Dreaming of a green Christmas
BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
For all the joy the holidays bring, they are also a seasonal challenge for eco-friendly consumers who don't want to become the Grinch that polluted Christmas.
If that pile of torn wrapping paper in your living room isn't enough to convince you, consider the findings of the Stanford Recycling Center: Americans throw away about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, or about 5 million tons of garbage.
According to the center, wrapping just three presents a year in re-used material could save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
There are other holiday concerns, from what to do with your Christmas tree to the energy used by your holiday lights.
But be of good cheer, we have solutions to make you merry.
RECYCLE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The folks at the Honolulu architecture firm of Philip K. White & Associates like a design challenge, so last year when it was suggested they turn an office clean-up into Christmas decorations, no one blinked.
They glued paper onto old light bulbs and with a few pipe cleaners created smiling moose and reindeer. They put black dots on old computer mouses and wrapped them in cloth to make seasonal characters. They cut up old computer discs and turned them into reflective angels. They even transformed old soda bottles and cups from Starbuck's.
When they were done, they had recycled enough old office equipment to decorate a 6-foot-high tree, said Philip White.
"We made it an office project, where everyone had to make several different kinds of ornaments," he said. "We did it, first, to see if we could, to see what we would come up with, and I think we are happy with the way they came out. They are really nice ornaments."
MULCH THAT TREE
It won't take long for the 118,000 Christmas trees that were shipped to Hawai'i this year to go from green to brown. But get them to a green-waste recycler and you can turn them into a gift that keeps on giving.
In Honolulu, the city will pick up your tree from the curb — minus ornaments and tinsel, of course — city spokesman Bill Brennan said. Follow the every-other-week green waste pickup schedule. If you use one of the city's large green bins, the tree must be cut to fit inside. If left on the curb, they must be cut 3 feet or less.
You can also drop them off at any of the city's Refuse and Recycling Convenience Centers seven days a week.
The trees will be ground into mulch and other soil amendment products.
LIGHTEN UP ON LIGHTS
Holiday light displays look great, but the electric bill in January can be a painful shock.
LED lights are an efficient replacement for traditional incandescent bulbs because they use 90 percent less electricity, said Andy Keith, a senior environmental scientist for Hawaiian Electric Co.
"It's a big difference," he said. "Within a few years they will be the rule rather than the exception. They are also a little safer because they give off less heat."
LEDs are said to last up to 100,000 hours.
Mini-bulbs are also an efficient alternative. But for those who simply won't let go of their old-fashioned lights, bulb manufacturers are now making low-energy consuming versions of their old standards.
KICK THE PAPER HABIT
The wrapping paper habit isn't hard to kick. You just need to re-package your imagination.
Ava Jenkins, whose mother created a sustainable living center in Pauoa called The Green House, tries to encourage people to use materials more than once. She cringes at the practice of trashing what amounts to new, albeit torn, holiday paper.
"That's really irresponsible, and it's not helping the landfill," she said.
Her solutions include using newspaper, which can be recycled, and butcher paper and drafting paper, most of which cannot be recycled, she said. Her children like to decorate the clean paper with hand-painted designs and handprints.
Jenkins also likes to give traditional paper a second chance.
"We carefully unwrap the gift and reuse the paper again," she said. "We use it as cards or for a smaller gift."
If the paper is too small for a present, she can turn it into a gift card, she said.
Using gift bags from previous occasions is another alternative. And if the bag has a logo, Jenkins will cut a photo from a magazine and glue it over the logo.
Cloth is a great alternative and Jenkins keeps a pile of old aloha shirts, curtains and sheets for wrapping purposes. It's part of a lifestyle choice that lasts longer than one month a year.