Green Energy — December 6, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I’m dreaming of a GREEN Christmas


Mrs. E and I are putting up our Christmas tree and decorations today so I thought a blog entry on the “greening of Christmas” might be a fun idea.

This diary will talk extensively about “Christmas” trees and decorations because the celebration of Christmas is one that most often involves the use of non-standard lighting decorations and trees inside the home. That said, anyone decorating with holiday lights or trees will find this discussion of interest.

There are two main areas where you can have a big impact on your carbon footprint around the holidays. The first is the use of locally-grown real tree. The second is the use of LED holiday lights.

Christmas/holiday trees: Is it live or is it Memorex artificial?
Many folks blanch at the idea of millions of trees being harvested for the winter holiday season. It’s easy to see why. In 2008 28.2 million real Christmas trees were sold in the USA (compared with 11.7 million artificial trees.) While it may seem at first glance that artificial trees which are reused for up to 10 years are the more environmentally-friendly option, the truth is that it’s not so clear cut (no pun intended.)

Consider these facts about real trees:

  • For every real Christmas tree harvested, 2-3 trees are planted
  • As long as they are not burned, real Christmas trees lock up carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere
  • Transportation costs and environmental impacts from locally-cut Christmas trees are far less than artificial trees
  • After the holidays are over the trees can be used for compost, shredded and used around the yard for plant bedding and mulch, or sunk into lakes to provide cover for fish.
  • Real Christmas trees are a renewable resource that are grown like any other crop, often on land not usable for food crops.
  • Real trees are nearly always domestically grown so it helps your local economy (unlike artificial trees made in China and elsewhere.)

On the other hand, artificial trees are generally made from PVC, polyethylene, and other petroleum-based plastics and can contain lead and other toxic additives used in processing their components. They are not recyclable and they have a large carbon footprint due to transportation from the place of manufacture to your local store.

If you are purchasing a real tree, here are a few things you might think about:

1. Try to buy a tree grown locally. Transportation of trees from one location to another increases their carbon footprint.
2. When you’re done with the tree, do something with it that keeps it out of the waste stream and its carbon out of the atmosphere (i.e., don’t burn it.) Local municipalities often have tree recycling programs in place so check them out.
3. When you can, purchase from a grower that uses no or very little fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Organic tree farmers are out there in some places.

There’s a good review of the pros and cons of real vs. artificial trees HERE. Other good discussions of the “real vs. fake” debate can be found HERE and HERE.

Another solid option is the purchase of a living tree that you later plant in your yard. This may be the most earth-friendly option but be sure you do some research on how best to do this. Dormant trees that are brought into a warm house can “wake up”. When they are returned to the outside in colder climates, they can quickly die by being frozen. You can learn more about the proper care of a living tree HERE. You can even rent living trees in some places!

Let their be LIGHTS!
Holiday lighting may be the easiest area to reduce your holiday environmental impact. The use of light-emitting diode (LED) holiday lights can be a big cost saver over time as well as reducing your energy consumption significantly.

A Siegel at Daily Koshad a great diary last week that outlined how much money and energy you can save using LED lights and they are much easier to find (not to mention less expensive) than ever before.

Why LEDs?

  • 90% less energy consumption (yes 90%!) with LED lights vs. incandescent lights.
  • LEDs generate very little heat so they’re much safer to use.
  • LEDs last MUCH longer — up to 100,000 hour lifetime. That’s 20 years! Regular lights are usually dead after less than 2,000 hours.
  • LEDs are much more durable — no filament to break.

Here’s some data from a tests done by TV5 in Saginaw, MI:

When TV5 plugged its traditional lights into the Kill-A-Watt meter they registered as using 183 watts.

When the same procedure was done for the LED bulbs the result was 1 watt per strand.

If the traditional lights were plugged in for 12 hours per day through Christmas it will cost the average user $70.

Using LEDs for the same 12 hour period through Christmas would cost $1.

If one 100 LED strand was plugged in and powered up continuously for five years straight, it would still cost less than using traditional lights for just one month.

The prices for LED lights are coming down so the payback period vs. incandescent lights is getting shorter and shorter. That’s why, this year, Mrs. E and I have switched to all LED lights, including for our Holiday Peace Wreath:

It’s been a busy day around the EclectaHouse but it doesn’t seem to have bothered our pooties and woozles. They just take all this Green Christmas stuff in stride!

I hope you all have a terrific holiday no matter how you celebrate. If you’ve got other energy-saving holiday ideas, please share them in the comments.

I’m just sayin’…