LIVING GREEN for Dec. 6, 2012

Don’t trash the holidays

We are a trashy society. We buy so much stuff that we sometimes forget what we already have at home. Then after we regret our purchase, get lazy and don't return it to the store. This results in wasted time, wasted gas and simply, more trash from our unsustainable ways. Now think about what that may be like during the holiday season?

Just between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There are many things you can do to reduce your waste during the holidays, just by staying cognizant of your behavior.

Reduce your bag consumption. Bring your own bags to the store or just don't use a bag. Consolidate your purchases into one bag, if you can help it.

Buy rechargeable batteries for gifts. Approximately 40 percent of battery sales occur during the holidays.

Save energy by turning off holiday lights during the day.

Invest in LED lights for your decorations - which supposedly use 65 percent less energy than traditional holiday string lights. Although more expensive, the real investment in LEDs is for longevity and you won't find yourself buying a new string of lights every year.

Try buying locally-made gifts, such as jams, wine, scarves, jewelry, etc. How many times have I pushed buying local gifts and avoid the big box stores?

Instead of using wrapping paper, try these alternatives: newspaper (Surge makes excellent wrapping), magazine paper, fabric, old maps, reusable gift bags or boxes.

Avoid using disposable products, such as cups, plates and serving ware for your holiday parties.

Send e-greetings in the form of a holiday letter rather then impersonal greeting cards. Who enjoys the generic Christmas card with just a name signed at the bottom? What do you do with them after Christmas - and I hope your answer would be to recycle.

Compost your food waste in your backyard, which would include fruits and veggies. Of course, look for guides on how to maintain a backyard compost pile because it requires a designated spot and some regular maintenance. Don’t just toss your food scraps into the yard. Once that stuff decomposes, you can reuse it as compost in your garden.

When someone asks you what you want for a gift, think of something with green meaning. I personally enjoy handmade gifts, such as scarves, or even a pair of Toms shoes.

So what about trees?

The debate between real and artificial trees goes back and forth with arguments over environmentalism, conservation and consumerism. I will share my dirty, guilty laundry - we have an artificial tree. Go ahead and let me see your shocked face. Actually it was a hand-me-down from my in-laws about seven years ago. We've taken good care of it, even when the "pine needles" have just started to fall off. Honestly, I would like to get a real tree when this one completely loses all of its needles. Until then, we will continue to preserve it.

Unfortunately, artificial trees are not made in environmentally-friendly ways and roughly 85 percent of them are imported from China. So how about a real tree? According to the EPA, approximately 33 million real trees are sold every year and almost 93 percent are recycled through tree recycling programs that turn them into mulch. For example, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority offers the Grinding of the Greens, which includes collection points for Christmas trees at locations throughout the county starting the day after Christmas. The agency then grinds them up into mulch in January and that mulch is available for free, first-come, first-serve.

While tree farming for the purpose of Christmas trees offers employment for thousands of people, I just hope that the tree farmers are using sustainable farming techniques. How about an even better option? I recently saw a commercial with a family that built a house around a growing tree. Granted the house was built with harvested wood and the commercial was promoting pick-ups trucks, but despite the obvious negative environmental qualities, they still saved that one tree to have Christmas. I'm not saying go buy yourself a truck and harvest trees. I am saying why not try decorating a real potted tree, whether indoors or outdoors?

Try something different and start a new tradition.