Climate Action Collaborative: Not-so-surprising truth about plastic trees and other holiday decor (column)
December 5, 2018
For the environmentally conscious holiday shopper, staying green in aisles of plastic trinkets, decorations and fake trees isn't always easy. We can often be drawn to plastic trees, reusable bows and low-energy lights. But replacing every holiday decoration with a greener version may backfire by creating additional waste when old products are tossed to the street.
Diverting waste from the landfill is a key tactic for the Eagle County Climate Action Collaborative to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, and it is no surprise that the holiday season is one full of a lot of joy and a lot of waste.
So, which old holiday traditions should be tossed out in favor of newer, greener products?
“Smart givers can even spread environmental awareness by gifting solar-powered chargers, handy reusable bags and eco-friendly stocking stuffers such as biodegradable soaps, shampoo and conditioners.”
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One of the first steps for many shoppers looking to go greener around the holidays is to purchase a plastic tree, which can conveniently be re-decorated each season. The (perfectly logical) thought process is that each year equals one additional tree that isn't being cut down.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of plastic still outweigh many of the benefits of reusability. More than 80 percent of plastic trees are imported from China and created with non-biodegradable plastic, meaning that it would take 20 years to be better for the environment versus a live tree. Between moving homes and natural wear and tear, a plastic tree is lucky to survive five or 10 years before being replaced with a new product and the old plastic ends up right in the landfill.
The solution? Continue to buy real trees from verified providers who will replace each tree with one to three new trees each season. Avoid chain retailers for both real and fake trees, and opt for organic farms whenever possible or, even better, a tree in a pot.
Bonus tip: LED tree lights are much longer lasting and use 80 percent less energy than incandescent lights, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Replacing old bulbs on strands of holiday lights with LEDs is a win for the environment every time. Plus, you can recycle old holiday lights.
Much like the tree dilemma, finding the best wrapping solution isn't as cut and dry as one might hope. Some wrapping paper is reusable but not recyclable, while other gift wrap is recyclable but intended for one-time use only.
How do you navigate gift wrapping without forgoing it all together? There are three possible solutions that could work for you and your family this year:
• Use what you already have. Buying something new almost always results in more waste, so if you're content using paper bags, clay pots, scarves, magazines, pieces of old paper patched together or newspaper that's already in your home, you're both reusing and eventually recycling.
• Use sturdy, reusable bags and boxes. There are some truly stunning holiday boxes available that are easy to use, long lasting and usable year after year. Look for boxes made of wood, aluminum or other materials that can't be easily ripped or destroyed.
• Buy recyclable. Not all paper is easily recyclable, so shop for wrapping paper that's guaranteed recyclable (which means no glitter, plastic lamination or non-paper additives) and won't clog up landfills post-holiday season.
Local and handmade gifts are an increasingly popular option to reduce waste. Items bought online or at many large retail chains often include excessive packaging and are shipped long distances, which can utilize excessive energy prior to reaching their destination. Local and handmade gifts are far superior to mass production, but if you're not near a local shop, gift-givers can also give presents that are thoughtful and reused.
Emphasis is often put on the new and best products by advertisers, but holiday shoppers can seek out items such as second-hand jewelry, cookware, books and music instead of purchasing new pieces. Thrift shops are great places to find items that are gently used, in great condition and ready for new lives.
Smart givers can even spread environmental awareness by gifting solar-powered chargers, handy reusable bags and eco-friendly stocking stuffers such as biodegradable soaps, shampoo and conditioners.
Liz Esche is a member of the Climate Action Collaborative working to #BeBetterTogether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.