Sunday, November 15, 2009

New holiday color: green

The holidays are just around the corner, and so are the holiday parties.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate 25 percent more trash than usual in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It amounts to 1 million tons.

Much of that is due to holiday parties. But there are several steps revelers can take to make their holiday parties more eco-friendly.

: Use e-vites or recycled paper invitations. These days, sending invitations and collecting RSVPs through any one of several electronic-invitation Web sites is popular. It's budget-friendly and saves resources.

If you're intent on marking your holiday party occasion with an invitation guests can hold in their hands and keep, choose those made from post-consumer recycled paper, or tree-free alternatives, such as invitations made from hemp, says Marti Matsch, communications director for Eco-Cycle.

"Make sure your invitation is recyclable," Matsch adds. "Avoid bright-colored, dark-colored, fluorescent or metallic papers, all of which cannot be recycled."

Use re-usable. Single-use items -- especially when it comes to serving and enjoying food and drinks -- are common during the holidays. But it makes more eco-friendly sense to avoid cluttering landfills with single-use items, particularly plastic plates and utensils, and choose washable dishes and silverware.

"Reuse stuff -- don't use a lot of plastic," says Mary Spicer, of Spicer Events, an events-planning company with offices in Boulder and Connecticut. "Anything that can be reused, that's green."

That means, pull out the china and silver if you have it.

"Grandma gave it to you, you should use it," Spicer says.

If the back of your cabinets aren't a holding ground for hand-me-down ware, and you're hosting a large number of guests, consider renting plates, silverware and glassware for the occasion.

Or try compostable. If you must include single-use tableware and cutlery at your party, choose the compostable kind. Eco-Cycle offers a Zero Waste Event Kit that includes tableware and cutlery made from plant starches instead of plastic.

The kit includes compost collection containers, which once filled can be dropped off at Eco-Cycle's Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials in Boulder.

One note, plant-based tableware wont biodegrade in some compost systems because they don't reach the required temperature for long enough periods of time in order for the items to begin to break down. But Eco-Cycle takes its compost to a company in Denver that uses a system that effectively composts biodegradable tableware, Matsch says.

Find decorations. Holiday decorations can be pricey, and they can fill a trash can in a hurry. There are greener options than buying the latest centerpieces from a store, says Heather Dwight, owner of Calluna Events, a Boulder company that specializes in weddings, private parties and non-profit events.

Create your own.

"With decorations, there's really simple, budget-friendly things you can do," Dwight says. "Pine cones or branches with berries on them, or ivy, so that you're not using a ton of flowers, things that you might even have at home you can use as centerpieces."

If you use flowers, find a florist who offers Colorado-grown or organically grown flowers. And if your floral arrangements aren't pesticide free -- and most aren't -- be conscious of where they go.

Offset your carbon. Let's face it, part of what make celebrations special is the fact they happen once. Sometimes, despite best green intentions, holiday parties lead to more waste than you may be comfortable with.

Dwight says she's noticed a trend of eco-conscious revelers buying carbon offsets to counterbalance the travel by guests or the waste the parties generate.

Eco-cycle recommends visiting or to learn more about carbon offsets.

Use sustainable wines.

Want to get a conversation going with the wine connoisseurs on your guest list?

"Something that's been a trend this year has been using sustainable or biodynamic wines," Dwight says.

Compost what you can. After the guests have gone, make sure the food leftovers go into compost containers and recyclable materials are put into their proper bin.

Avoid toxic cleaning solutions. "Consider making your own non-toxic cleaners at home," Matsch says. "Many basic cleaners can be made from non-toxic ingredients, such as baking soda, Borax, white vinegar, lemon juice and washing soda."

Article provided by Mark Collins

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