Making Green Choices During the Holidays
Here are some ways to reduce your environmental impact while celebrating the winter holidays of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.
Christmas Trees: Real vs. Artificial
It’s an annual conundrum: If you want a Christmas tree, what kind should you get – real or artificial? USAToday has a story about how on the West Coast you can rent a live tree. LivingChristmasTrees.com claims these businesses will rent you a tree in Maryland.
If you're choosing between real and artificial, the Sierra Club’s Mr. Green says the real tree is better for the environment, because it’s a renewable resource, it can be recycled, it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, and while it’s growing it helps fight global warming. For each tree purchased, growers plant one to three seedlings the following spring, according to Earth911.
You could also get a live tree and plant it after the holidays, but don’t get one unless you know it will grow in your climate and you’re ready to take care of it.
Grist magazine’s Umbra Fisk provides additional options: Don’t buy a tree at all, or decorate a living exterior tree, hang ornaments on a house plant, or make your own tree as a crafts project.
If you want a live tree, consider buying it from a small-scale, sustainable grower. You can search for tree sellers near you at christmastree.org.
Holiday Light Recycling Opportunities
Broken, burnt out and/or unwanted holiday lights used on Christmas trees or around the house can be recycled, but not as part of the Montgomery County's curbside recycling program. Residents may take their holiday lights to a number of local retailers for recycling collection or they may send the lights directly to private recycling companies. For an updated list of holiday light recycling options, visit the county Web page, Recycle Your Holiday Lights.
Green Your Shipping With the U.S. Postal Service
If you’re mailing gifts this holiday season, then the United States Postal Service is the way to go. They offer eco-friendly packaging (they are the first mailing/shipping company to earn Cradle-to-Cradle certification for its packaging). A half billion Priority Mail and Express Mail packages and envelopes now meet higher environmental standards as more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions are prevented each year. Plus they’ll send you the packaging for free. Then you pack it up, print your shipping labels at home and schedule a free pick-up from your home – saving you the time and fuel it would have taken to go to the post office. Learn More
Avoid the Wrap
Instead of wrapping presents in paper that will get thrown away, consider using gift bags, because the recipient can reuse them. Or make the wrapping part of the gift – use a scarf, sweater or wrap to enclose the rest of the present (thanks to CityRenewed.com for that idea). You can always use newspaper or paper grocery bags (both are recyclable) to wrap gifts. If you do buy wrapping paper, make sure it’s made from recycled content (one good source is GreenPaperStudio, a sub-division of a Bethesda Green Leader Sponsor, Creative Parties).
Go for LED Lights
LED holiday lights use 80 percent less electricity than incandescents -- and they last longer, so you don't have to replace them as often. Fox5 in DC confirmed this last year in their LED Light Test.
Choose EnergyStar Electronics and Appliances
When purchasing these items, look for the EnergyStar label, which indicates that the product has met strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the federal government. Some products in more than 60 categories (including televisions, cordless phones and DVD players) meet EnergyStar requirements. They use less energy and save you money! Find Products and Buyer’s Guides
Don’t Forget to Recycle…
…old cell phones and electronics! A convenient time to do this is at the Bethesda Green E-cycling Event, Sunday, December 12, 2010, at Whitman High School.
Get More Green Holiday Ideas…
…from Lori Hill Event Productions, EarthShare, Sierra Club, Earth911 and TreeHugger.
Local Merchants Offering Green Products
I already mentioned GreenPaperStudio in Bethesda for wrapping paper and holiday cards made from recycled materials. Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington offers eco-friendly home improvement product year-round; for the holidays an Amicus gift card makes a good present.
Start some new Christmas traditions with ideas from the new book "I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Gifts, Decorations, and Recipes that Use Less and Mean More" by Anna Getty.
-- written by Dan Kulpinski, Bethesda Green volunteer and publisher of GreenListDC.org.