Thursday, November 30, 2006
Hippie Steps -- Week Six

The Slate/Treehugger challenge this week focuses on the Holidays.

According to Slate/Treehugger, the holidays lead Americans, on average, to increase their garbage by 25% starting at Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. All this consumption adds up to a total of more than 25 million tons.

To help the carbon-conscious consumer, Slate/Treehugger offers the following tips to consume less:

• When shopping online or by mail order, consolidate your orders into as few shipments as possible.

• Consider the benefits of buying locally made goods, which aren't transported over long distances to get to you.

• Consider also gifts such as tickets to a play or concert, a museum membership, or art classes.

• Reduce the number of holiday shopping trips you make to save on gas and bring along some reusable shopping bags? Most paper bags are made from virgin paper. Plastic ones are less CO2 intensive to make, but they're still made with petroleum and take hundreds of years to decompose in the landfill.

• If you're sending gifts by mail, choose small, light packages, which take up less space and fuel than big, heavy ones.

• Wrapping paper—usually made from virgin materials—is a large part of the holiday-waste stream. And if it's shiny or sparkly, it can't even be recycled. If every household wrapped three gifts in recycled materials, we'd save reams and reams of paper.

• Every year, 2.65 billion holiday cards are sold in the United States. If you're buying, choose cards made from recycled paper and avoid the shiny can't-recycle kind. Even better is to send e-cards. And recycle the nonshiny cards you receive.

• A deluge of catalogs has probably already descended upon your mailbox. It takes 14 million trees to produce the mail-order books we receive annually. And along with direct mailings, catalogs account for more than 4 million tons of CO2-emitting landfill mass.

• Christmas trees are a topic of much environmentalist debate. Fake trees are reusable but are made from petroleum-derived sources and often shipped from abroad. Real trees, for their part, are typically sprayed with lots of pesticides. And new research shows that pine-tree farms capture less CO2 than the hardwood species they're displacing in some parts of the country. Organic Christmas trees are tough to come by. Plus, of the 33 million real Christmas trees sold in North America every year, many end up in a landfill, emitting carbon dioxide as they rot. If you opt for a real tree, be sure to bring it to a local recycling center, where it can be chipped for mulch or used whole to stabilize wetlands. A better choice may be to purchase a live, potted tree, which can be planted outside after the holidays. Evergreen varieties such as pine, spruce, and fir work well in many regions.

• Replace conventional incandescent holiday string lights with their light-emitting diode counterparts. These energy-efficient strings use up to 95 percent less electricity, last up to 10 times longer, and are safer since they produce very little heat. LED lights are more expensive, but you'll shave a few dollars off your electricity bill and pounds off your carbon weight. And unlike conventional light strings, if one bulb goes bad on an LED string, the rest will still work. No matter what type of lights you use, limit yourself to keeping them on for four or five hours a day, and turn them off at night.

• If you're decorating with candles, choose the ones made from soy wax or beeswax. Both are renewable resources, as opposed to regular paraffin candles, which are made from petroleum.

• For holiday parties, rent real plates, glasses, and silverware (or use your own) instead of using the disposable kind.

My score was 154, which means I've promised to take the annual equivalent of 0.02 cars off the road.

Here are some of the numbers that Slate used in their calculations, which reflect averages:
• Donating a tree saves about 50 pounds of CO2 in a year.
• Purchasing a wind-power gift card from Native Energy offsets 2,000 pounds of CO2
• Joining OurEnergy saves about 139 pounds of CO2 per person per year.
• Switching out three strings of regular holiday minilights for LED lights saves 17 pounds of CO2 per person per year.
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