Give the Gift of Green
Your holiday card list is growing, not to mention all those gifts that need wrapping! It's estimated that over 2.5 billion cards will go out in the weeks before the December holidays, and we create almost 25 million tons of additional waste during the season. Give the Earth a gift this year with these "go green" eco-friendly ideas.
If everyone sent just one less card per year, we could save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
Try e-mailing electronic cards to cut down on paper consumption.
If you need to send paper cards, send cards made out of recycled paper that don't require additional trees to be cut down.
Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil and 4,000 kilowatts of energy. This represents 64 percent in energy savings, and 60 pounds less air pollution.
With those 17 trees saved, a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide can be absorbed and saved from the air each year.
Send cards made of hemp. The long fibers in hemp allow such paper to be recycled several times more than wood-based paper.
Cards made by Peaceful Valley are made from 100 percent pre-recycled materials and are biodegradable.
Be sure to recycle the cards you receive or ones you don't send.
If every American family wrapped just three presents in recyclable materials, we would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
Get creative. Have your kids do artwork on recycled paper and use that to wrap your gifts. Or, try using nice fabric, old maps or newspapers.
The Guardian,a British newspaper, has commissioned artists to create a special section in the paper that people can later use as gift wrap.
Use beautiful organic recycled papers. Try www.paporganics.com for such options.
Reuse that ribbon! If every household reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet!
Try using something other than ribbon to accent your gift wrap—twine or a festive broach that can be reused works well.
Make Your Tree Greener
This year, 35 million people will buy real trees for Christmas—but the holiday tree debate now goes far beyond a real versus fake preference. Make greener choices and help give the Earth happier holidays for years to come!
Though plastic trees last longer and may seem like the more eco-friendly choice since they don't require chopping down a real tree, they actually are not the greenest choice. Plastic trees are made up of components like poly vinyl chloride (pvc), which breaks down when it ends up in a landfill. This can pollute our water supply, harm wildlife and damage our health.
The greenest option is to find a beautiful potted fir or another plant to decorate that you can replant after the holiday.
If you're buying a living tree, go for one specifically farmed for the holiday rather than those chopped down from old growth forests.
When buying at holiday tree farms, look for trees grown without pesticides or ones that adhere to organic standards.
Buy a locally grown tree. You're saving fossil fuel since you won't have to get it shipped to you or go far to get it.
Decorating Your Tree
LED Christmas lights are much more efficient than traditional bulbs and can reduce your energy use by 90 percent. You can find LED lights at most retail or hardware stores like Lowe's, Target or Ace Hardware. They may cost more money up front, but they will ultimately save you money because of their efficiency.
Plug your tree into a smart power strip that automatically turns off when you aren't using it. It reduces the flow of unused power, which will reduce your energy bill. Since most of our power comes from coal-fired plants, reducing energy usage also reduces carbon emissions. When the holidays are over, the smart strip can be used for computers, TVs, etc.
Decorate with ornaments made out of natural materials, recyclable materials or compost materials, like cranberries and popcorn.
At the end of the holiday season, almost 10 million trees end up in the landfill. But you can tree recycle! Call 1-800-CLEANUP or visit www.earth911.com for a local service in your area.
After you remove your decorations, you can have your tree turned into mulch or chips for your garden…a beautiful way to give back to the Earth!
The Eco-Friendly Holiday Party
If you're planning a party this holiday season, the environment may not have been on your to-do list. Make your celebration eco-friendly with these relatively simple strategies.
Send electronic invitations Save trees and postage by forgoing paper invitations.
Ask your guests to carpool to the party Every gallon of gas used releases 25 pounds of carbon dioxide—a major cause of global warming—into the atmosphere.
Turn the heat down Before your guests arrive, check for leaks. For every degree above 68 degrees, your furnace uses 3 to 5 percent more energy. Set your thermostat lower to save on energy, especially since all the people in your house will generate enough body heat to make up the difference.
Save electricity, save the world Up to 15 percent of household electricity is used for lights. For your party, consider using candles for mood lighting and eco-friendliness. Also, you can lower your energy consumption with compact fluorescent light bulbs. These use just one-third of the energy and last up to 10 times as long as regular bulbs.
Reduce paper cups In 2005, Americans used and discarded 14.4 billion disposable paper cups for hot beverages. If you put those cups end-to-end, they would circle the Earth 55 times. And with the continued growth of coffee-to-go consumption, that number could increase to 23 billion cups a year by 2010—enough to circle the Earth 88 times.
