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Dreaming of a Greener Christmas? Target Holiday Trash First

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
By Christa

Overflowing garbage cans are a common sight on post-Christmas trash days. Bags of boxes and plastic packaging sit beside bags of unloved leftovers and wreaths getting brown around the edges. Even recyclables like cardboard boxes and Christmas cards find their way into trash bins instead of that other bin that we at Green Manolo love so much. But Christmas doesn’t have to be wasteful – a little mindfulness goes a long way prior to and on December 25.

Cut or Fake?
Both real and artificial Christmas trees can end up in the trash. Honestly, neither is a truly green option, though real trees come out a wee bit ahead – particularly if you cut your own locally-grown tree from a nearby organic evergreen farm or buy a tree with a root ball and plant it after the holidays. If your city has a Christmas tree mulching program, take advantage of it. Artificial Christmas trees are frequently made of non-recyclable plastics and many are made in China where standards for paints and plastics may be low or non-existent. Eventually, they all end up in landfills. If you have to have a fake (because you won’t be home to water it, for example) then choose one that you’ll use for years and years to come to minimize the impact. Or better yet, go for something like this.

Ditch the Packaging
Who else can remember throwing out bags and bags of torn, wrinkled wrapping paper on Christmas? That’s a lot of waste! Nowadays I like using recycled wrapping paper that is also recyclable – which not all wrapping papers are. Wrapping papers that contain laminates and non-paper additives, and super thin wrapping paper may not be accepted for recycling in your area. I use plain brown kraft paper with embellishments of pine branches and cotton ribbon (very rustic) and reusable cloth wrapping bags. Even though people secretly diss on old aunts and grannies for smoothing out and reusing wrapping paper and ribbons, it’s totally the green thing to do.

Beware What You Buy
As difficult as it can be, buying stuff – food and gifts – that comes in less complicated, single-material packaging will mean a lot less waste. Look for products in packaging that can be recycled or things that don’t have any packaging at all. Sometimes spending more money means less waste – look for durable, long-lasting gifts that will be appreciated by the recipients, and think in terms of longevity when it comes to accessories. Will it need a constant stream of batteries? Can you get a reusable filter? If possible, buy recycled, fair-trade, sustainable gifts for the people you care about. And don’t forget when you’re shopping to BRING IN THOSE REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS!

Don’t Pig Out
Or at the very least, pig out thoughtfully – because, come on, pretty much everyone who celebrates Christmas is going to pig out a little. At those ubiquitous buffets, don’t take more than you’ll finish, since it’s not like you can put it back. And if you’re wearing the apron this year, try not to go crazy cooking way too much food since there’s no guarantee your guests will want to take a to-go bag home. All those tips for a greener Thanksgiving I shared last month still apply – go local, go organic, go vegetarian or vegan if you’re up for it.

Honestly, eating green is probably the easiest way to have a greener Christmas this year because decorations and wrapping paper are non-negotiable elements of most peoples’ holidays. Don’t think you have to adopt an all or nothing attitude about green holidays – even reducing your Christmastime waste a little bit is better than doing nothing at all.

10 Green Gifts Under $10

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
By Christa

Sometimes you just need a little something for someone – not big gift, but you’re still hoping for a green gift. As you surely know, green gifts frequently come at a premium, sometimes because they truly are more expensive to grow or make and sometimes because green is in so people are willing to pay for it. But not all green gifts have to be expensive. Here, for example, are 10 green gifts under $10:


Sure, reusable shopping bags make a great gift provided your recipient doesn’t already have 20 that never actually make it into the store. But what’s even better? A reusable shopping bag that doesn’t actually look like a reusable shopping bag, like these Flip & Tumble bags that look cute and can be folded up into a little ball.


A set of two attractive organically grown bamboo cutting boards are a great replacement for sorry old plastic cutting boards. Just be sure to tell your gift recipient that they shouldn’t leave their bamboo cutting boards soaking in water because fyi they will warp.


What’s the Greenest Way to Travel?

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
By Christa

With various holidays on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to chat a bit about green travel. But truthfully, it wasn’t the holidays that got me thinking about green travel, but rather Coach America, a charter bus company here in the U.S. On their web site, they make a big show out of how green they are:

A bus, by its very nature, is green! … Motorcoaches currently provide 184 passenger miles per gallon (MPG), more than double the second most fuel-efficient sector, commuter rail at 86 passenger MPG. … Coach America is using biodiesel in Portland, OR and other cities. … Each motorcoach has the potential of removing 55 autos from the highway.

That all sounds very good, if you’re traveling on Coach America out of Portland, but what if you’re hopping the Fung Wah in New York City? Fung Wah is not biodiesel-friendly and their fleet is definitely not fuel efficient, based on their maintenance records. But what IS the greenest way to travel overall? Train? Bus? Car with four buddies? Obviously, walking and biking are *the* greenest ways to travel, hands down, but they doesn’t get you very far, very fast.

Now the important thing to know is that some sources measure green travel in terms of emissions and some measure it in terms of passenger miles per gallon. Some even measure eco-friendliness in terms of BTUs. On top of that, things change pretty dramatically depending on whether you’re traveling with a couple of friends or relatives. Not to mention the make and age of your car, bus, train, or aircraft; how much baggage you have; how many stops you make along the way; ground and air congestion; wind and weather; what kind of fuel you’re using; and dozens of other factors.

Add it all up, and it can be pretty difficult to figure out what’s the greenest way to get to your Christmas dinner or Hanukkah party.

