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I’m dreaming of a ‘green’ Christmas

By: Matthew Whitley, Journal Correspondent
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With the holidays comes a crush of cards, packages, trips, long lines, excessive calories, headaches, gifts, and the general chaos that we know as the holiday season. However, by January 2 the decorations have been taken down and aside from that looming demon known as the credit card bill arriving soon, it’s over. However, the garbage and the remains will live for a very long time. If you’ve ever been to a dump or a landfill, or seen the Pixar film, Wall-E, you can relate in the marvel that is how much trash we create - the Environmental Protection Agency says it’s around 1 million tons of garbage in December alone. This year I’d like to suggest some ways to reduce the amount of garbage and clutter that accumulates each year. With a bit of research and a chat with the Sierra Clubs, local chapter, and Gary Liss and Associates, who specializes in zero waste management for companies; I’ve rounded up some tips to easily reduce the amount of garbage and can often be a money saver and create a more memorable gift giving season.

A difference you can taste

First off the best thing about the holidays is the food. Oven roasted turkey with the trimmings, breads, cookies, pies…it’s a smorgasbord of food, what with the dinners, cocktail parties, work parties and such. Buying and shopping locally can be a fundamental change in the way you serve and cook food. Placer County is just riddled with amazing farms and wineries with some of the best food in the world. Shop the local farmers markets, held in Auburn twice a week, and around Placer County which offer up locally grown and homemade food. When you buy local you support local farmers, you use less gas as the food isn’t being transported long distance, and you encourage money to be spent in the area. Many of the local farms and wineries also grow organically raised birds and plants, meaning fewer pesticides, more humane treatment of animals and livestock and it simply taste better. Many stores in town, particularly in Old Town and at the farmers markets will carry huge selections of pasta sauces, honeys, vinaigrettes, which stuffed into a basket can make a great gift. Throw in a bag of locally grown mandarins to the relatives from out of town. They’ll rave to all their friends back home.

‘Brown paper packages tied up with string’

One of my most vivid memories from Christmas as a kid was after the carnage that had been the gift opening portion of the holiday was the bags of garbage my dad hauled off the next day year after year. There are many options to wrapping gifts that won’t include expensive paper that is often made of metal ribbons for metallic affects or plastics which are of course colored in heavy dyes rich in chemicals that don’t recycle. Look for paper which denotes that it is made from recycled material or use soy based inks. Or get creative, wrap the packages in fabric, crossword puzzles, comics, children’s drawings, use blank paper and rubber stamp them, wallpaper, even sheet music. My personal favorite is the gift bag or stocking. I simply tie the tag to the handle; it can then be reused. Plus, I hate wrapping gifts.! But even I can drop a package in a bag, stuff a piece of tissue into it and add a candy cane, and done.

A Charlie Brown Tree

Who doesn’t know the poor little Christmas tree that Charlie Brown falls in love with, the ornament hanging or should I say clinging to the branch. America loves their Christmas trees.

Again there are great ways to have the beloved landmark of Christmas in the home but ways to do it in a greener way. First, try a live tree. Using a potted evergreen instead of a harvested and now dead tree, you can simply plant it, or leave it in the pot. As Marilyn Jasper of the Sierra Club told me, her family has used one in a pot for 20 years. Another option is an artificial tree. This is controversial choice with some folks as I have learned. Some advocate that you can reuse an artificial tree for years, other dismiss it due to all the chemicals and plastics used in its creation, and that most come from China, so you have to add the gas and distance. If you don’t do a live but instead want a fresh cut one, again going local is the way to go. There are local farms, like Cole’s Family Christmas Farm off Highway 193 in Newcastle, where customers can pick their own. And their money stays local and the tree isn’t being driven in from the Pacific Northwest. Be sure and use LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights to light your tree. They use 1/10 the electricity of standard bulb lights, they don’t run hot, so there’s little fire hazard. A standard setoff LED lights will last 10-20 years.

Now after the holidays remember, as Eric Oddo, P.E, of managers of Western Placer Waste Management Authority points out, except for those flocked, the tree is recyclable. If you are an Auburn resident and have green waste disposal, be sure and remove all the tree trimmings and decorations, and cut the tree so it fits in the can. For everyone else without curbside removal, the Auburn Recology Transfer Station, 12305 Shale Ridge will be taking trees Dec. 23-Jan. 21. If you have a yard and farm, the tree can be chopped up and used as firewood or better still, if it can be tossed into a wood chipper and used as mulch on the garden.

Oh! What’d you get for Christmas?

Gifting can be one of the harder things to do at the holidays. It’s also one of the best ways to go green. Instead of driving down to the malls, go local. Auburn and towns like Grass Valley and Folsom have great little boutiques with original pieces you may not find anywhere else, gift certificates to local restaurants, homemade goods from a local farm, vintage stores have great things for the hard to buy for, flowering plants, hit the local nursery for a gorgeous orchid or a lawn feature, fruit of the month, local wine, even a gift card to a local car detailing shop or their favorite hair salon for manicure or massage. And of course, there’s so much cool art to be found that. I have found that often folks prefer something like a nice dinner than more clutter for their house. Of course, Christmas often means a brand new iPad or a new big screen TV from Santa. Great, just remember electronics are full of toxic chemicals and should never be thrown into the garbage. You can not only take those to the Recology Auburn Placer Transfer Station but several stores in Auburn including the Verizon Store on Highway 49, Best Buy and Target

As a note added by Marilyn Jasper of the Sierra Club, is also encouraging folks to not give puppies and kittens as gifts. Animal shelters find they’re inundated with gift pets that didn’t work out.

By making several easy changes, long after the holiday season is over we won’t be saddled with garbage sitting in landfills for hundreds of years, we can cut our electric and gas bills, support local farms, local stores and encourage our own community to grow and prosper (ever?)Greener. Sorry I couldn’t help myself! Happy holiday season!