Going “Green” for the Holidays

Global warming, the environment, and conservation are major topics of discussion these days. With the holidays not far away, I thought I’d share with you some fresh “green” ideas that will not only save you money but will make you feel pretty good about doing your part for the environment. So, gather the kids and embrace the “it’s good to be green” mantra this holiday season.
Let’s start with the classic Christmas tree. Bringing the fresh smell of the outdoors in is great and fresh trees can be quite beautiful. The “live” Christmas tree has to be one of the biggest wastes of resources, not to mention money, mostly because we can’t use them again. What a shame that after all that work they have to come down so soon. That is unless you’re my neighbor Barbara who enjoys her tree all the way to Valentines Day. She always puts up a fight when I try to trash the holiday wreath on her door. As for the tree, I’m well aware that they are farmed, but we are still chopping down trees, millions of them every year just so we can enjoy them for a couple of weeks. It just ain’t fittin!

So, this holiday season, why not consider an artificial tree. These days they look so real that you truly cannot tell the difference unless you get your nose right up to it. The best part is that they are fire retardant and there are no needles to vacuum up from the floor. I like this! And even better, no more schlepping! What a pleasure it is not to have to drag a tree inside the house. No mess, no fuss; just the perfect size tree for your home year after year.

Now, let’s talk about a wreath for the door. For me, a homemade wreath is a must. You can make one from the cuttings left over from other folks Christmas tree — another saving because usually they can be found for free if you stay close by and pay attention. I’m always asking, “will you be needing that?” It works for me each and every time. Typically there is a pile of branches and stalks that have either broken off or been cut off that are going to be thrown away anyway. I also go into my garden and take cuttings of magnolia, boxwood, holly or other greens. Tie them together, tie a bow and there you have it. That said, when you are done with the wreath, remove the bow and spray paint it silver or gold. This will get you a second year. That’s right. It will keep yet another year if stored correctly. I always get a second year from mine if I place it in the garage for safe keeping.

Moving on to wrapping paper. Who doesn’t love beautiful wrapping paper? There is nothing nicer than a beautifully wrapped gift. It tells the recipient that they are special. The only problem is that it usually ends up in a ball in the trash can along with the ribbon. I definitely make an effort to save paper that is reusable. Often a larger piece can be cut and used for a smaller package even if the ends are ripped or creased. To keep it from getting wrinkled I wrap it around the cardboard cylinder from other paper and secure it with a rubber band. The same goes for the ribbon. I think it’s a shame to throw away beautiful ribbon. The operative word here is “beautiful” and while I find many opportunities to reuse ribbon, the inflexible plastic or paper ribbon that shreds are not what I’m talking about. I do, however, save raffia and use it to tie napkins and other small gifts that may need a whimsical touch.

One of the many great things about having a garden is the variety of choices at your disposal. If you plan your garden well, you too can enjoy and utilize this four season approach. Evergreens offer an endless supply of cuttings that can be used to create interest in your home during the holidays. Sprigs of holly, magnolia, boxwood or any other evergreen can be placed on the mantle, on the stair railing, in and around other houseplants or put in a container and used as a centerpiece. I love to decorate a table with greens. Green is one of my favorite colors and so beautiful in the candlelight. It’s simply elegant yet elegantly simple.

How about using greens and raffia to wrap a wine gift instead of the awful paper that is usually offered? Bored with the way most wine is wrapped (or not), I created a simple way to present a bottle of wine — the “Wine Bouquet”. It’s easy. Simply wrap twine or raffia around the neck of the bottle and make a tie. Place small cuttings under it and then tie a bow. This is a good way to recycle ribbon as well. I often use boxwood, dried hydrangea, and ivy but really anything green with texture works. It doesn’t get any easier than this. This is a different and a wonderful way to present a bottle of wine to your host. They will love it so much that you might find the bottle open with the bouquet still on it!

Personally, I love to receive a bottle of wine as a gift during the holidays. And while it will keep for weeks (ok, probably not in my house as I’m constantly entertaining) the good news is that I can use it when other people drop in unexpectedly. On the other hand, I cannot tell you the times I have received lovely gifts of homemade cookies that often sit around for weeks because I cannot eat three pounds of cookies. When you find yourself in this situation, consider donating them to the homeless shelter. The point is, DON’T OVERCOOK or OVERBAKE. People are often too polite and don’t want to be ungrateful but, really, there is so much food overload during the holiday season. So give yourself a break. If you love to bake, try baking only a couple of kinds of cookies instead of ten different kinds and 50 pounds worth. Give sample portions as gifts instead of a box full. You’ll save time, money and ultimately, many a waistline.

The holidays mean cold weather. Go “green” by lowering the heat in your home when you leave? This is something everyone can and should do to conserve oil, gas, electricity or whatever form of energy you use in your home. Most thermostat systems offer timers that can be set to raise or lower the temperature throughout the day and night. When I go to the office, I leave my Schnauzer in a comfortable temperature of 65 degrees. Just before I return home, the house temperature goes up to a perfect 68 degrees. This idea will definitely save you some green. It did for me. It’s a little change that makes a big difference.

Did you know that you can give the gift of “green” and help save lives? There are two amazing organizations that do just that. If you’re giving someone a new cell phone this holiday, why not request (better yet DEMAND) that the old one is donated to the 911 Cell Phone Bank or to CellForCash.com. CellforCash.com is an online website that buys retired (or even brand new) cell phones. Just go to the site, find your phone and send it in.  Cell forCash.com will provide cash and a postage-paid box to send it in. The 911 Cell Phone Bank is an initiative of The RMS Foundation.  It was created to provide an ongoing and readily available source of 911 cell phones and funds to meet the unexpected and urgent needs of participating law enforcement and affiliated victim services agencies.  Since its inception, the 911 Cell Phone Bank has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of cell phones for victim services organizations nationwide.  It is a nationwide program designed to maximize community cell phone donations.

To learn more visit www.911CellPhoneBank.org.

One final “green” tip that is good for any day, not just a holiday. Instead of buying bottled water, I installed a water filter in my kitchen under the sink. All the water that comes into the kitchen that I use for the ice maker, drinking, boiling pasta, steaming or boiling vegetables is filtered. Now I don’t have to buy water. A lot of people are drinking a lot of water these days and they do not realize that all those plastic bottles go into landfills. Imagine if you drank six or eight bottles of water a day and simply threw the bottles in the trash. Imagine millions of people doing the same. Not a good scenario. Glass bottles can be reused many times while there is a problem with plastic particularly in the summer when it is hot. I prefer not to drink from plastic anymore and although it has required me to rethink some habits, I know it’s the right decision. Now I collect interesting bottles and reuse them as water bottles. I love the fancy bottle that French lemonade comes in, for example, and the dark blue bottle originally filled with sparkling water that I can refill with filtered water right from the tap.

This holiday season, remind yourself of the many “green” choices you can make when you see the color green. “Green” for the holidays is about what you CAN do to move the needle in the right direction. The “green” direction!

And there you have it.