Friday, December 22, 2006

TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE THE HOLIDAYS GREENER

Lots of people are looking for ways to make their holidays more meaningful by celebrating in a way that improves the environment -- or at least doesn't add to the piles of ripped-up wrapping paper, tossed-out cards and shriveled up pines that eventually end up on the curb. According to estimates from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, an extra million tons of waste are generated nationwide each week during the 10-week holiday season. But we're not all budding Martha Stewarts with the time, talent and energy to make our own green decorations.

Here are five ways to have a green Christmas that don't require skill with glitter or a glue gun:

Rethink how you wrap. Most commercial gift wrap makers don't use recycled paper. Worse, some types of gift wrap, like foils, can't be recycled after they're used. So how can you save some trees and still have a tempting present? Simply folding and reusing gift wrap is one option -- assuming your family doesn't just tear into their presents. But even the most carefully folded paper tends to look creased and crinkled after a few seasons. So try using gift bags, or wrapping the tops and bottoms of boxes separately so the recipient doesn't have to destroy the wrapping or bow to open it. Try using substitutes for store-bought wrapping paper, like old maps decorated with cast-off tape measures or colored string instead of ribbon or the funny pages (but only if your newspaper uses inks that don't rub off on your fingers). Vintage napkins and table runners from yard sales also work well, or a thrift-store shirt topped with an old bow tie.

Get out the shredder. Forget the Styrofoam peanuts; slivers of paper from your shredder make fine, fluffy packing material or filler for gift boxes. Shred pages from holiday catalogs or newspaper inserts -- or even old CDs, if your shredder can handle them -- to add a splash of color and shine.

Use live plants. The long-standing debate will probably never be resolved over whether fake trees or real ones -- recycled after the holidays into mulch -- are more ecologically correct. One way to circumvent the argument entirely is to buy a potted tree, and then plant it after the holidays. Nicole Hillis, a 27-year old government program analyst, uses a live potted tree each year that she and her apartment-mates adorn with homemade strings of popcorn and cranberries. "It sounds like we're hippies, but we're not," she says. "We're just looking for simple ways to reuse things." Another idea, suggested by Washington, D.C. environmental activist and online eco-store owner Reena Kazmann, is to make centerpieces out of a collection of small pots of plants like poinsettias or rosemary. When your guests leave, give each one of the pots as a gift.

Send recycled paper cards or e-cards. No one keeps track of how many of the two billion holiday cards sent each year are on recycled paper, says Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association. But there seems to be a steady market for them: Chicago-based Recycled Paper Greetings has been selling them since 1971, while industry-leader Hallmark Cards Inc. has been seeing "consistent" sales of their recycled line, called Shoebox, for two decades. But since most cards aren't made from recycled stock and aren't recyclable, it makes sense to consider other alternatives. The easiest, at least for those family members who have email, is the e-card. Introduced about a decade ago, e-cards were first offered for free on greeting-card Web sites, and were wildly popular novelties. Soon, however, many companies started charging for them, and usage tapered off. About 20 paper cards are sent for each electronic card during the holidays, according to the Greeting Card Association, a ratio that's held steady for the past four years. Nevertheless, many Web sites, including Hallmark, still offer free e-cards, though the recipient will have to sit through an ad first. Some also let senders personalize cards with family photos or write messages of unlimited length.

Decorate with found objects. You don't need to be an artist to turn household items or collections into memorable decorations -- you just need a little imagination and some bits of ribbon. Seashells, your son's outgrown collection of tiny cars and trucks, and even kitchen cutlery can all be hung on a tree or worked into a wreath or garland. Eco-designer Danny Seo, author of Simply Green Giving (Harper Collins, 2006), is decorating his Christmas tree this year with his collection of antique teacups filled with candy and small toys. Using household objects decoratively is "cheaper and less aggravating" than fighting the crowds at the mall, he says. And because the results are quirky and unique, they also jump-start conversations at parties.

-- November 28, 2006

By June Fletcher
Wall Street Journal Online

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