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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: 5 Simple Steps to Your Greenest Holiday Ever

by Susan Hellauer

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio and Blue Rock School and Dying To Bloom, a natural burial boutique for humans and pets. The children of Blue Rock School invite you to a Winter Solstice Celebtation tonight, Wed, Dec 12 at 7p. Strawtown Studio invites you to a FREE Lighting Up Solstice Workshop on Sat, Dec 15 at 2p.
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With dire climate change reports dropping from everywhere in 2018, maybe you’re wondering how you could help—rather than hurt—the planet. Good. Here’s a first step: Before hurling yourself into the annual consumer insanity, take a breath and make a sustainable plan for a greener holiday.

To get started, Earth Matters reached out to the reduce-reuse-recycle idea machine at the Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority (RCSWMA, at Public information specialist Jackie Dodrill was on it in minutes with a list of tips for cleaner, greener holiday festivities. “There are so many ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle around the holidays,” she said. “You can be creative, save money, make people happy, and be sustainable, too.”

We tossed ideas around, and came up with the top five energy-saving, trashcan-slimming, landfill-sparing, fun-producing ways to green up your plans for holiday merriment.

1. The tree: artificial or real?

Doesn’t feel quite like Christmas without a fragrant evergreen in the house? That’s okay. Most environmental experts agree that you’re doing the earth a favor as long as your tree comes from nearby, and avoids the landfill by being mulched or used as forest habitat. (Check with your town or village on tree pickup.)

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If you bought an artificial tree to avoid killing a live one every year—or spending $75 and up annually for a seven-plus-footer, recent reporting in the New York Times and the Guardian suggests that you’re being less than green. Fake firs are made from petroleum, and their fused metal and plastic materials make them non-recyclable. If you’ve already got an artificial tree, the greenest bet is to amortize that carbon footprint by using the imposter for as long as possible. Delay its landfill destiny for 20 or so years, and it’s probably been environmentally zeroed out.

On the fence and leaning artificial? Consider fiber-optic. It’s got the lowest energy cost for a pre-lit tree.

2. Decorations: Save energy and the landfill

As those old outdoor light strings bite the dust, replace them with LED lights, which use much less electricity. NOTE: Some find that the white LEDs look harsh. Colored lights are somewhat softer and have a more traditional appearance. If you’re an early-to-bed bird, save energy with a timer to douse the outdoor lights after about six hours of illuminated joy. Best of all? Go totally off grid with solar string lights, available in many lengths and colors.

For sustainability, Repair beats Replace every time. Your old plastic decorative items may be headed to the landfill someday, but the longer you can delay that fate, the less the environmental impact. A fun family project to repair and revive that fading plastic wreath is the ultimate holiday green gift for your front door.

3. No-plastic, No-emissions, or No-thing gifting

Planning your attack on that Christmas list? Take a no-plastic toys and gifts pledge—unless it’s recycled, say, like the spiffy new Jenga Ocean set made from discarded fishing nets (10% of all ocean plastic pollution). For little ones, Green Toys makes safe, colorful playthings out of recycled milk jugs.

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Jennifer Sheridan, RCSWMA Assistant Educator, incorporates green tips, gifts and crafts into her tour and presentations during the winter season. Photo: Jackie Dodrill

Jackie Dodrill swears by “no emissions” toys, “things that can keep kids entertained that don’t use batteries or electricity, like a skateboard, board games, books, or art supplies.”

And then there’s that well of knowledge at Pinterest. “People on Pinterest turn just about anything from pine cones to wood pallets into gifts,” Dodrill said.

If you want to give a gift that screams “I care,” think about repairing a beloved but broken item, instead of buying something new. “That’s what I’m doing for my mom this year,” said Dodrill. “She’s had an emerald ring forever, and loves it, but it’s missing a stone. I’m getting it fixed and giving it to her, so she can wear it again.”

Go one step further and consider thing-free gifting. Experiences, like tickets to an event or a nice massage or a class or music lessons, is an evergreen idea with the sustainable set. Find kid-friendly Broadway shows, for example, on or Time Out New York Kids.

4. Gift wrapping with eco-attitude

If it’s got a shine, leave it behind. Metallic gift wrapping paper is not recyclable, but paper wrapping is. Re-use old Christmas cards or use a folded slip of wrapping paper for gift tags. Skip the ribbon and bows or re-use ones you’ve saved. (Save and re-use gift bags too.) Besides being landfill-bound, those non-recyclable ribbons, bows, and package gewgaws probably got here on a big diesel-belching cargo ship from halfway around the world.

And why not go deep green and think about ways to skip the wrapping paper altogether. Re-use gift bags, or use the comics section of the newspaper, colorful magazine pages, or a scarf.

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5. Holiday feasting

Planning a holiday meal for family and friends? A zero-waste feast can be a pretty heavy lift for beginner (“I’m still trying to perfect it myself,” Dodrill said). But Americans waste a ridiculous 150,000 pounds of food a day, about a pound a person. Just a little planning can help put a dent in that monster problem. And using local food (from the Nyack Farmers Market, say) shrinks the carbon price tag of your menu.

Know those portion calculators for the size of turkey or roast to buy? Or that little line in a recipe that says “Serves 8”? Pay attention to those, and buy with an eye toward few or no leftovers. It’s not easy to get over that “groaning board-of-plenty” mentality, especially on holidays, but we can all do a little better. “And resist the temptation to use disposable dinnerware for your celebration,” Dodrill added.

And one more thing

Give the kids in your life (or yourself) a gift that can sustain the soul. Participate in Rockland’s People to People, Inc. “Adopt a Family” for the holidays or fulfill a needy child’s dream by contributing a gift card, or eco-friendly toy to their “Project Joy” store.

Learn more:

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Don’t be this guy this year! Photo: Susan Hellauer

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Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.

Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique, Dying to Bloom, Strawtown Studio, and Blue Rock School.

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