Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dreaming of a ‘green’ Christmas

Eco-conscious residents share tips for earth-friendly holidays

Express Staff Writer

Elizabeth Jeffrey, Hailey resident and environmental columnist, wraps gifts for her family. The bag of bows to the left is five to 10 years old, Jeffrey said, and most of her wrapping paper has been recycled for years. Photo by David N. Seelig

Most people in ski towns dread the prospect of a green—or even brown—Christmas. But for more eco-conscious valley residents, a "green" Christmas is something to aspire to.

Tom Wirth, executive director at the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum, said last-minute gift buyers may actually be at an advantage when it comes to giving environmentally friendly gifts.

"Gift-giving might be the greenest thing anyone can do," he said, adding that buying local, rather than choosing items that must be shipped or are made in other parts of the world, is key.

"It's more about not transporting things," he said. "The cost of fuel to support those types of uses is huge."

Wirth suggests giving gifts such as certificates for local restaurants or salons, tickets to local events or other gifts that help support local businesses.

Elizabeth Jeffrey, Hailey resident and Idaho Mountain Express environmental columnist, said she tries to remain green by reducing the number of gifts—especially electronics—that she gives her daughter.

Limiting the number of gifts that require batteries or other power can help limit energy use throughout the year, while also making the holidays easier on the wallet. Jeffrey said she normally limits electronic gifts to one per year.

"I don't need to give [my daughter] 25 gifts," she said.

Instead of giving a number of new gadgets that may need to be replaced every year, she said she prefers to give a few diverse gifts—something to read, something to wear and something warm and cozy for Christmas.

"If I just give her five things, she can still have a very full experience," she said. "Those five things seem much richer when they are that diverse."

Jeffrey said she recycles old Christmas cards into origami boxes that hold gift cards, in an attempt to create an eco-friendly wrap job.

Most are familiar with recycling wrapping paper and bows, but Jeffrey takes that to an art by recycling elaborate bows for five, even 10 years. Only one package under her tree is wrapped in "virgin" paper, she said, while most are covered in recycled wrapping and tissue.

"We have an old clothes boxes full of wrapping paper," she said. "A couple of us are very careful about opening our gifts!"

As a result, Jeffrey said, she hasn't bought wrapping paper in more than a decade.

Wirth said he prefers to use gift bags, which may prove a better option for families with young children.

"Kids have a difficult time opening the gifts and saving that paper," he said, but children can be trusted to decorate gift bags that can be used again and again.

For decorations, recycled paper can be turned into paper snowflakes, but there are fancier methods. Jeffrey said she picked up strands of energy-efficient LED lights at a thrift store, hung a solar-powered light on her door and used balls instead of lights on her outdoor evergreen. Indoor decorations are mostly heirlooms, she said.

"We're pretty nostalgic," she said. "I inherited a lot of decorations from my family, so we don't buy new ornaments."

Christmas dinner is usually made from local, sustainably grown produce and meat, she said. Laura Theis, spokeswoman for Idaho's Bounty food cooperative, said the co-op offers local chickens, turkeys and legs of lamb for the holidays, along with winter produce such as potatoes, carrots and onions.

"[We also have] things for baking, like milk and eggs," she said. "Those are really big sellers for us through the winter."

Idaho's Bounty only has one delivery before Christmas—today, Dec. 21—but produce from local producers is available throughout the week at NourishMe in Ketchum as well as Atkinsons' Markets, Albertsons in Hailey and Main Street Market in Ketchum.

Jeffrey practices reduction in her meal production as well, she said.

"We tended to try to make everything my husband's family used to eat and everything my family used to make," she said. "We had to throw a lot out."

Now, she uses leftover turkey parts for soup and makes an effort to make only what the family can eat before it spoils.

When the party's over, there's still the matter of what to do with a live Christmas tree. Wirth said one good way to deal with the tree matter is to buy a live one and plant it when the holiday's over.

"When I was a little kid living in New York, my parents would do that," he said, adding that it's a nice way to mark how many Christmases have been celebrated at that particular home.

He does not recommend artificial trees, which are not made locally and which are made of petroleum and nonrenewable resources. Cut trees can be recycled in the parking lot by the Wood River YMCA in Ketchum.

But above all, Jeffrey said one of the best ways to keep the holidays simple and green is to focus on family.

"The only thing I'm really conscious of is not making it a grotesque experience, something that is just blown out of proportion," she said. "We're celebrating our family being together, and we work very hard to focus on that.

Katherine Wutz:

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