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Home > Features > Living Well > Seasonal > Winter > LOW IMPACT Y2KRISTMAS

A Sustainable...

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* Chanukka *
* Christmas *
* Solstice *

A compendium
of celebration
tips, tools and
recipes for a
spiritually renewing
holiday season.

Have a Low Impact


by Partners for Environmental Progress

In honor of the 5th Annual ULS (Use Less Stuff) Day on November 18, we present...


Happy ULS Day! Every year, folks ask us what they can do to reduce waste during the holidays -- the time of year when the amount of garbage created increases by 25% versus the non-holiday season. (That's an extra 5 million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's, for you accounting types.)

With the celebration of a New Millennium, we expect trash from wrappers, bottles, confetti, cards and streamers to increase even more than usual. What can be done to have some fun while keeping waste generation on the run?

We've come up with a list of five broad categories where the average Earthling can make the biggest impact on the environment. Under each of these concepts are a bunch of waste-reducing tips and ideas. None are very hard to do, and many will help you save time and money as you save natural resources and reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

1. Think conservation, not consumption There are many gifts that actually help people (especially younger ones) learn the value of saving resources, rather than spending them. We also include in this category gifts that don't require you to purchase any physical stuff:

        + Savings accounts              + Movie tickets
        + Mutual fund shares            + Concert tickets
        + Stocks or bonds               + Sports tickets

* Don't forget that many party-related items can be rented rather than purchased. For example, you can rent dishes and glassware, making your party more elegant and eliminating the need to buy special holiday china. Or, rent formalwear rather than purchasing tuxedos or gowns.

* Rather than buying ornaments, children can make their own out of things you already have around the house, or from materials they might find in the backyard: twigs, bark, leaves, flowers, pine cones, etc.

* Plan meals wisely and practice portion control to minimize waste in the first place: FOOD/DRINK PORTION PER PERSON Eggnog 1/2 cup Turkey 12-14 pounds (up to 10 people) Stuffing 1/4 pound Sweet Potato Casserole 1/4 pound Green Beans 1/4 pound Cranberry relish 3 tablespoons Pumpkin Pie 1/8 of a 9 in. pie 2. Focus on energy savings

The most important resource we need to conserve is energy, both because we rely so much on non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels; and the burning of these fuels creates pollution and greenhouse gases. Again, saving energy is not only easy, but very profitable! Here are some holiday-related tips for home and travel:

* Turn down the heat before the guests arrive. You’ll save energy while the extra body heat of your guests will warm up the room.

* Walk to neighborhood parties, or carpool (with a designated driver!) with friends if it’s too far to walk.

* Purchase holiday lights with small bulbs. Remember, the smaller the bulbs, the lower the wattage. Low wattage has two advantages: It consumes less energy and gives off less heat, making your lights safer.

* When taking photos, use "fast film." Faster film speeds, such as 400 or 800, reduce the use of flash and extend battery life. Both save energy.

* When buying electronic toys and other portable items that are used regularly, remember to buy rechargeable batteries to go with them.

* Plan your shopping in advance. Consolidating your shopping trips saves fuel (and aggravation), and you’ll avoid those last minute frenzies when you won’t have time to make careful gift choices.

* Clean it up! Keeping the coils on your fridge free of dust bunnies will use less energy and help it last longer. Even one hundredth of an inch of dust or dirt on coils can reduce efficiency by 5 percent. The filters and parts of your air conditioner and furnace should be regularly cleaned or changed as well.

* Run dishes only when you have a full load, and use the no-heat fan or air-dry setting for overnight washing.

* Full freezers and refrigerators help keep the temperature down with all the cold food. If your fridge is not so full (because you’re shopping smart and not overbuying food) try filling empty plastic milk jugs with water and placing them inside.

* Turn the oven off a few minutes before the food is cooked and let the heat already in the oven finish it.

* Turn off computers, TVs, VCRs and so forth, when not in use. Ditto for outdoor and Christmas tree lights. Why not put the lights on timers so they turn themselves off?

* Insulate! Keep hot-water pipes covered in either foam or precut fiberglass insulation. Watch the attic too, since much of the heating and cooling loss in your home goes through the roof.

3. Practice systems thinking Too often, we look at the little picture and don’t see the overall effect of our actions. We'll save far more resources if we think through our decisions from start to end. Thus, it makes good environmental and financial sense to:

* Plan your meals before you shop. Start by making a list of what you want to serve during the week. Check the refrigerator and cupboards for what's on hand, and work from that. Then, fill in from the store what you still need. And don't forget: stick to the list!

* Plan for leftovers in advance. After a big turkey dinner, you'll have leftovers galore. Plan what to do with them ahead of time and buy accordingly. That way, you'll get the most out of the meat.

* Consolidate your purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag at each store on your shopping rounds.

4. Encourage self-sufficiency.

The more we can do for ourselves, the less we need to rely on what others can do for us. For example, if we can grow our own food, we can reduce the energy costs associated with transporting foodstuffs from thousands of miles away.

* Take a cardboard box and cover it with cloth. Add old clothes + jewelry to make a great dress-up kit for kids.

* Make the wrap a part of the gift: Put cookies in a flower pot or hide jewelry in a new pair of gloves. Doing so will keep “wrapping” out of the trash.

* Be creative. Instead of buying place mats or table decorations, make your own. Cut old cards into shapes and press between two pieces of clear contact paper.

* Give gifts that encourage others to use less stuff, like a book about making crafts from reusable items, cookbook for leftovers, reusable tote bags.

* Or simply set a good example by giving homemade food or something you’ve made yourself from reused items.