Cleaning up Use the dishwasher—the newest models are more efficient than hand-washing. You can also compost your garbage. This eases the piles in landfills, gives you terrific soil and keeps your kitchen waste basket from stinking.
Green Grocery Shopping
During a simple trip to the grocery store, you make hundreds of decisions that can have real environmental impacts. With just a few easy changes, you can make a positive difference in the world.
Instead of regular aluminum foil or plastic wrap, purchase recycled aluminum foil. It uses just 1/20th of the energy needed to produce regular foil.
Look for items without extensive packaging. Most food packaging material uses some petroleum-based plastic. There are several ways to cut down on the energy and waste this produces. Look for minimally or unpackaged items instead. Experiment with bringing your own packaging or buying in bulk. Purchase brands that use bio-based instead of petroleum-based plastic. Recycle or reuse packaging materials you end up having to buy.
Bring a cloth bag to the grocery store instead of using its plastic bags. An estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. That's 1 million bags used per minute. And, according to the EPA, more than 380 billion of those are discarded in the U.S. Less than 1 percent of those are actually recycled. Instead, these bags will clog landfills, create litter, choke streams and harm marine wildlife, like whales, seals and sea turtles.
Buy local and organic. Buying seasonal, locally produced food helps in a number of ways. Most food travels 1,500 miles from "farm to fork." But buying local food drastically reduces the energy spent on food shipping. Local goods also tend to use minimal packaging, are fresher and come in more varieties. The best way to track down local food is at your local farmers markets or through the Community Supported Agriculture department. Farmers who grow produce organically use less fossil fuel and release fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Organic farming is better for the land, for the farmers, and for the consumers.
Information and Resources
Find more information on these organizations:
An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore's documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, is now available on DVD. The book version of An Inconvenient Truth is also available now. www.climatecrisis.net.
An Inconvenient Truth House Party Help Al Gore spread the word about global warming. www.algore.com
Everything's Cool This documentary is an official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. www.everythingscool.org
Tree Hugger Tree Hugger is a Web magazine with tips and advice on living a sustainable lifestyle, and seeking environmental solutions and initiatives. www.treehugger.com
Earth 911 Earth 911 seeks to empower the public with community-specific resources to improve their quality of life. Find information about recycling your Christmas tree, too. www.earth911.com
Sierra Club Sierra Club is the largest and oldest non-profit environmental organization working to protect the planet. www.sierraclub.org
Stop Global Warming Virtual March The Stop Global Warming Virtual March is a non-political effort bringing Americans together to declare that global warming is here now and it's time to act. www.stopglobalwarming.org
Competitive Enterprise Institute Marlo Lewis Jr., a skeptic about global warming, represented this organization. The CEI, dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government, is recognized as a leading voice on a broad range of regulatory issues. www.cei.org
Paporganics Paporganics creates stationery and gift wrap made from organic cotton, hemp and recycled fibers. www.paporganics.com
A Green Family
It's easier than you think to get your family to go green—and it can cost very little, if nothing at all. Karen and Michael Dunne of Colorado have turned their family "green," and are making a difference.
"I first became interested in going green when I read an article that said the world supply of seafood could collapse by 2048." Karen says. "I thought, 'How is this possible? This is in my lifetime.'
"Once we began looking at how we live, we began making small changes that anyone can do."
Michael says he used to drive four days a week and take the train maybe once a week. Now he takes the train two or three times a week or more to cut down on carbon emissions.
The Dunnes even tackle energy saving with their garage—rather than opening and closing the garage door all day, once the car is out in the morning, it stays out until the end of the day!
A hybrid vehicle is in Karen and Michael's future. Until they can afford one, they use their most energy efficient car as much as possible.
To cut down on the amount of dishwasher water usage, the Dunnes have their children choose a different colored water glass for the day, which they use for the whole day.
The average American can use up to 25 gallons of water per shower. Karen says she put a timer in her shower so she's in and out in less than five minutes!
Energy at Home
The Dunnes have begun paying attention to how many lights they are using, so they can be more energy efficient. They've even moved furniture to take advantage of natural light.
Karen recommends cleaning the lint out of the dryer after every use. The Dunnes reduce their energy use by up to 30 percent per load by doing this.