Keeping Christmas cheap and green

Celebrating an eco-friendly holiday doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money

December 07, 2008|By Andrea Chang | Andrea Chang,Los Angeles Times

Dreaming of a green Christmas?

Consumers have countless ways to celebrate an eco-friendly holiday season this year.

And in this tight economy, here's some good news: Going green doesn't mean spending a lot.

"It's a massive misconception," said Sophie Uliano, who wrote Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life.

"People think solar panels, hybrid cars, organic jeans and very expensive skin care. But that doesn't have to be the case."

This year, an eco-friendly holiday is on many consumers' minds - along with an uncertain economic situation.

Many say they will shop less and cut their holiday budgets by hundreds of dollars. So in addition to slashing prices and extending store hours, retailers are boosting their selection of green products this year to attract shoppers.

"The outlook is not for a great Christmas season," said Richard Giss, a partner in accounting firm Deloitte & Touche's consumer business division in Los Angeles. "All retailers are looking for some edge. If they can be seen as the eco-friendly retailer, that will help them."

In Deloitte's annual holiday survey, nearly half of consumers said they were willing to pay more for green gifts, and 1 in 5 said they would purchase more eco-friendly products this holiday season than in the past.

Whether you have already adopted an environmentally friendly lifestyle or are just starting out by sporadic recycling, here are cost-conscious ways to green your holidays:

Gifts:

Finding an affordable, eco-friendly gift is easier than you might think. These days, brick-and-mortar stores and online merchants carry a wide selection of green products such as bamboo fiber bathrobes and stuffed animals made from recycled sweaters.

And your choices aren't limited to small boutiques and eco-friendly Web sites. Big-name retailers, including Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are highlighting green items on their shelves and on the Web.

One of the most useful and cost-conscious gifts is a reusable shopping bag roomy enough to fit groceries and household items. Many stores encourage consumers to use tote bags, which eliminate the need for paper or plastic at the checkout line.

"It bothers me to think we're hurting the environment, and all we have to do is bring a bag to the store to reduce that impact," said Aynsley Amidei, co-founder of Chicago-based Goody Green Bag, which sells reusable totes for $8.95. "When I go to Macy's or anywhere, I don't use their bags anymore, so I'm saving them money."

Another option is to buy a present that doesn't involve a lot of packaging.

Ethan Schreiber, a composer from Los Angeles, said he tried to eliminate waste by not buying "material goods" as gifts.

"Rather than buying people things, I buy them experiences" such as gift cards to restaurants and concert tickets, Schreiber said. "It makes me feel better."

Experts say the ultimate feel-good gift is a donation in the recipient's name to an eco-friendly charity or a park or zoo.

Holiday cards, wrap:

If you feel guilty about the mountain of glittery wrapping paper and holiday cards that goes straight into the trash after the holidays, creative and easy do-it-yourself options are available.

Try looking around the house for material that could be used instead of gift wrap, such as extra fabric, old maps and glossy magazine ads.

"The message we're trying to get out this year is save money on the wrap and make that yourself so you can spend money wisely on the gift," said Paul McRandle, deputy editor of National Geographic's Green Guide publication.

Still others opt for a completely bare-bones approach.

"The buzzwords here are don't wrap the package," said Deloitte analyst Giss. "Leave it in the box and if you want, decorate the box."

Not feeling particularly artistic? Many stores sell wrapping and holiday cards made from 100 percent recycled paper.

And although they aren't as personal as handwritten notes, e-cards don't use paper - recycled or not - and are usually free.

Tree and lights:

It turns out that experts are divided on the longstanding question of whether to buy a fresh-cut tree or a plastic one.

Many don't approve of buying fresh trees, which are grown for years - often with the aid of pesticides - before being cut down and shipped to tree lots.

Once the holidays are over, the trees often wind up in a landfill.

But before turning around and picking up an artificial tree, consider this: Many fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which can contain harmful chemicals. And even though you'll probably use the tree for years, eventually it will be thrown away.

But for many Americans, a tree is a must-have Christmas tradition.

So when shopping for that perfect fresh-cut tree, consumers should ask where the trees came from and whether pesticides were used to help them grow, said McRandle of Green Guide.

"A third option that is even better but requires a little more work is to get a live tree in a pot, take that home and put your lights and your ornaments on it," he said. "The idea is after Christmas, you just plant it in your yard. That would be probably the greenest option."

To brighten your tree, Eco-Artware.com sells ornaments made from old record labels, wood Scrabble tiles and tea bags.

If you're into crafts, many designs can be replicated with knickknacks from around the house, a glue gun and string.

To reduce your energy use, McRandle recommends using LED lights instead of traditional incandescent ones.

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