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Going Green for the Holidays

Alex A. Kecskes

With the holidays upon us, it's time to think green-in food, decorations & gift-wraps, trees, and anything else that helps sustain our planet for generations of holidays to come.

There are thousands of holiday recipes. And you no doubt have your favorites. But keep in mind that you can create some eco-friendly holiday baked treats and snacks using healthy, earth-conscious ingredients. First off, shop for ingredients that are Certified Organic and Certified Fair Trade chocolate, flour, fruit (fresh and dried), popcorn, and nuts, as well as and wine for those adult beverages and baked goods. For treats that contain meat, dairy, or eggs, consider a vegan alternative. (Studies show that raising livestock may be more detrimental to global climate than driving your car.) Consider using eco-sweeteners like honey, which has vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Sugar has little nutritional value and its production as an agricultural crop can be harmful to the planet.

Concerned about all that wrapping paper and the trees that gave up their lives to bring you those rolls? You no longer have to wrap presents in last week's funnies or cut up a Ralph's grocery bag to be eco-conscious for the holidays. Sustainable alternatives include hemp paper, recycled post-consumer waste products; even discards like old calendars and maps are among this season's feel-good replacements. You can also go fabric-including cotton--which is ideal for gift bags and a creative way to wrap presents with flair.

That said, if you love paper wrap, here's a guide to help you select the right paper this season. First off, just because a paper product claims to be 100% recycled doesn't mean it is eco-friendly. Check the paper's post-consumer waste content (called PCW), which tells you the percentage of actual refuse vs. scraps of new paper are in the mix. To make sure your paper comes from responsibly managed forests, look for FSC and SCI certifications. You should also make sure your paper is processed chlorine-free using green energy (Green-e Certified) and environment-honoring practices (look up the manufacturer on the web and see). Finally, make sure the ink they use is petroleum-free and vegetable- or soy-based-it's easier to recycle. Other paper sustainable steps you can take include cutting up old greeting cards to use as gift tags or place cards, adding fresh double-sided tape or glue to make last year's ribbons and bows sticky again, or framing attractive old greeting cards to hang on your walls as holiday accents.

Now we come to the one thing that makes most eco-conscious holiday observers feel the most guilt pangs-the Christmas tree. Getting a real tree is actually better for our planet (and our homes). Tree farms ensure that millions of trees are planted annually, which supports both farmers and eco-systems. They are a renewable resource. But it's important to remember that as an agricultural product, most are grown with conventional farming methods, although there are a few organic tree farmers out there. Fake trees can't compete on the eco-front, because they aren't biodegradable and most are grown in factories from petroleum-based (and unsustainable) plastic, PVC, aluminum, or other less-than-green materials. Solution? Grow your own. If you have the outdoor space, start a tradition now of planting a new evergreen tree every year. After a few years, you'll be able to decorate them outdoors.

If you choose to bring your Christmas tree indoors, there are a few things you should remember. Cut off about 1-2 inches of the trunk before you place it into a stand. The stand should accommodate one quart of water for each inch of the trunk's diameter. This lets the tree absorb sufficient water to keep it fresh. Check the water level daily; if the water drops below the trunk, the trunk may seal itself and not be able to absorb water (and don't add sugar or a sugary soft drink to the water). Keep your tree away from heat sources, like fireplaces, TVs heaters. Don't overload electrical circuits when you add tree lights. Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.

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