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Enjoy the Holidays While Treading Lightly on the Planet

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dec8hireshomespunsite.jpgBy Cynthia Sewell

RISMEDIA, Dec. 8, 2008-(MCT)-Have you been dreaming of a green Christmas? With a little bit of effort-maybe much less than you thought-you and your family can enjoy the holiday and help save the planet at the same time.
Holiday Lights

Save money and energy by switching your old strands of incandescent holiday lights with newer LED (light emitting diode) holiday lights, which also are safer.
LED lights use 75 to 90% less energy and can last up to ten times longer than traditional holiday lights.

Plus, LEDs stay cool to the touch so they will not burn the tree or a child’s fingers.


Between Thanksgiving and New Year, the average American household increases its trash output by 25%, resulting in 5 million extra tons of garbage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Think about Christmas morning-you get done, and you have all these garbage bags full of trash,” said Susan Angel, a green events planner from Boise and owner of Angel & Co.

The biggest thing someone can do to green their holiday, Angel said, is to do away with traditional wrapping paper and packaging, which often cannot be recycled.

Angel made the change last year. “I decided, ‘OK, no more wrapping paper.’ So what do you do when there’s no wrapping paper?” Angel said. Get creative.

Last year she made gift bags out of fabric.

“They are so easy to sew-three seams and a hem with a piece a ribbon,” she said.

“If you are not real crafty, consider pillow cases tied with a ribbon.” Other options include cloth or reusable gift or tote bags or wrapping gifts in usable items like dish towels or scarves. And try old newspapers, magazine pages, paper bags or old maps.

The Sierra Club has estimated that if every family wrapped three gifts this way, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.


Fake holiday trees are not environmentally friendly. Most are made in China from petroleum-based PVC and are not biodegradable, so they will sit in landfills for decades.

For a “greener” holiday tree consider a live, uncut tree, which can be replanted in your yard after the holidays.

Living Christmas trees can be purchased at some retail lots, choose-and-cut farms and some nurseries and garden centers.

The trees require a little extra attention. They need to acclimate for a couple of days in a garage or enclosed porch before being brought indoors, where they should not remain for more than one week. Then they should be gradually reintroduced to colder outdoor temperatures before being planted.

Fresh-cut Christmas trees from tree farms are a better choice than trees harvested from the wild.

Most fresh-cut Christmas trees now come from tree farms, so deforestation isn’t an issue.

Additionally, Christmas tree farms keep large swaths of land from being developed. When the trees grow, they emit oxygen into the air. But they often require pesticides and must be shipped, which consumes fuel.

When a cut holiday tree is past its glory, it can be recycled into mulch.

If you want to recycle your tree, do not use tinsel or spray it with fake snow, as tinsel and white trees cannot be recycled.

Recycle or Reuse Electronic Gadgets

Here’s a good rule for when your fancy new Christmas present replaces last year’s electronics: If the gadget still works, donate it. If it is broken or antiquated, recycle it. But whatever you do, don’t throw it in the trash.

E-waste is a growing environmental and public health concern as the world becomes more wired and companies introduce new products at a faster pace.

Discarded computers, televisions, cell phones, radios, batteries, cameras and other electronic gadgets contain a stew of toxic metals and chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The average cathode ray tube, found in computer monitors, televisions and other electronic devices, contains up to 8 pounds of lead, which can leach into the ground and contaminate groundwater.

Old cell phones can be dropped off at Staples office supply stores for recycling.
The CollectiveGood.com takes used cell phones and distributes them to charities worldwide. When you mail your cell phone, PDA or pager to CollectiveGood.com, you get to designate the charity you want to benefit from your tax-deductible donation.

And don’t forget the batteries. About 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season.

Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well.

Rechargeable batteries keep regular batteries, which contain potentially harmful materials, out of the landfill and can save money in the long run.

© 2008, The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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