Q&A: Which Christmas Tree Is Greener? Real or Fake?

  • November 28, 2012 9:17 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

My family is just about to buy our Christmas tree for the holiday season and I just wanted to know if you buy a real or a fake tree?

Best,

Claire

Answer:

Hi Claire,

Thanks for writing. I commend your organization. I tend to be the last minute decorating (and shopping) type. Technically I’m not supposed to buy a tree at all–and not for eco-reasons! I’m Jewish. But growing up we always celebrated Christmas with a tree and all. Then when I was 10 my non-Jewish stepfather came into our lives, making our typical winter celebration, um, more kosher.

My family oddities aside, when it comes to trees–Jewish or not–holiday celebrators tend to get confused about which is better for the environment: real or fake. To which I add what I think is actually the greenest option: something potted you will keep alive indoors and then plant outdoors when the weather permits. Not interested or don’t have a spot to plant a tree? Let someone else it for you. Some places now rent out live trees.

But back to the more typical debate: real (cut) versus fake. Some people assume fake is best because it can be reused year after year. Unfortunately most faux trees are made of PVC (aka the poison plastic), last only a few years, and then wind up in a landfill. Not very green after all.

When it comes to real trees, millions of them do get cut down every holiday season. That said, more and more municipalities are offering ways to recycle or mulch these after the holidays. The website Earth911.com contends that about 93 percent of trees cut for Christmas are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs. So unless you’re willing to fake it creatively with, say, a cardboard cut out or follow the ideas in this amazing ApartmentTherapy.com post, I’d opt for a small cut tree that you recycle or mulch once Santa has come and gone.

You didn’t ask, but as long as we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about tree lights. Those sparkly strands look good but they suck up more energy than you’d think, and their PVC wires might contain lead. To avoid energy drain and lead dust, skip the lights. Or try a lead-free LED strand.

Happy decorating!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Do You Do Black Friday?

  • November 21, 2012 11:11 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

I am a sucker for a good deal, which is why I tend to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I was wondering if you take part in these festivities this time of the year?

Best,

Laura

Answer:

Hi Laura,

But you already know the answer to this question, don’t you? I’m teasing you. A little. So the season for consuming has arrived! I, too, like a good deal. I’m all about supporting the local economy, but am not a fan of overconsumption or wild days of shopping where people trample each other and buy goods that largely aren’t good for them or the environment. There’s something about these hyped up shopping days that drive people out of control. And we all end up buying way more than we actually want or need. Most of these products will ultimately wind up in landfills.

That said, I’m no grinch. I love giving and getting gifts. One way to support the economy and celebrate your friends and family is with experiential gifts–gift certificates for massages or restaurants, babysitting IOUs, theater tickets, and those sort of things. I’m also a big fan of food and drink gifts (oils, vinegars, homemade anything, organic wine) as well as seed packets for the gardeners in your life. There is very little waste or packaging involved with any of these gifts, and those organic wine bottles can be recycled.

So give yourself a break this Friday. Sleep in. Hang out with your family (if this is enjoyable). Take a walk. Go ice skating (my personal favorite Friday-after-Thanksgiving activity). You’ll have plenty of time to gather great gifts for friends and family before the holidays, I promise.

Hope that helps.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: How to have a sustainable Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2012 9:31 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

How do you make your Thanksgiving as sustainable as possible? Are there certain ways that you make your holiday eco-friendly?

Thanks,

Mike

Answer:

Mike,

Thanks for your question. There are ways to make any celebration or holiday, including Thanksgiving, eco-friendlier. Here is a post I wrote last year on the Top 10 Ways to Have a Conscious Thanksgiving. That should give you some good ideas. Hint: it’s not only about the food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: E-Waste?

  • November 7, 2012 9:24 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I wanted to know if you could tell me where to recycle old electronics? Thanks.

Best,

Mandy

Answer:

Hi Mandy,

Odd to be responding to this after a week I’ve just spent without my electronics, thanks to Hurricane Sandy knocking out electricity in my New York neighborhood (oh what I would have given for a battery powered radio, which I sadly didn’t have). And on a day when all I can think about is the election and the impact who we vote for has on the environment, chemical reform policy, and so much more. But life goes on and Wednesdays are my Q&A days! So here goes.

This is a great question actually; recycling electronics properly is so important. E-waste is extremely harmful to both humans and the environment. I wonder what will happen to all of the broken electronics from the storm. Will anyone sort them out of the piles and piles of soaked furniture, construction materials, and broken bits of life?

Here is an excerpt addressing e-waste from Planet Home, a book I co-wrote with Jeffrey Hollender:

“The constant desire for new electronics has caused an abundance of electronic waste, or e-waste, which is filled with hazardous substances that aren’t easily recycled and shouldn’t be thrown away. Electronics may contain lead, mercury, and flame retardants (which are added because they generate heat that can lead to fire when housed in flammable plastic), among other dangerous materials, and extra steps are necessary to ensure they’ll be refurbished and reused or recycled. When tossed in a landfill, their toxic components leach into the groundwater; when incinerated, they pollute the air and can harm workers.”

The takeaway here? Try to use what you own for as long as you can. Don’t give in to the lure of the latest iThing every time a new gadget comes out. If your electronics are truly no longer useful to you, try to donate them to someone or to an organization that might still find them useful. If something is really done, take care to recycle it properly.

Here in New York, there are many places that collect e-waste, including the Lower East Side Ecology Center. For places near you, check out Earth911.com. Also, America Recycles Day falls on November 15th this year. Their site has information on recycling e-waste as well as many other items that need recycling. Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra