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The Holiday Green Guide

Here are some helpful hints for a sustainable season.
Monday Dec 01, 2008.     By Sharon Hoyer
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Please decorate responsibly Please decorate responsibly.

As the last of the free-range turkey vanishes from the fridge and ads for blowout sales blare from every television and website sidebar with ever more voluble urgency, visions of last-minute shopping and drunken holiday parties start to jingle-bell hop in our heads. At this most consumer-driven and stressful time of year, the Thumb would like to offer a few tips on ways to decorate responsibly, save some dough and create a little extra room for the environmentally friendly holiday custom that tends to get lost in the shuffle: quality time with family and friends.

Green your greenery: In the annual debate over real trees versus the fake stuff (i.e. compostable versus reuseable) the former wins time and again. Tree farms are full of CO2-banking, habitat-providing, erosion-preventing, oxygen-generating evergreens that spend their lives soaking up carbon emissions—an environmental boon even when you factor in carbon released at harvest time. Moreover, the vast majority of artificial trees are made from polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC—a malleable, lead-stabilized plastic (number three) that, over time, leaches harmful dioxins known to cause neurological problems in children. PVC production also creates a waste stream laden with mercury; the process is so toxic that most PVC manufacturing—including artificial Christmas trees—takes place in China, where environmental regulations on industry are more lax.

Deck the halls by hand: Same goes for those reflective colored bulbs, strings of metallic garland and motion-sensitive song-and-dance elves: over 80-percent of 'em burned hefty amounts of fossil fuels on the voyage from a land with minimal environmental oversight and near non-existent workers rights to your foyer. Ditch the life-sized, inflatable glowing nativity and think popcorn strings and paper garlands, candy canes and gingerbread men—decorations that won't bring phthalates to the party and require time and creativity to assemble. Besides, how would you rather spend your Saturday afternoon: baking sugar cookies and stringing popcorn at a decorating party with friends or trying to cut in line at Target with an armful of motorized santas?

Handmade ornaments can also make thoughtful and memorable gifts. And don't fret if you're not the artsy type; you needn’t know how to tat lace or blow glass to create a personalized ornament more elegant than the one you brought home from first grade (though your folks still treasure that gimpy, construction-paper Rudolph and would no less were they to find it in their stocking, signed in crayon by your own hand, this December). DIY blogs and publications abound, brimming with inspiration for handcrafted holiday decorations to brighten your pad with a personal touch.

Give a little consciousness: Spread the good cheer by encouraging your friends and family to have a greener New Year; CFL bulbs, travel coffee thermoses and rechargeable batteries make fine stocking stuffers. So do charitable donations in the recipient's name. This has been a tough year for giving; the current economic bedlam has put every not-for-profit charity, arts organization and environmental action group at the receiving end of a vicious pinch. Consider making a tax-deductible donation in the name of a loved one or, better yet, let them make the call with a $10 to $100 charity gift card from Network for Good.

Make a list, check it twice...for yourself: My folks love surprise gifts. You won't catch them peeking in closets or shaking boxes the week before Christmas; they're the type that savors opening a package to the last sliver of scotch tape, peeling off paper at a snail's pace in one-by-one-and-a-half-inch strips. While the promise of delighted surprise is half the fun of receiving holiday gifts (and nearly all the fun of giving them), the all-too-frequent result is money and time squandered on clothing or gadgets that miss the mark. The Thumb has learned to make highly specific, carefully researched wish lists (this year's includes a natty, European-made bike basket, hint, hint) to avoid getting '09 dust-catchers under the tree. And a specific list not only ensures that your family spends their hard-earned bucks on something you truly need and/or want, it also provides a solid guideline for that inevitable surprise present.

Check out last year's holiday tips: Decorative LED lights, shopping local, "experience" gifts, wrapping in reused materials, treecycling, halting the catalog barrage with one click—it's still all good stuff.

It took a move from the regimented lawnscapes of the suburbs to the congestion of a major metropolis for Sharon to look twice at what she puts in the trash, down the sink and into her own body. She reports fortnightly on her endeavors to change "greening" from calculated deviation to a practicable way of life. You can contact her here.

 

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