Monday, December 16, 2013

Have an Efficient Holiday Season – Environmentally Speaking!

This season, Clean Ocean Action is offering tips on how to green your holiday. Here is the seventh of twelve in COA's '12 Days of Green Giving' series.

By: Sean Dixon, Coastal Policy Attorney

Want to have a happy holiday? How about saving money (and the planet)? 

We all know that the holiday season can bring a host of environmental impacts – large quantities of plastic (packaging), paper (wrapping), lights (decorating), and food (good-cheering) all add up.  A news report from Vermont tallied up the amount of energy Americans will use for holiday lighting: 6 trillion watt-hours.  That’s apparently enough to power every home in New Hampshire for a month.

We’ll also toss millions of batteries (40% of all batteries sold each year are sold during the holidays), buy 33 million Christmas trees, generate a huge amount of “e-waste” (TVs, smartphones, etc) that have special waste issues, and buy 100 million strands of lights.

Having a more efficient holiday season doesn't necessarily mean having no holiday season; it’s an opportunity to green up your winter.

There are a ton of lists out there for ways to be greener during the holidays – like here and here.  Our Clean Ocean Action favorites include:

1. Combine shopping trips

According to NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority), one of the least efficient ways to spend your holidays is shuttling back and forth from home on a series of short shopping trips – for food, gifts, party supplies, and Santa beards.  According to the agency, “Several short trips can use twice as much fuel as a longer one that covers the same distance.”   Another related suggestion is to leave the bad holiday vibes at home – NYSERDA warns that “Aggressive driving wastes gas and can lower your mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent around town.”  That, and aggressive driving probably leads to aggressive shopping, and that rarely ends well.

2. Beat the heat

As the Frugal Living blog points out “extra bodies in the house means extra warmth at no cost to you.”  Let your family reduce your energy bills - by turning down the heat before your guests arrive, you can save a ton of money from the heat generated by all those guests (and all the cooking).  Speaking of cooking, every time you peak into the stove to check on how your food is cooking, your oven temp drops – some say by as much as 25 degrees per peak – so trust your timer and keep the oven shut.

Of course, you can always winterize your home by putting up plastic sheets over your windows (window kits available at most stores!). This may sound counter-intuitive, for those looking to reduce plastics you their lives, but window winterization can lean to pretty significant heating and cooling cost savings, and those plastic sheets for your windows are reusable, year after year.

3. Mind the lights

Finally, make the switch to LED lights.  The US Department of Energy estimated the cost of running different strings of light 12 hours a day for 40 days, and the results are stark.  Standard bulb strings with 125 4-watt lights will cost you 45 times more than a string of 280 0.04-watt LED lights.  Why spend $25 on electricity when you can spend $0.50.  

The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, NYC, has, apparently, somewhere between 30,000 and 45,000 lights on 5 miles of wires.  When NYC Mayor Bloomberg championed the switch to LED lights, he said that people will now “see an example of green leadership which may inspire them to make greener choices in their own lives.” The 2007 switch to LEDs dropped the energy use by more than 50% - down to 1,297 kilowatt hours per day (equal to the amount of electricity consumed by a typical 2,000-square-foot house in a month).

For an extra dose of Holiday cheer, give the gift of efficiency – solar and LED lights make great gifts, as do window winterizing kits.

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