all in the wrapping

Wrapping paper and gift bags are a big part of Christmas. I always love to peruse the different designs, especially after the holiday, when everything is 50% off. However, we spend so much money on paper that is used once, then thrown away. Last year, I checked with our local recycling company and they confirmed that wrapping paper is not recyclable, because of the wax coating put on it.

So how can we be less wasteful and more environmentally friendly when wrapping gifts? For other occasions, I've taken to buying a nice cloth bag and putting the gifts in there, making the bag a gift unto itself. I've toyed with the idea of ordering cloth bags in bulk from a promotional products company, creating a little graphic to be printed on each bag, and using them for all gifts. And in my family, we reuse gift bags each year. I believe there's still a Christmas Barbie gift bag floating around my parents' house. There's a Ready, Aim, File program box dating from the mid-90s that is the hot box to use every Christmas. There's always a mad dash to see who can be the first to get to it.

But my child voice is still in the back of my head. "But opening presents is so much fun! Hearing the paper rip is fulfilling!" Well, for all you child voices, there is recycled wrapping paper. Smith and Hawken (whose site seems to be down), Paporganics (whose site also seems to be down right now), Of the Earth and Fish Lips all make recycled or organic wrapping paper and ribbon. Botanical Paperworks creates gift tags (and other products) that are biodegradable and contain flower seeds. And Lucky Crow makes (the most gorgeous!) reusable gift bags.

But - if you want to save money, newspaper and magazines always work well. Last year, my brother wrapped my gift in newspaper, and my boyfriend, who doesn't own a scrap of wrapping paper or ribbon, found materials he had to lovingly wrap my gift - a red tie and the junk mail sale papers.

No sacrifice necessary in this department!

update and editorial

About two months ago I wrote about the city of Houston and NRG Energy being close to a deal that would provide solar energy for city buildings and linked to the New York Times article. Today the NYT has a follow-up article saying the deal is pretty much dead, due to the city wanting to renew the contract annually and NRG wanting an upfront 25-year contract.

NYT also has an editorial from Thomas Friedman about legislative opponents to cap-and-trade taxes and their seeming disagreement that some kind of change needs to happen. I think it's very well-written and I agree with the points he makes. And I still think there's a twofold challenge to environmentalism - getting people to understand the need and the danger, and getting people to ACT to work against the destruction. Friedman mostly talks about getting people to understand the need and know that the world can't keep functioning on its current system.


the holiday debate

Artificial trees have grown exponentially over the past years, bringing the question "Which is better for the environment?" An artificial tree that can be used more than once or a real tree that isn't made of toxins and can be recycled?

The Daily Green has a well-timed feature this week on what exactly the greenest Christmas tree is. From most green to least green, here's their list:
Decorating an existing outdoor tree (In my apartment, this might have to mean putting lights on the pumpkin on my patio!)
Making a tree from tree scraps
Live, plantable bulb trees
Local, sustainable or organic trees
Artificial OR conventional live trees (a few extra points if either tree is made in America)

The negative points on conventional live trees are that they must be shipped long distances, which requires lots of fuel for the trucks and pesticides for the trees, and can take up space in landfills if people don't turn them into compost or recycle them somehow. Though, since many live trees are grown on farms, they do not contribute to deforestation.

Artificial trees are primarily made in China of oil-derived PVC. (A merry Christmas indeed!) Many of these have been found to contain lead, and according to another source, the USDA quarantined some Chinese artificial trees for containing a potentially harmful beetle in the center pole. (Though, this makes me think of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the squirrel that was hiding in the Griswolds' second Christmas tree, that came from the front yard!) Another source I found says that the average family keeps their artificial tree six to nine years before throwing them away to live forever in a landfill. This leads me to think part of the reason people do not keep artificial trees longer is due to the changes in tree features - such as how pre-lit trees are commonplace now. And trees that come with lights built in are assuredly not recyclable.

