Which is the greenest Christmas tree: artificial or real? Artificial trees, which are gaining in popularity (and even come in “upside-down” ceiling-mounted models), are typically made in China from nonbiodegradable plastics. Although they can last for years, they ultimately end up in landfills. Real trees are renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. The nearest recycling program can be found at http://earth911.org. To keep your carbon footprint to a minimum, look for trees that are grown organically and as close to home as possible.
Still feeling guilty about ending a young tree’s carbon-sequestering days? Another option is better still: a tree with its root-ball still attached. In Portland, Ore., revelers can rent a seven-foot tree from the Original Living Christmas Tree Company for $75. The company delivers the tree, picks it up a few weeks later, and sells it to parks departments, landscapers and others for planting. For possible services near you, try asking a local nursery. Do-it-yourselfers can find instructions on how to purchase, transport and plant a tree at www.livingchristmastrees.org. Right-side-up, preferably.
Dark Sky at Night
Artificial night lighting doesn’t just spoil star shows; it can confuse nocturnal animals and waste energy. The International Dark-Sky Association offers these tips for reducing light pollution around your home:
- Choose the lowest possible wattage. A 40-watt incandescent bulb (or a nine- to 13-watt compact fluorescent lamp) is sufficient for most outdoor uses.
- Add shielding that points the light downward for any source brighter than a 100-watt incandescent.
- For security applications, use motion-sensor lights; they save energy and also draw attention to intruders.
For an average home in a cold climate, reducing home energy usage by just 15 percent saves the equivalent of 500 pounds of coal a year. Even if your home is insulated, small cracks can add up to big losses. The following projects are not high-tech or expensive but can provide significant savings:
- Hold a lit incense stick near doors and windows to find leaks, then caulk them.
- Add a storm door.
- Install weather stripping around doors and windows.
- Seal patio doors with rubber compression strips and door insulator kits.
- Seal entry points for TV, phone and water lines with expanding foam insulation.
This Grass Is Greener
The next time you’re shopping for products made from wood or plastic, consider bamboo instead. The fastest-growing woody plant on the planet, bamboo is not just for pandas and Asian cuisine anymore. First came bamboo flooring and furniture; now the versatile grass is turning up in clothing, computer monitors, surfboards, skis, and even biodegradable plates and utensils. As a construction material, bamboo is light and can be harvested without killing the plant. Most bamboo today comes from Chinese plantations, but scientists are experimenting with growing it commercially in the U.S.
Alaska salmon or Atlantic salmon? Skipjack tuna or bluefin tuna? Some seafood choices are more ocean-friendly than others, based on factors such as whether a species is abundant and whether it is fished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life. To help customers decide, both the National Audubon Society and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offer wallet-size guides. The latter, customized for each region of the country, is at www.mbayaq.org/cr/SeafoodWatch.asp
Or try FishPhone, a project of the Blue Ocean Institute that allows you to send a text message with the word “fish” and the species name to the number 30644. You will immediately receive a color-coded response: green means eat it, yellow means there may be problems associated with the species, and red means steer clear.
Make the Call
Donating your old cell phone to a school, church or community group might seem like a winning deal all around: you unload a piece of junk, the charity raises funds and a landfill is spared. Right? Maybe not. Many charities get paid to collect phones for middlemen who refurbish them for developing countries that lack modern landfills or recycling facilities, so the refried phones will end up trashing the earth anyway. To make sure your old phone doesn’t end up as e-waste, return it to a retailer or manufacturer or donate it to a program with a no-landfill policy. And the next time you’re in the market for a phone, consider buying a “just like new” model. For recycling information, go to www.epa.gov/epawaste/partnerships/plugin/cellphone/index.htm
Think Inside the Box
Annual carbon dioxide emissions that could be avoided if 97 percent of U.S. wine made to be consumed within a year was sold in boxes instead of bottles: about two million tons.
Annual carbon dioxide emissions of 400,000 cars: about two million tons. (That’s right: the average passenger car emits about five tons of CO2 annually.)
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Being Green".