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: Halloween Candy

  • October 17, 2012 9:27 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

With Halloween around the corner I just wanted to know your thoughts on Halloween candy. My kid is finally old enough to get into trick-or-treating, but I am not too keen on letting them have all that sugar, but I do not want to exclude them from the holiday festivities. Do you let your kid eat all their Halloween candy or throw it out? Do you only let them eat some of eat, and then give the rest away? I am really not sure and wanted your input.

Thanks,

Lindsey

Answer:

Hi Lindsey,

Thanks for your topical question. It’s true as Halloween is approaching, this is definitely something to think about. Not surprisingly I have been asked about this before–and yearly! Each year my approach changes, based on the age of my daughter. She is currently six. I haven’t decided yet what will happen this year, but I suspect it will be like last year. She goes to lots of Halloween parties, yanking various outfits from her dress up bin, and generally has a blast. If there is trick-or-treating or other candy giveaways involved, I swap candy with her. It’s all stuff she loves and it, unlike conventional versions, doesn’t contain lead, mercury, genetically modified high fructose corn syrup, or any number of dyes I’d rather she not eat. I’m very careful to make sure this swapping is not a hardship. I don’t want her to feel left out or weird. So I offer organic equivalents of jelly beans, kettle corn, chocolate, and more. When we went to one party last year I knew would be a candy fest, I stuffed our pockets with organic lollipops so she was able to eat something sweet as her friends did, too.

All of this said I have plenty of highly organic friends in my life who lift the rules for Halloween. It’s a very individual decision. I chose not to do this not only because I know too much, but also because Halloween has morphed into a week or sometimes a weeks-long extravaganza. I don’t want her eating conventional candy daily for several weeks. And I don’t let her eat her swapped organic candy for several weeks either. Everything in moderation.

One thing on my list for this year is making our own chocolate. We sometimes do this. It only involves coconut oil, cocoa powder, and honey. She loves the process, I’m in charge of the ingredients, and the results are delicious. I’m happy for her to eat as much of this as she wants. One of these years, I will throw a party so she can eat every single thing on offer. I just haven’t gotten around to it!

Happy Halloween.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Ice Cube Trays

  • December 1, 2011 2:27 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

My question is –  I wanted to get metal ice cube trays, the kind with a lever so you can easily get the cubes out (we don’t have an ice maker).  Online, I’ve found aluminum ones for $7 and stainless steel “BPA free” ones for $30.  Is aluminum bad for you?  Does it have BPA  in it?  Inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks,

Matt

THE ANSWER

Hi Matt,

A perfect question just in time for holiday cocktail season! And what a great idea to avoid plastic.

There should be no bisphenol-A in unlined aluminum ice cube trays (there has been, however, BPA in epoxy linings of aluminum reusable water bottles — the company SIGG got in hot water over this a few summers ago and has since changed the lining they use to something else that is also proprietary, if I’m remembering correctly).

The issues with aluminum are that it isn’t durable, it’s not great environmentally as it is energy intensive to extract from the earth (though the components of stainless steel aren’t exactly energy neutral either), and there have been lingering concerns over the years–largely unsubstantiated but enough to warrant multiple studies–re links to Alzhiemer’s disease.

The long and the short of it is that I prefer stainless. The price evens out as you will probably have to buy five rounds of aluminum trays before your stainless shows any wear and tear. I’m not sure if aluminum is recyclable where you live, but that’s also something to consider. Stainless also goes easily into the dishwasher without any rusting (a big issue with flimsier aluminum). What else can I say? I’m big on the Precautionary Principle — if the risks of aluminum are unsubstantiated, what’s 23 bucks to err on the side of caution? Stainless steel is considered very safe and won’t leach chemicals into your ice.

Hope this helps. And cheers!
Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Top 10 Ways To Have A Conscious Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2011 12:46 pm

Thinking about Thanksgiving. If you’re on Twitter and available 11/15 at 10 p.m. EST, join me, Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s and The Holistic Moms Network for a holiday meal Twitter party. Follow @alexandrazissu and @fleishers and the hashtag #HolisticMoms.

1. Know where your turkey is from — local/pastured is great.
2. Choose fresh food over canned to minimize exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA.

3. Shopping at your farmers’ market will help you with #1 and #2, support local farmers, minimize packaging waste, and will make everything taste fantastic.

4. Ditch your non-stick cookware! Choose cast iron, enamel covered cast iron, and stainless steel instead.

5. Don’t forget your beverages — filtered tap water and sustainably produced wine are two fantastic options.

6. Reduce waste by serving on reusable–not disposable–plates and drink out of reusable glasses. Use silverware, not plastic.

7. Make stock with vegetable scraps and turkey bones. Recycle and compost what you can.

8. Store leftovers in glass, not plastic.

9. Clean with natural cleaning products.

10. Enjoy!