander, co-author with her husband, Peter Sander, of "Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco-Friendly Holiday Season" (Adams Media; October 2008; $7.95).

She advises that you pick a small, locally grown tree. After the holidays are over, you can either plant it outside or check with your municipality about options for chipping or recycling it. And if you don't look forward to sweeping up pine needles, Basye Sander offers another option.

"You don't necessarily need a Christmas tree," she said. "Isn't it time to create your own traditions?"

The latest trend in tree lights is the light-emitting diode, better known as LED. These bulbs burn bright but use little energy and generate almost no heat. And because of their solid-state technology, they last much longer than traditional incandescent lighting -- which can justify a slightly higher price.

The EPA suggests you avoid foil because it uses more resources in the manufacturing process than paper. So instead of trimming the tree with store-bought garland and tinsel, enlist the kids to string popcorn, dried cranberries or paper dolls (preferably made from recycled paper). Hang homemade or locally produced ornaments. Make a wreath using tree scraps -- frames are sold in craft stores -- and weave in family items or whimsical miniatures, Basye Sander suggested. What your home lacks in glitz it will gain in fun and togetherness.

PRESENTS OF MIND

Instead of buying mass-produced merchandise, look for unique items created by hometown artisans. "Any time you have a chance to buy something from somebody who made it, it's a wonderful thing," Basye Sander said. It not only stimulates the local economy, it reduces reliance on fossil fuels for large-scale manufacturing and transportation. And you can give your loved ones something they can't get anywhere else.

Be creative when wrapping, too. Avoid plastic-coated papers, the EPA advises, for the same reason you should eschew foil. Consider reusing outdated maps or fabric remnants. Save and reuse gift bags, bows and ribbons. Or follow the advice of Basye Sander and forget putting wrapped gifts under the tree altogether and concoct a treasure hunt where you hide surprises all over the house. "It's a much more fun experience," she said.

You can extend that sentiment by gifting opportunities to come together as a family, such as camping trips. It's all about honoring the true spirit of the holidays and sharing love, not merchandise. The beauty of that approach is you reduce your impact on the environment, which is a wonderful gift to give to the entire planet.

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