ECOfreak: At Holiday Time, Less Is More

November 30th, 2010 by karenadmin


Driving home this weekend with our tummies full of turkey and pumpkin pie, my family and I were busy looking out the window at folks stringing holiday lights on their gutters and inflating giant Santas and reindeer.

‘Tis the season to start hauling out the decorations, which means I’ll be busy feeling guilty about how much I’m hurting the planet with all my festive plastic knick-knacks. Decorating is probably never going to be 100 percent planet-friendly, let’s be realistic, but here are tips from a Newsweek article from a couple of years ago that I always refer to when I decide I need to get some more sparkle for the house.

The worst holiday eco-offenders:

Artificial Christmas Trees. I went around and around about this last year (if you’d care to dredge up some past angst, here’s that blog entry). Artificial trees are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which has been linked to all kinds of health problems and birth defects, but also, lead is often used as a stabilizer in artificial trees (as well as in most light strands). Even though there are the associated carbon emissions when it comes to the live-tree trade, most eco-experts recommend buying live trees cut close to home (so as to reduce the gas burnt in hauling the suckers to market).

Incandescent Holiday Lights. Three 100-bulb strings of incandescent mini lights costs about 10 cents per every six hours of use, according to Dominion Virginia Power. Over the past several years, LED lights (which cost only one penny to burn three strands for six hours) have quickly replaced the old standards. Honestly, I think LED lights are even more dazzling and sparkly, so this is probably a no-brainer replacement. The cost to light your tree with LED’s all season is between 13 and 17 cents, versus $6 to $10 for traditional lights.

Tinsel. This is always high on eco no-nos for holiday decoration, but does anyone even use this stuff anymore? I remember putting it on our tree when I was a kid, but I can’t recall a friend or family member throwing the sparkly plastic on their trees in recent memory. Well, if anyone out there is considering it, just say no this year! Why add more PVC to your life, when you can’t even reuse it next year?

Electric Window Candles. Need I say more? This habit will be hard to break, I’m afraid, especially in the Historic Triangle area. Seems like every home wants this colonial look – but, not only are these made from ubiquitous plastic, you’re either burning electricity you don’t need or you’re wasting batteries. Either way, using them in every window is not a great way to be good to the earth. There are LED window candles, and I have also seen solar ones, too, which might be better options.

Wrapping Paper. With all the ways we try to conserve paper – and therefore save some trees for the future – this is one time of year when people seem to throw this out the window. If you can’t bring yourself to use used newspaper or brown paper bags to wrap gifts, consider using reusable gift bags or recycled gift wrap. Remember to recycle your wrapping paper once the gifts are opened, and don’t get the metallic paper (it’s not recyclable, generally).

Inflatable Lawn Ornaments. In my parents’ neighborhood, two neighbors seem to have an annual contest to see who can get the most inflatable characters crammed onto the front lawn. These decorations use electric fans to keep them blown up – imagine the electricity used to keep them going all day and all night! One looks just as nice as five, I think.

Christmas Cards. This one isn’t on the Newsweek list, but I just have to add it here. I hope that most people recycle their holiday cards once the season is over – but many of the cards aren’t recyclable, like the metallic ones or the ones with knick-knacks stuck all over them. For a few years, I tried to cut out pictures on old cards and make new ones, but I realized that was a waste of time, since I was just using up new cardstock and paper to make them. I buy recycled-paper cards now, but I’ve been whittling down my list of people I send cards to each year. I bet most people don’t even notice my card missing from their pile.

I know my co-worker Amber is going to say this blog entry is too bah-humbug-y. But, each year I’ve cut down on the holiday decorating and gift-buying (in fact, my hubby and I don’t even exchange gifts, nor do we exchange them with my folks), and I don’t feel any less wonderful during the holidays. In fact, I feel less stressed and frantic. I put up a tree with old ornaments, and I put a few things on the mantle, and that’s it. No window candles, no lights all over the outside of the house, no mountain of gifts under the tree – but that just means I have more time to focus on the best part of the holiday, being with my family. Oh, and eating cookies. I can’t say I feel like I’m missing anything, except a big credit card bill and the time I used to spend wrestling with all that stuff.

Just some food for thought. Happy Holidays!

Website for the week

Here are some great tips from the Sierra Club on greening up your holiday. Stay tuned for my tips on gift buying!

Tip for the week

I would argue that I just gave you a whole host of tips already, but if I had to boil it all down to one suggestion, it would be this: Less with a capital “L”. Buy less, use less, reduce your shopping list, and don’t get any more decorations if you can help it. This is probably a lesson we could use in the rest of our lives, too.



5 Responses to ECOfreak: At Holiday Time, Less Is More

  1. Anonymous

    November 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    OK here is the TRUTH about artificial trees: Lead had been used only in the old Chinese trees, it has been outlawed by the Chinese government. The first artificial trees were made of dyed goose feathers, then then were made using material like a toilet brush and then aluminum. Most modern trees are made from 100% recyclable material.

  2. Anonymous

    November 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Now for the Tinsel: it was orignally made from silver, then it was made with aluminum and now from PVC which is made from 100% recyclable material. At one time is did contain lead, which made it hang better. If you take your time (like you are supposed to) to decorate your tree and put it on 1 piece at a time you can use over and over for years to come you just need to hang it on a piece of cardboard and put it into a zip lock bag (gallon size).

  3. Anonymous

    November 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    As for electric window candles that is not even a colonial tradition. This was a way of drawing in the tourist dollar to CW. SO if you think that you are being all colonial looking with your windo candles you are not. But we have nuclear power plant in Surry. A clean, effecient, eco-friendly form of electricity. Much more eco-friendlier than batteries.

  4. Anonymous

    November 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    One last thing I now you tree huggers are all anti christian but it is not the value of the gift that is important it is the thought of the gift. So when you don’t exchange gifts because it is so stressful you are missing the whole Christmas spirit. Try making or baking something from the heart instead of worring about buying something, sometimes the best gifts cost very little or nothing but some of your time.

  5. Anonymous

    November 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Purely a social phenomenom, nothing negative in any way…every year in classes the students would observe and vote for the local area’s “The MOST ‘CITING DECORATED HOME!”
    Only one rule was applied: “Decorations could not be left up ALL year!”

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