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I’m dreaming of a GREEN Christmas
By Ruben Arvizu
It has been said that time flies! Even before we put up our pumpkins, we are staring the preparations for Christmas, Hanukah and New Years straight in the face. We get ready to submerge ourselves into the frenzy of holiday shopping, decorations, parties and sending out greetings cards.
Among all these activities, it is good to pause and think about our beautiful Blue Planet and what kind of taxation we visit upon it around the holidays. Our consumptive footprint and energy requirements for this time of year reflect badly on our selfish and narrow-minded behavior.
New and ever more horrifying ecological disasters appear to be the parlance of our everyday news, desensitizing us to both their scope and frequency, as we continue the onslaught of the delicate balance of life and health. A couple of months ago, it was the gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, whose impact and consequences will prevail for a long time. Today, it is the disaster in Hungary caused by the collapse of a waste-storage reservoir of an alumina plant.
The spill, an estimated 600,000-700,000 cubic yards of sludge, affected seven localities near the town of Ajka, 100 miles southwest of the beautiful, historical capital - Budapest.
The exact chemical composition of the sludge has not been revealed, but aluminum processing normally involves compounds that include cyanide, cadmium and chromium. All those chemicals are highly toxic for life on land and in water. Now the disaster is expanding to the Danube River, the second largest river in Europe, after the Volga. The long-term damage to the people, soil and water will take years to fully assess and may mark generations to come.
These overwhelming and tragic scenarios leave one with a sense of helplessness. “It’s all too big for my small effort to make a difference”. Not so. For those who want to celebrate the holidays in a responsible and green-friendly manner, we simply recommend common sense and restraint to avoid waste.
Remember that most paper and plastic used to wrap gifts cannot be recycled due to their components. From December 24 to January 6, city trash collectors pick up to 35% more paper and cardboard and 50% more glass than the rest of the entire year. Get creative and eco-smart this year. Wrap gifts in newspaper or barely- used brown grocery bags and adorn with colored ribbons. Cloth wrapping can also be an imaginative crafts project to undertake.
While shopping, remember to take along your reusable plastic or fabric bags not just to the grocery store but to department stores as well.
Energy consumption soars to during the Christmas season due to the lights that adorn the streets and homes. To conserve energy, avoid leaving decorative lights on all night, especially on the Christmas tree. Think about not including lights on the Christmas tree this year. Choose a more original decoration, which can be just as captivating and festive. Also, buy energy saving light bulbs for all your lighting needs.
For the Christmas tree, the ideal choice is a small tree with roots so that after the holidays you can put in a pot or plant it in the garden.
Full color brochures and glossy paper catalogs, laminated or bleached with chlorine to advertise holiday merchandise and sales are difficult to recycle. Stop the excessive advertising in your mailbox. If you want to be taken off of national mailing lists, contact the Direct Marketing Association’s at www.privacyrights.org/Letters/jm1a.htm.
Toys are the flagships of Christmas as seven of every ten toys are purchased during the holiday season. Don’t forget that batteries operate many of our current, popular toys. A single, carelessly disposed small round battery can pollute 200,000 gallons of water, the amount of water that a family of four will drink over a lifetime. Replacing single-use batteries with rechargeable batteries is key to protecting the environment from excessive and leaky batteries in landfills.
Be wary of the heightened lure of advertising and its demand for excessive consumerism during the holiday season. Carefully consider if you really need that product before buying it. Expensive doesn’t always mean it is the best or most appropriate. Prior to this chapter in our consumerist society, many parents would build their children's toys with strings, wood and cans.
There is a growing trend for manual and wind-up toys, ”the old fashion” style of toys. They are fun and can be more creative than simply pushing buttons. This includes the “trompos and baleros”, (spinning or humming top and cup-and-ball) a real treat for any young child with imagination.
And of course a bright presence in any party is the traditional piñata. Filled with healthy candies and goodies.
We also recommend that the green consumer use the guide on "responsible technology" recently published by Greenpeace, which ranks the leading manufacturers of cell phones and computers based on their efforts in the environmental arena.
And when the party ends, do not forget to separate the garbage by dividing organic and recyclable waste. Let’s try to follow these small steps that lead to big results. Have a safe, healthy and very green holiday season.
Ruben Arvizu is Senior Advisor for Communications to Latin America of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and Director to Latin America of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation