December 08: News and ideas for sustainable living

December 08: News and ideas for sustainable living

Red and green go green: LED Christmas lights will make the Yuletide less power-hungry.

Green lights

If you’re headed out to pick up a zillion-pack of Christmas lights with which to festoon every corner of your house and a tree in every room, skip the standard incandescents and opt for LED lights instead. At a 90 percent energy savings over old-style lights, they’re clearly less of a draw on Ye Jolly Olde Power Plante. A bonus: They’re cool to the touch, so there’s less chance of a fire starting when hot bulbs come in contact with dry pine needles. And we’re told they last longer too, meaning less waste down the road.

You can get your old lights recycled at (and a 15 percent discount on new LEDs), and local stores including Blue Ridge Eco Shop have LED Christmas lights too.—Erika Howsare

Tree your mind

Got a yard full of trees you can’t name and wouldn’t know how to care for if your house depended on it? (Which it might: Trees have been known to fall, you know, occasionally on structures.) Or perhaps you can identify your oaks and poplars but want to know more about which species to plant and how to prune. Living in Virginia and not knowing much about trees is kind of like being a Manhattanite mystified by elevators. Up your tree smarts at a Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards class beginning February 24.

One, two three: Learn the basics on the biology (and care) of trees at a Tree Stewards class beginning in February.

At $50 for 14 three-hour classes, it’s kind of a bargain, and you’ll be learning from expert pros in various areas: forest ecology, tree care, urban forestry and more. The catch: You’ve got to have Tuesday mornings, 9am to noon, free. Call 872-4580 before February 14 to sign up.

The Tree Stewards recently did some volunteer work at the Ivy Creek Natural Area, eradicating invasive plants and planting natives, which they intend to maintain indefinitely. The class will equip you not only to look at your own land with a more knowing eye but to help out with volunteer projects like these. So go on—branch out.—E.H.

Energy eaters

While refrigerators were once the main drain on household electricity use, these days there’s a new contender for biggest piece of the bill: the boob tube. As Hummers are to gas, televisions are to your precious kilowatts, despite new EnergyStar standards which slap a government stamp of approval on selected models. Previously measuring only energy consumption in “off” or standby mode (genius!), the new ratings now tally the power your telly needs while turned on, bringing you your essential daily dose of the box.

But, buyers beware: The ratings, in action since early November, pick out sets that are energy-efficient for each class of TVs, meaning that even sets with the EnergyStar logo may not be exactly thrifty. Your new 50” plasma screen, for one, is still burning up more power in five hours than 30 CFL bulbs and prompting more than half a ton of CO2 emissions per year—even though it may do better than others in its class. It might better behoove you to downgrade to a smaller set and reconsider “Gossip Girl”’s central role in your life. Just saying.—Lucy Zhou

Wrapper’s delight

Let’s face it. The holiday season can be Mother Earth’s worst nightmare, from the plastic toys made overseas to the copious paper products. This season Betty helps you think outside the holiday box with creative and green gift-wrapping ideas!

If you’re a saver like me, you have a head start. But don’t fret; it’s not too late to start saving all things paper and festive for next year including boxes and ribbons. Make reuse part of your family tradition.

My rule of thumb is to begin with what you have, i.e. nothing NEW, especially paper (otherwise known as dead trees). Scour the attic for last year’s boxes, your closet for shoe boxes, or the recycle bin for an appropriately-sized cardboard box. Otherwise, the local Salvation Army or thrift shop should have old tins or baskets.

As for wrapping paper: newspaper comics, old tissue paper, a cut-up paper grocery bag, even a scrap of cloth will work.

Next collect odds and ends like old ribbon, feathers, twigs, string, shoe laces, magazines, tea bags, cinnamon sticks, leftover tissue paper, postcards, old maps, even game pieces. Don’t forget to forage in the great outdoors—holly bushes and rosemary twigs make great gift garnishes.

Now you have assembled your supplies, the fun part begins!  With scissors, a hole punch, tape, glue gun (optional), and your collection of found objects, the gifts will become recycled works of art. With your imagination, the possibilities are limitless.—Better World Betty