This year is my first Christmas on my own, and while I should probably consult my roommate, I have already made plans to be a smaller live Christmas tree to put in our living room. I am personally on the side of real trees - they just smell so good and are so classic looking. The people who run the tree farm my family goes to every year are from North Carolina, so I know we buy American frasier fir trees, plus we support a family over a large corporation. Artificial trees rarely come shorter than seven feet, and I would like something on a smaller scale than that. So the weekend after Thanksgiving, it'll be on to find MY very first tree. (The fact that I've already bought a star, lights and ornaments for it is neither here nor there!)

Plus, living in south Louisiana means it's a common practice every January for the yard waste company to pick up all real Christmas trees and deliver them to the eroding wetlands, so really, the trees get to have a use all year long in saving our coastline. I would rather that than having to throw out a non-recyclable artificial tree if it wasn't able to be used any more. I successfully convinced my father last year to buy a real tree when he wanted to go artificial. However, I do have a small artificial tree, that looks like the Charlie Brown tree's older brother, that I've put up in my bedroom for about 13 years now. I quite enjoy it, though I'm not looking forward to when it finally gives out on me, and I'll have to dispose of it.

Now, my next step is to find an environmentally friendly tree skirt... but that's another post for another day.

What are your ideas to make Christmas trees as green as possible?

update to lafayette recycling

Following up on my previous post, I received a call back from the Department of Environmental Quality today. I explained again my situation, that I would just like to know where I can drop off my recyclables and I was told there are two fire stations in Lafayette that continue to have a drop-off. One is the fire station on Johnston and St. Julien, near UL, and the other is a fire station on Ambassador Caffery, somewhere near the Bertrand split. Neither take glass, which is nothing new. My other option would be the Recycling Foundation office on Cameron, somewhere near Eraste Landry, and they accept glass, but are only open during normal working hours. (My knowledge of west Lafayette is not the greatest since I am never there.)

Thus, I have two completely out-of-the-way choices to drop off my recycling, meaning I will continue to mooch off my boyfriend's neighbor's bin and invite myself into the city's contract with the Recycling Foundation.

So for those of you who don't have a residential bin or those of you who don't live in the city limits – those are your options. One fire station in the middle of Lafayette or one in west Lafayette.

(And coupled with the frustrations I'm having regarding my company's recycling bin and ITS lack of pickup, I'm not a content treehugger at the moment.)

can't stop won't stop

It had been about three weeks, and my recycling bin was overflowing, so while out on errands today, I stopped by the fire station near my apartment to empty the bin.

I found zero recycling bins and a sign saying "Drop off closed, please call for information." So bet your ass I left a voicemail for the Department of Environmental Quality asking them where us lowly non-homeowners should be dropping off recycling." I don't expect a call back, but I will get my answer somehow.

For the time being, I decided to use my boyfriend's next-door neighbor's bin, since I am actually closer to that than the fire station, and I can mix in my glass.

I had heard of another fire station's drop-off being closed recently, and sometime in the last month, mine was as well. Maybe because I don't read the newspaper, but I surely hadn't heard rumblings of this happening. And I haven't heard of alternative options, which I do not appreciate. Of course business is all about money and the bottom line, but I fully believe being environmentally responsible goes BEYOND that. I don't know what I would do without being able to recycle, as that is what I do with close to 70% of my waste, and I cannot physically throw a piece of paper or a can in the trash anymore. But I don't think I'll face my worst expectation, as all city residents pay for residential pickup through a contract with the city. So from now on, it's about mooching off of that city contract. And if the city doesn't like it, they can talk to me.

By no means is Lafayette the most progressive, environmentally responsible city, but I can't sit back and watch us move backwards. Especially since I, personally, will not move backwards.

Ironic this comes on the heels of LUS receiving Smart Grid grant money to install smart meters on homes. But I guess that still would have no effect on apartment dwellers and residents outside the city limits. We don't count, I suppose.
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