Five ways to gift green

December 01, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

If the heaps of leftover wrapping paper are any indication, people are spreading more than good cheer during the holidays.

They're spreading trash, too.

For many, sharing joy unto others means handing over an object -- one probably covered in fancy paper, in a box or gift bag. And for many, that quest for goods began Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade group for retailers funds seasonal studies on consumer spending habits.

But once Santa has come and gone, the remnants of all that joy and cheer -- the shopping bags, wrapping paper, boxes and Styrofoam -- will likely end up in a landfill near you.

Rodney Tissue, engineer for the city of Hagerstown, says that holiday-related trash is so great that Christmas trash pick up in Hagerstown typically lags a day and a half behind schedule.


"It's not so much the weight, but the volume," says Tissue, whose department is responsible for getting rid of the city's trash. "It's all the packaging."

"I would like to put the message out there for people to recycle," Tissue says.

Karen Valentine, founder of Shepherdstown, W.Va.-based, says people could do a better job at being eco-friendly, especially during the holidays. And it doesn't mean stifling your gift-giving spirit. She says it's easier than most people think.

"The power to save the planet lies with the consumer," Valentine says. promotes green living and shopping, and has links to Web sites of eco-friendly vendors, searchable by state.

Valentine shares five things Herald-Mail readers can do to gift more responsibly. Here are her tips:

o Give gift certificates to local farms and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms.

CSAs allow people to pledge support to local farms and, in return, receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season. In the U.S., the popularity of CSAs have grown since the early '90s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Supporting CSAs reduces your carbon foot print. "They're not shipping these goods so far to get to the consumer," Valentine says. Plus, you're supporting local farmers.

o Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Regifting is bad, but reusing the packaging is just fine.

Some shopping bags are fancy and come in nice colors. Valentine suggests using them as wrapping paper. You can also recycle previously used boxes and ribbons, or use hemp-twine ribbon, which Valentine says is better for the environment. Or think of it this way: This is less money you'll be sending on packaging.

o Don't give a "thing."

Consider giving a service, instead. "In an economy like this, I would love to take a yoga class right now, but I would love it if someone would give it to me as a gift," Valentine says. Art classes and reiki sessions are also fair game.

o Shop with reusable bags.

They're chic, cheap and ubiquitous, Valentine says.

o If shopping at your local mall, support businesses that gift responsibly

Look for recycled packaging and keep your eye out for excessive packaging, "because this is where they're going to end up: the trash," Valentine says.

Earth-friendly décor

Karen Valentine, founder of, also has tips for getting your home ready for the holidays the eco-friendly way:

o For holiday lights, use 5-watt bulbs instead of the 7-watt bulbs. They use less energy and give off less heat.

o Buy a live Christmas tree with a root bulb so you can plant it after the holidays. Make sure it's a native tree, though. Non-natives introduce new pests and can disrupt the ecosystem.

o If you don't want to keep the tree, find out where you can recycle it. If you live in a rural area, leave it outside and let it decompose naturally. Animals can use it for shelter during the winter months.

o Shop for decorations at thrift and antique stores. It's another form of recycling. Valentine said she scored a box of Christmas bulbs at a thrift store in Hagerstown.

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