Dreaming of a green Christmas? Tips for a more environmentally friendly season
Boxes, Styrofoam, packaging, wrapping paper, disposable plates, cups and utensils, bottles, cans and food waste — our trash bins overfloweth at the holidays.
Most wonderful time of the year? Maybe.
Trashiest time of the year? Absolutely.
Boxes, Styrofoam, packaging, wrapping paper, disposable plates, cups and utensils, bottles, cans and food waste — our trash bins overfloweth.
But there are a zillion ways to raise your green IQ.
Reducing what we buy and consume will have the greatest impact on the environment, notes Jennifer Berry, a spokeswoman for Earth911.com, a national recycling directory. That includes the number and type of gifts we purchase and how we acquire them, as well as careful menu-planning pegged to the number of actual guests expected.
"Look at your trash from a fresh perspective," said Berry. "Think about what you're planning to do and how to make it better,"she said.
Greening up often entails time. A meal served on china surrounded by silverware, glasses and cloth napkins will take longer to clean up than disposable dishes and plastic ware (which require your labor to earn money to buy them, and time and fuel to drive to the store). But china and glass are classier, and you can enlist guests to pitch in after dinner to a soundtrack of holiday music, Berry said.
She advises that paper plates and cups advertised as biodegradable are made to degrade in a commercial composting facility (read the fine print on the package). Added to a small, home compost pile, they take many months to degrade.
She suggests putting out a designated recycling bin for guests to use and asking them to bring containers for leftovers.
When your holiday lights burn out and you can't imagine not replacing them, buy LED strands that use less electricity. You can recycle the old lights at some big-box hardware stores (along with other lights).
Economics can be a challenge of going green. Green goods sometimes cost more, but on the other hand, the prices of trash disposal, pollution and energy continue to rise.
Live tree, fake tree
To tree or not to tree? Even environmentalists debate whether a live-cut or artificial tree leaves a smaller footprint.
Live trees provide habitat for critters, are a renewable crop, and when grown locally, create local jobs. Making an event out of visiting a tree farm to cut a tree, have a wagon ride and drink hot cocoa can be a pleasant family memory.
A living tree with its roots balled can be used inside for a short time, then replanted outside in a large, prepared hole, surrounded by plenty of room for future growth. Certain dwarf varieties may be able to remain in the pot and be moved inside for a week at the holidays.
Bert Cregg, an associate professor of horticulture and forestation at Michigan State University, says estimates indicate that an acre of Christmas trees can absorb up to 20 to 40 tons of carbon dioxide (the biggest contributor to global-climate change) over a 10-year-period.
Moreover, Cregg notes that most artificial Christmas trees are made in China from petroleum-based products. But live trees, if sent to landfills, are a massive, unwelcome addition.
An artificial tree re-used for 10 or 20 years would be cheaper and result in less consumption than acquiring a live tree annually. However, it can't be recycled and is not biodegradable, so when discarded, it will be a landfill lump.
Bob Jacksy, a naturalist, uses an artificial tree, gives photographs he's taken as gifts and buys 20 basketballs and 20 jump ropes for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo, Ohio.
"We have 6 billion people and counting," says Jacksy. "We're consuming resources that aren't coming back. And you've got India and China and the Pacific Rim exploding and they're going to be consuming goods like we are."
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