There are sites that aim to help, though. Trip Footprint – currently in beta – will calculate the travel CO2 emissions for your trip for various transportation methods and routes – not taking into account infrastructure costs or secondary travel. I decided to calculate the greenest way for my family of three to travel from Boston to Florida, and according to the site, it’s driving in a hybrid. Green, for sure, but still not something I’m willing to attempt with a toddler (another element of my green threshold).

On the other hand, if I examine the same trip using passengers per gallon – basically, efficiency – modern, fuel-efficient charter buses become the greenest option, mainly because you’re traveling with 50 other people on a packed trip. Trains are the second greenest option – if, that is, there is even a train hub where you’re going.

But what if you’re traveling solo? For trips of more than 500 miles, if you’re traveling alone or with just one other person, it’s greener to fly direct in coach than to drive, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. But again, that packed bus and the train may still the best green travel options, if not at all practical for many or even most people. Unless, that is, you include infrastructure carbon costs for building and road and track maintenance and secondary travel that results from the need to get from a bus or train station to one’s final destination.

Green travel, gah. I feel like this is another one of those areas that it’s impossible to calculate the greenest possible option! How do you approach green travel?

Happy Hanukkah from Green Manolo!

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
By Christa

Chag Urim Sameach! If something strikes you as odd about this menorah, perhaps it’s that it was made from a recycled motherboard and features energy efficient LED lights – for $25 it can be yours for next year on the MoMA web site.

LED Christmas Lights Make for a Greener Holiday

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
By Christa

Forget about dreaming of a white Christmas, let’s all dream of a green Christmas. It’s easier to go green over the holidays than you might think. For food, use the same tricks you used when greening Thanksgiving. When it comes time to give gifts, choose eco-friendly Christmas presents or consider making homemade holiday gifts. And when it’s time to decorate a tree or hang up lights outside, opt for LED Christmas lights over the regular kind.

LED Christmas lights last 10 times longer than their traditional counterparts and consume 75% less energy to boot. They don’t get hot, at all – we’ve had a string on in our basement for something like two years straight now – and you can connect multiple strings of LED Christmas lights together without overheating them. They come in all of the same varieties as traditional Christmas lights, like color-changing, icicle style, and the net kind for tossing over bushes. And LED Christmas lights even come in solar powered varieties!

The biggest complaint I hear from people is that LED Christmas lights are expensive – er, more expensive than traditional Christmas lights, anyway. Which isn’t actually that much more expensive than your everyday Christmas lights used to be once upon a time. Sure, the dollar store has strings of Christmas lights for a buck, but I don’t exactly trust their commitment to my safety. Trust me when I tell you that LED Christmas lights are safer and greener, and aren’t going to break the bank:

Have you tried LED Christmas lights? What did you think?

Have a Great Green Thanksgiving From Green Manolo!

Thursday, November 25th, 2010
By Christa

Hope you and yours are having a wonderful (and green) Thanksgiving day!

8 Ways to Have a Greener Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
By Christa

Eat Locally
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get your turkey from a turkey farm that you can actually go and visit. How far did that shrinkwrapped Butterball travel, anyway? And the same goes for everything else on the Thanksgiving table. Sure, a locally-sourced Thanksgiving meal may mean choosing only seasonal items, but that’s how whoever really held the first Thanksgiving would have ate (whether they were in Massachusetts, Virginia, or Florida, as some claim).

Eat Organically
Farming as it exists today can be a dirty business – even if you’re not terribly worried about eating pesticides, how about all the pesticides and weird chemical fertilizers that end up in the soil, then the ground water, then pretty much everywhere else as that water makes its way toward the ocean?

Eat Vegan
Okay, I know it’s not the most popular green Thanksgiving option – even The Beard and I can’t manage to make the jump to veganism. But if you create a vegan menu that does not include all the weird processed faux meats and pre-packaged products that often go hand-in-hand with veganism, you can create some amazing organic, locally-grown foods that comes with less of an environmental impact than meat and animal product farming (even the cruelty-free kind).

Opt for Dry Over Canned
Canning food takes more energy and more water (duh) than drying, so whenever you’re using something like rice or beans or lentils in your menu, look for dried alternatives in bags. With all the cooking already going on, how hard is it to soak your beans overnight? And in some recipes, no pre-soaking is required. Bonus: Dried X is almost always less expensive than canned X.

Think Whole Foods
I secretly think that cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a huge pain in the butt that’s usually not worth the trouble, but I understand that not everyone feels the same. So I can absolutely understand why many people are driven to use a lot of convenience foods – bottled gravy, cranberry sauce in a can, etc. – but whole foods are a whole lot greener. Cranberry sauce? So easy to make. Gravy, a little trickier, but not impossible, and so much tastier.

Cook Less and Use the Leftovers
Do you really need the biggest, baddest turkey out there? Some people do, but not everyone. Do you really need to make sure everyone at Thanksgiving can go back for thirds? That’s how Americans manage to pack away 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, it’s one day of excess, but most families end up working their way through leftovers until they can’t take the turkey any more. Don’t forget to compost those food scraps!

Use the Good Stuff
It’s Thanksgiving! So bust out the nice plates and the real napkins! Paper plates and napkins may be convenient, but they’re not all that Earth friendly and they don’t exactly contribute to a festive holiday atmosphere. And while we’re on the subject of grandma’s silver, skip the harsh, caustic polishes and try cheap white toothpaste instead.

Keep Clean-Up Green
If you’re not already using eco-friendly cleansers and soaps, now is a great time to start! How about a bar of organic goat’s milk soap in the bathroom and a spray bottle of Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaner for the countertops?

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