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Be Green Tree Traditions

I LOVE the holidays. Trees, snow, presents--what's not to like? Well, the waste it all generates, for one. I'd hate to be the grinch who stole Christmas, so I decided to go out looking for ways to "green" holiday tradtions. In other words, find a happy meeting point for the 3 Ts (tradition, tree and tinsel) and the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).
I got together with Sue Smith, the host of the CBC's afternoon lifestyle program Living Montreal to talk about ways we can rewrite some of the more wasteful traditions while preserving the spirit and magic of the holidays for kids and adults alike.

First off, the TREE:


Real is better: I know it seems mind boggling that a chopped-down baby Christmas tree is a better option than a metal and plastic one that you reuse every year. But it is. Think about it: the fake trees are made of toxic, non-biodegradable materials and are often shipped over from China. Real trees, on the other hand, are eco-friendly because:
* They act as carbon sinks and thus help to reduce greenhouse gases
* They are replanted upon harvest
* They are grown in soil that isn't usually used for cultivation
* They are compostable and the city picks them up for this purpose in Jan
* They create local jobs that wouldn't other wise exist. How's that for Christmas cheer!

But what about potted, living trees, you ask?

I looked into this option. If you live in Southern Ontario or any place that's considerably warmer than Montreal, a living tree is ideal. You can plant it when you're done and create a lasting family tradition that way. But in Montreal, living trees don't usually make it. If you're going to end up throwing it out anyway, why spend $50 on a pot and tree when you can get a cut tree of the same size for $25?

Some folks decorate Norfolk pines. These houseplants look a lot like regular Christmas trees, but are actually indoor houseplants that live all year round. An excellent option if you don't have kitties (Norfolk pines can make them very sick if they chew on the leaves) and if you're comfortable with the thought of one gorgeous ornament (Norfolk pines are fragile and don't like being festooned with ornaments)

It's never been easier to buy a bunch of cheap made-in-China ornaments. But can dollar store or big box store decorations ever have the sort of personality and history that make the holidays special?
Instead, consider home-made.You can use all sorts of materials, from cut up baby clothes that have been outgrown (these make for wonderful momentos) to single earrings, knitted baubles and even hand-painted blown glass ornaments that you can purchase at Omer Deserres (you can buy the ornaments and paint for under $20).

The whole idea is to spend time with your kids (or friends) crafting memories that are way more precious than the actual objects that you hang on your tree. Looking for ideas? Check out this article.


Instead of using cotton and tinsel, considering doing something a little more old fashioned. Like making a popcorn and cranberry garland. It's safe, non-toxic, biodegradable and a fun activity to share with loved ones. Instructions here.


I have to admit, this was the section where I had the most fun while researching this piece. I ended up buying a pack of NOMA LED Christmas lights to hang in my apartment window. You can get them at the Canadian Tire.

There are many benefits to Light Emitting Diode lights:

* They are practically unbreakable and therefore very safe
* They remain cool to the touch (safer for kids and pets and fragile houseplants)
* They are guaranteed for between 3 and 5 years
* Look for brands that allow you to replace individual bulbs.
* They save you mucho cashola:

According to the box, these lights are saving me up to 98% more energy than regular mini-lights. Which means they're only using 2% of the juice we used last year.
Bah humbug, you say. How much can minilights consume anyway... You might be surprised:
(again this is off the back of the NOMA box):
700 minilights at 6 hours a day for 30 days will consume $90 worth of electricity
700 LED lights at 6 hours a day for 30 days will consume $3 worth of electricity

$87 saved in one month? I could live with that! You can save even more if you buy the solar powered ones.
SOLAR POWERED LED LIGHTS (also by NOMA at Canadian Tire). They come with a panel that you install in your back yard or on a sunny balcony. The lights (indoor or out, your choice) come on automatically at dusk and stay on for 6 hours. Apparently even on cloudy days. If anyone has used these lights, can you write us a review?
Of course, your hydro savings are going to be that dramatic only if you use a whole whack of lights. Most households are going to see more modest savings than that.
And I won't lie to you: LED lights tend to be more neon-ish. The light is cooler and less ambient than regular mini-lights. Translation: my husband hates them. And they may not be for everybody.

But what if I have strings and strings of regular mini-lights? Should I chuck them for LEDs?
Of course not! It wouldn't be very green to throw out perfectly functional lights even if you're going to be saving cash in energy costs. If you can donate them to someone who can use them and love them, great. By all means replace them. But ideally you'd simply go with the first "R". Reduce. Stick with your lights till it's time to replace them. Then buy LEDs.

Now it's your turn. I would love to hear from you about how you're greening your holidays. And of course, if someone can write an honest review of those solar powered LEDs, I'd love to read it! So write in or call our talkback line: (514) 597-5626

(Oh and don't forget to tune in on Friday: we're going to be discussing how you can green your gift list. Plus, how to wrap those prezzies Be Green style!) Sigh. I love the holidays!

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Comments (1)

Ali P in the Qc


GEETA! Hi there, loved the greening holidays video and I have a small tip that I like...homemade decorations from recycled/found/leftover things.
I have been making decorations with my kids for a few years. its a great way to have memories on a tree! If made with things that might have otherwise been disposed of, its also a fun way to reuse and recycle.
I would like to use my leftover yarn from hand knitting socks to make little stocking, mittens, or sweaters for the tree. Heavier yarn or re-used string could be a base for a garland made from these crafty little objects.
My sons and I have reused greeting cards to make little ornaments for the tree as well as popsicle sticks. And there is always the stringing of stale popcorn which can later be fed to the birds.

Posted December 5, 2008 12:34 PM

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