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The Greening of Christmas

The official White House Christmas Tree arrives by horse-drawn wagon Monday. After the holiday, it will be shredded into mulch.
The official White House Christmas Tree arrives by horse-drawn wagon Monday. After the holiday, it will be shredded into mulch. (Mark Wilson - Getty Images)

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Even at eco-friendly Web sites such as TreeHugger.com, a green-focused media outlet, there isn't a single unassailable answer to which tree choice is greenest, except perhaps having no tree at all -- hardly acceptable to the public at large. TreeHugger's 2007 Holiday Gift Guide says the latest research shows that pesticides are found on some real trees, and the country is lacking a supply of truly organic Christmas trees.

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Ecologically enlightened experts suggest shopping only at local tree farms, where no fuel was used trucking the tree across the country. Ask if pesticides or other chemicals were used at the nursery.

Real trees, wreaths and garlands are biodegradable and can be chipped into mulch, compost or wood chips after the holidays. Some used Christmas trees have been repurposed to build fences to combat erosion at coastal wetlands, to create nesting structures for great blue herons and to provide cover for animals at wildlife rehabilitation sites. The 84-foot Norway spruce at New York's Rockefeller Center this year will be cut into lumber to be used at Habitat for Humanity building sites.

Living trees, sold with the root ball attached and meant to be planted after the holidays, are often trumpeted as being the truly green solution. But usually, many of the tree's roots are cut off when it is removed from the ground, making its long-term survival dubious. If you go with this alternative, make sure to choose a variety that will thrive in your climate and won't grow too large. They must be well watered and ideally should not be kept inside the house for more than a week.

There is a new concept in living trees: container Christmas trees. Louis Nichols of Loudoun Nursery in Purcellville sells container trees grown in a synthetic fabric that releases heat and helps build the root structure of the tree ( http://www.smartpots.com).

The seedlings he plants will take about 10 years to mature into six- or seven-foot trees. The majority of the roots are contained inside the fabric, with only a few reaching out and drawing nutrients directly from the soil.

"You tear off only a few roots when one is sold and taken off the lot," Nichols says. The tree can be wrapped in a trash bag indoors or kept in a large planter. Then, after Christmas, plant it in the yard or donate it to a nearby park.

Jura Koncius

Lights

If you're looking for a green approach to holiday lighting for your tree and outdoor displays, there's no downside to using LEDs (light-emitting diodes) in place of incandescent bulbs. They are sold in a range of colors and styles, remain cool to the touch, can last up to 20 years and are energy-efficient, using 80 percent to 90 percent less energy than regular bulbs.

Greenhome.com, a five-year-old online store based in San Francisco, says that conventional holiday lights used six hours a day can add $30 a month to electrical bills, while their LED counterparts would cost 50 cents to operate. LED lights were at one time more expensive than incandescent, but now indoor/outdoor LED lights can be purchased from big-box retailers for less than $10 for a 25-light strand.

A more expensive approach is to choose solar-powered holiday lights A basic strand of 50 lights, from http://www.hammacher.com, costs about $30. These lights have a solar cell and two rechargeable AA batteries. The batteries store enough solar energy to provide nine hours of outdoor light.

Brenna Maloney

Holiday Cards

More than 2.2 billion Christmas cards will be sent during the December holidays, according to Hallmark, which produced 2,600 card designs for the 2007 season, according to company spokeswoman Linda B. O'Dell.

And consider this: The use of e-mailed cards of all kinds -- marking birthdays, Mother's Day and other events -- is booming, up 23 percent already this year compared with 2006. That trend is expected to continue through the end of the year, according to Megan Ferington, a spokeswoman for American Greetings, which has three online sources for e-cards. (Hallmark also offers more than 100 styles of holiday e-cards.)

Sending a computer greeting saves paper, transportation and postage. But if hitting the delete button after reading a card just isn't as heartwarming as propping a paper card on the mantel, there are still Earth-friendly strategies. First, buy only cards made with recycled content. This is getting easier all the time as major card companies use more recycled paper.

Don't buy vinyl-coated, glittery or fuzzy cards, which can't be recycled. At http://www.greatgreengoods.com, you can find links to cards made with recycled paper and printed with vegetable ink. One is a drawing of a reindeer with an energy-saving bulb on his nose and the message "Rudolph Switches to Compact Fluorescent."

Another tactic: Resolve to repurpose those pretty paper cards. Save them for the holidays next year, then cut up your favorites and turn them into gift tags.

If you find yourself increasingly tempted by the eco-sensible ease of sending holiday greetings online, consider the ways you can personalize that approach. One suggestion: Put together a family slide show on a photo-sharing Web site such as http://www.flickr.com or http://www.shutterfly.com instead of printing a photo and mailing it to everyone on your list.

Jura Koncius


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