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Greening Your Holidays Will Also Save You Green

This environmentally friendly column is brought to you by West Roxbury Saves Energy, a community-based organization committed to spreading the word that individuals can make positive choices that save money as well as the planet.

 

You can save energy (and money) this holiday season! Many possibilities exist, and for most people it is just a matter of making a few simple changes to the traditional holiday routine. Each year at this time, WRSE offers some suggestions to incorporate into your holiday plans that will help you save energy, money, and the environment. But first, let's put things in perspective by considering some numbers.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, waste produced by American households increases by more than 25 percent compared to any similar period the rest of the year; this means we produce one million tons of "extra" waste during the holiday season. Analysts predict that number will be even higher this year, in spite of the down economy, as buying trends so far indicate we have been making purchases at an unprecedented rate. Consider that most of these purchases come in packaging that will be disposed of and they also will ultimately be wrapped in paper and bows that will also make their way to the landfills.

Want a few more holiday numbers? Research completed by GreenProfit Solutions predicts that more than two billion holiday cards will be printed and mailed in 2011, more than 38,000 miles of ribbon will find its way onto gifts (and into the trash afterward), more than 50,000 square miles of wrapping paper will meet the same fate, and millions of Christmas trees will be put out for trash pickup, also ending up in the landfills. (Do you ever wonder if our landfills might be our most prolific contribution to the world?)

Lights, gifts, wrapping paper, bows, cards, and trees all make the holidays special. Few people want to give any of these up. But you don't have to! Just be thoughtful about your choices, and you will be able to "green" your holidays and save money, too.

1) Lights: Hang LEDs. Switching to light-emitting diodes allows you to brighten your home this holiday season and be energy efficient (saving money) at the same time. LEDs use 90 percent less electricity and last up to ten times longer than typical holiday bulbs. They also are safer because LEDs don't heat up. LEDs continue to go down in price and are easy to find; in West Roxbury you can purchase LED strands at , , , and . They come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as in vivid colors that don’t fade over time. But don’t throw your old bulbs in the trash! Recycle them at holidayleds.com and receive a coupon for 25 percent off new lights.

2) Gifts: For starters, remember that when you buy items that come in lots of packaging, you are paying for all that cardboard or plastic wrap, as well as the creating, shipping, and disposing of it — all of which also require energy and harm the environment. Consider purchasing gifts without packaging: for example, a service or tickets to a concert or movie. Give baked goods, a plant, or a tree. You can also share the gift of yourself, with the promise of babysitting, snow shoveling, or leaf raking. Specifically green gifts might also be appreciated and can come in the form of carbon offsets for a friend who travels a lot or a ZipCar membership for someone who frequently uses taxis. Be creative! You will probably find that your thoughtful gift, which typically will cost you less than a store-bought one, will also mean more to the person who receives it.

3) Wrapping paper: Again, the key to saving money here is to use your creativity. Most wrapping paper bought in stores is not made from recycled products and will cost you a bundle. Why spend money when you can use and reuse household items you already have? Examples of creative solutions for wrapping include old maps, outdated calendar pages, the comics section of a newspaper, crossword puzzles, children’s artwork, magazine pages, and attractive junk mail from the recycling bin. You might have cloth items around the house to use as wrap that could become part of the gift, such as bandanas, scarves or never - or little-used dish towels. With a bit more work, you could consider sewing together leftover fabric pieces you might have to make gift-holding purses, soaking labels off glass jars, or decorating clay pots (after you put your gift in the pot, use the drainage dish as the lid and tie the two together with reused ribbon or fabric strips). The possibilities are endless, and most won’t cost you a penny. According to the Sierra Club, if every family wrapped just three gifts in one of these ways, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

4) Ribbons and bows: Do you really need these? They are costly, and the purpose they serve is cosmetic and fleeting. Just say no.

5) Cards: If you are not ready to switch to e-cards (we aren't), which are the most economical and the most environmentally friendly, then purchase holiday cards made out of recycled paper and put a little note inside to your friends reminding them to recycle the card after they've enjoyed it. You won't be saving any money on this holiday item, but you will help the earth. You can save money on next year's gift tags by keeping the cards you receive this year and cutting them into squares to reuse as labels.

6) Trees: WRSE can't recommend organic farms near enough to West Roxbury to make it sensible to go out and purchase or cut down your own tree, unfortunately. So you have to live with the pesticides that infuse all cut trees and wreaths. To save money, buy a smaller tree this year than you have in the past. And the City of Boston makes it easy for you to be green after the holidays, because it recycles the tree you leave on the sidewalk. Public Works will collect Christmas trees for composting from January 3 to January 13 on your recycling day — don't miss it!

Quick tips: Take your own reusable bags for all holiday shopping. Use a timer for your external lighting decorations; this is a huge electricity saver. If you like using (or giving) candles during the holidays, consider the soy or beeswax types; typical candles are made from paraffin, which is a petroleum-based product. And finally, use the real stuff (your own or rented) for your holiday party and avoid wasting plastic and paper by buying expensive paper goods that just end up in our landfills.

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