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Environment Matters Audio Podcast

Environment Matters
EPA Region 3
Topic: Green Holiday Tips
Size: : 3,633K
Time: 03:52

Date: December 8, 2011

(Sleigh bells jingling)

Bonnie Lomax:  Hello, I'm Bonnie Lomax and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of environmental podcasts. The holiday season brings about a lot of decoration, gift-giving and celebration.  Unfortunately, it also increases waste and energy use.  Our guest today is Steve Donohue, who is an environmental scientist in EPA's Mid-Atlantic region. Hello, Steve, and welcome.

Steve Donohue: Hi, Bonnie. Thanks for having me today.

Bonnie Lomax:  A question we often hear is, when it comes to decorating: which is the greener option, a live tree or an artificial tree?

Steve Donohue:  Yes, that's a real good question.  There's advantages and disadvantages to both. If you were to use it over and over again, it might be okay—if you were to keep it for many years. But most of the artificial trees are imported from overseas, so they've traveled a long distance and they're made with non-renewable materials such as petroleum products. Whereas a live tree provides ecosystem services, which means it produces oxygen, it fixes carbon, it stabilizes the soil. Most live trees are grown in the US, support agriculture in rural areas and produce jobs in these communities. So there are a lot of advantages there. You can also recycle the tree when you're done with it. Many communities collect them and grind them up for mulch. Some communities actually use them to stabilize the dunes along the shore. So, I would prefer the live tree, and if you want to go better you can get a containerized tree or a tree that has the roots intact. And you can plant that, either in your yard or in your community when you're done. The only disadvantage of that is you have to keep it in about ten days—it's the maximum you can keep a live tree with the roots in your house before you need to plant it outside.

Bonnie Lomax: What about the holiday lights and decorations? Don't they use a lot of electricity?

Steve Donohue: They certainly did when I was a kid growing up. I remember we had a string of lights that had 10-watt light bulbs, and it was 100 feet long and used a tremendous amount of electricity.  I just bought a new set of LED lights that use—a whole string about 50 feet long—about a quarter of the energy of one of those bulbs when I was growing up. So they've come a long way with the holiday decorations. It's really amazing.

Bonnie Lomax:  Do you have any advice for greening holiday shopping and gifts?

Steve Donohue: Yes, keeping on the energy theme, if you're buying products just look for the Energy Star on any kind of computers or tv or what have you. And when you're done replacing existing equipment, you want to recycle or, what they call, e-cycle those electronic products. Many stores have takeback programs for that kind of thing. In addition, if you're doing shopping, try to combine your trips. Not only will it safe you gas, but it'll keep you from getting hung up in that holiday traffic that can be a damper to our spirits. Try to be durable toys. We have a wooden train set that we're passing down to my grandson, so he's really enjoying it. My kids used it for years. The other thing I'd suggest is that if you are getting new coats and jackets and things like that, consider donating your old products. There's many worthy causes out there—jackets, clothing, toys, even food from our holiday celebrations can be donated if you have leftovers.

Bonnie Lomax: Thank you, Steve, for sharing a few of the many tips to make for a greener holiday season.

(sleigh bells jingling)

To learn more, please visit the EPA webpage at www.epa.gov and type “green holidays” in the search box. Thanks to our listeners, and happy holidays from Environment Matters.

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