* Shop locally. Keeping your local economy strong, making for a vital and thriving downtown - a key to reducing suburban sprawl and related problems of habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.

* Vacation locally. Pretend you’re a tourist visiting your own town. Call the AAA, visit your Chamber of Commerce and visit the local government website. You’ll be amazed at the attractions you’ve taken for granted and never visited. Not only will you save on fuel and transportation costs plus food and lodging, you'll once again be contributing to your local economy.

5. Give the gift of time.

Nothing costs less or means more than spending time with loved ones. Enjoy your family and friends, and your need to find joy through consumption will decline.

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5 Unsung Environmental Heroes

We recently received a very clever little book from the Northwest Environment Watch. It's called Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet. Written by John C. Ryan, it outlines the significant environmtental value of some rather mundane products. In the interest of time and space, we'll focus on five of the seven:

The Bicycle:

It doesn't pollute. It doesn't burn fossil fuels. It's easy to park. It's healthy. And you don't need to buy insurance to do it. Riding a bike thus has strong environmental and financial advantages over cars.

One other advantage of bicycles is the fact that they don't require large numbers of, and investments in, roads. Reducing the need for new and better roads also reduces chances for urban sprawl, overpopulation, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. So start peddling! (And for safety's sake, don't forget to wear a helmet!)

To learn more, contact the Surface Transportation Policy Project at 202-466-2636, or visit their website.

The Clothesline:

It's a little thing. But hanging your clothes out to dry can save you around $85 a year, or $1100 over the life of your dryer (not to mention saving you the cost of the dryer). You not only save money and energy, but your clothes smell fresher and last longer, too -- they don't disintegrate into lint, thread or dust balls.

OK, it probably isn't realistic to totally do away with a dryer. How about hanging sheets, pillow cases and towels? You can even put the dry towels in the dryer for a few minutes at low temperatures to fluff them up.

You can get losts of good energy-saving information from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Call 970-927-3851 or visit them at www.rmi.org.

The Ladybug:

Ladybugs love to eat garden pests. How valuable are the roughly 4000 species of beetles that we call ladybug? Global spending on pesticides reaches $30 billion annually, and it is estimated that ladybugs provide pesticide services worth 4 times this amount!

And unlike pesticides, ladybugs don't leave residual chemicals that can leach into streams and groundwater. They also don't damage other critical and beneficial parts of the ecosystem, such as bacteria or fungi.

You can do your part by supporting organic farmers, or growing your own organic food. Call the Pesticide Action Network at 415-981-1771 or point or browser to www.panna.org.

The Public Library:

By making books, magazines and newspapers available for sharing, public libraries have the potential to save enormous amounts of materials and energy. Going to the library means that use of paper and ink is reduced, and energy consumption during manufacture and distribution is curtailed.

The typical American buys around eight books a year and borrows around six. Our Canadian friends are better at this: they buy three but borrow eight. Let's see if those of us in the good old US of A can be more like our northern neighbors.

Call Libraries for the Future, 800-542-1918 or visit them at www.lff.org.

The Ceiling Fan:

It's the indoor version of the clothesline. Instead of using air conditioning, a ceiling fan uses the evaporative power of moving air to help you feel dryer and cooler. When you consider that about one sixth of all energy consumption in the U.S. is used for air conditioning, the humble ceiling fan takes on a very green profile, indeed.

Just so you know, the typical ceiling fan can make it feel as if it's 72 degrees F when it's really 81 degrees. And a ceiling fan uses only about one-tenth the wattage of a medium-sized room air conditioner.

When it's really hot and you feel you must use the AC, turn on the ceiling fan, too. You'll save up to one third of your cooling bill, since each degree cooled by the fan saves you four percent of the cost of cooling by the air conditioner.

Again, you can get energy-saving information from the Rocky Mountain Institute Phone: 970-927-3851.

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New Waste Publication Available

In its effort to prevent waste generation and promote resource efficiency, the Source Reduction Forum, a Council of the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), has published Waste Prevention Pay$: A Media Outreach Toolkit. The Forum has also released Purchasing Strategies to Reduce Waste and Save Money. Check them out on the Web or call 703-683-9025, ext. 225.

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A Green Christmas with regrets to Clement Clarke Moore 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through my home, Efficiency reigned, thanks to our geodesic dome.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, Warmed by the ceiling fan over their heads. Cozy in PJs, a night shirt or gown, We saved money by turning the thermostat down.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the thermopaned windows I flew, And pushed open lined curtains to have me a view.

There in the yard did suddenly appear, A low emissions vehicle powered by tiny reindeer. The driver was hoping by all to be seen, Since he'd gotten new clothes, all warm and bright green.

He jumped on the roof and down the chimney he slipped, Delivering the gifts he'd been making or shipped. And if by sheer magic and out of the vapor, Came presents now wrapped in bits of newspaper. For Sally a doll and for Jimmy new socks, Each wrapped with old ribbon and in a used box. A scarf for dear Mary and a hat for old Rodge, Now they could walk and not take the Dodge.

With a job well done he got back in his sleigh, Ready to travel far, far away. But just before leaving he stopped and did tell, "Have a ULS Christmas and all will be well."

Have a Happy and Resource-ful Holiday Season!

Reprinted with permission from The ULS Report (October-November-December 1999 Volume 6, Number 4), a quarterly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress.

Snail mail address P.O. Box 130116 Ann Arbor MI 48113
Phone 734-668-1690 
Fax 734-930-0506
E-mail uls@cygnus-group.com
Web http://cygnus-group.com
Editor Robert Lilienfeld
Technical Advisor Dr. William Rathje

Copyright 1999 Partners for Environmental Progress. All rights reserved.





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