The Nature Conservancy wants to maintain ecological balance during the holiday season.
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Shop. Wrap. Bake. Party.
Load that on top of work and your usual household chores. Then don’t be surprised when good intentions for the environment go right in the trash — literally — until it’s time for New Year’s resolutions.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Leslee Spraggins is the new state director of the Illinois chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She discussed a list of suggestions the group has developed to help maintain ecological sanity during the next month.
"We’re hoping people will just think about it before they get all engaged in the trappings of the holiday," she said. "To see if there’s just one thing they could do differently this year."
As always, the bottom line advice is: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Buy local. But the conservancy has tried to come up with practical ways to apply those guidelines to the holidays.
For example, consider your Christmas tree. You can reduce energy use by buying a locally grown tree. You could recycle it after the holiday by making mulch or plopping it in a friendly farmer’s pond for fish habitat. Perhaps best of all, you could reuse a living tree in a pot by planting it later.
"At our house, we use ornamental trees we happen to have around," Spraggins said, adding her family trims the houseplants with tiny white lights. "If you’re buying, look for the LED lights that are not hot and use less energy."
Looking locally, Joan Ericksen of the Sun Foundation emphasized green living is a year-round pursuit … but there are ways to apply it to the holidays. She likes to take cloth bags when she goes shopping, and tries to make the wrapping a part of the gift — like tucking small items in an umbrella with a bow on the handle.
"I’m getting better at it — not wrapping gifts, but still making fun out of it," she said.
She used to make her own gifts, Ericksen said, and now offers "gifts of service," like a monthly foot-rub for her brother. In her view, we are in a transitional phase to a "lighter" way of life. All these suggestions help our perceptions of giving go deeper.
"We’re so bombarded by buying and selling. At one time, these holidays had an entirely different pattern to them," she said.
Reflect, Ericksen suggested. Try to spend some time outdoors. Try to simplify. But keep a light touch about it. She recalled an episode of TV’s "South Park" where the pollution problem was solved by hybrid cars but there was still a brown pall above the planet.
"Smugness," she laughed.
"We shouldn’t make other people feel bad. Make the holiday a period of love and enjoyment. It’s not to knock yourselves out. But make some effort, take some steps forward."
Terry Bibo can be reached at (309) 686-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a jolly green Christmas
The Nature Conservancy offers suggestions to change your holidays:
Think global, eat local. And try not to purchase more than you need. About a third of holiday food ends up in the garbage. Reheating leftovers uses less energy than cooking a new meal. Compost vegetable scraps.
Think about gifts. Consider an "experience," like tickets to an event and/or an offer of your own time. Outdoor types might appreciate a pass to national parks or a contribution in their name to an outdoors organization.
Think about trips. Be efficient in running your errands. Celebrate locally and avoid travel if you can. Consider ways to offset the negative effects on the environment if you can’t.
Think about trees. Both fresh and artificial trees can be laced with chemicals. On the plus side, fresh can be recycled and artificial can last for many years. Try to stay as natural as you can, which includes decorations, like cinnamon sticks and pine cones.
Think about lights. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use the same technology as calculators and watches. They cost more, but last longer and use less energy. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if LED lights were used on Christmas decorations, the annual savings would be enough to power nearly 200,000 homes for a year.
Think about wrapping. Use recycled paper for cards and gift paper and/or recycle it yourself. Your kids’ "artwork" could replace commercial paper, or ask they can decorate plain brown bags. Another thought: Instead of gift tags, cut up old Christmas cards.
If you’re looking for more ideas, go to www.nature.org.
SOURCE: The Nature Conservancy