By Frank Scotti, Sustainable Energy Advocate – When you think of Christmas, you probably don’t think of how much impact a simple Christmas tree can have on the environment. Your Christmas tree, whether live or artificial, has a significant environmental impact considering Americans purchase over 48 million trees each year.
Let’s first look at artificial trees. It may seem obvious that a real tree is better than a fake Christmas tree from a sustainability point of view. But the reality is a little more complex. A Life Cycle Assessment study looked at factors like raw materials, processing, manufacturing, waste, water use, carbon emissions, chemical use, transportation, lifetime of product, and end of life disposal.
More than 23 million artificial trees are purchased each season in the U.S. alone. They are typically made of a combination of PVC and steel and are not recyclable at end of life. Artificial trees are also non-biodegradable so they never break down.
Artificial trees contain potentially harmful material. Part of what makes artificial trees so sturdy are the components used in their construction. PVC plastics are made from petroleum by-products, heavy metals are used to stabilize the plastics and the metal branches are mined from the earth. Flame retardants that cause cancer and other health issues are also added to artificial trees. In California, warning labels are even required on artificial trees to alert users of the potential risk of hazardous materials…including lead.
Most artificial trees are made in China and have to be shipped thousands of miles, in plastic sleeves and cardboard boxes.
The A.C.T.A, a group representing manufacturers, says the environmental impact of an artificial tree is less than real trees if you reuse the artificial tree five or more times.
However, a 2009 study by Ellipsos, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal, found an artificial tree used over six years still had three times greater impact on emissions and resource depletion than six real trees over six years. The study said an artificial tree had to be kept for 20 years before it would have a lesser impact than 20 real trees.
Artificial trees are not recyclable nor biodegradable and will eventually end up in landfill even after years of use. It takes centuries for materials like polyvinyl chloride plastic to decompose. Green America advises that consumers with artificial trees donate them rather than throw them away.
Now let’s look at real trees.
Again, a Life Cycle Assessment study looked at factors like land use, CO2 emissions from growing and harvesting equipment, chemical use, transportation, and end of life disposal.
25 million live trees are cut down for Christmas trees each year in the U.S. Real Christmas trees are primarily grown on Christmas tree farms, and aren’t cut down from large, wild forests, as some may think. Most Christmas trees are planted and grown on farms for the express purpose of harvesting them.
As Christmas trees grow, they clean the air, help the soil, absorb carbon emissions and provide a habitat for wildlife, all while being grown on land not suitable for other crops.
Once a tree is cut down for sale, another one to three trees are planted in its place, making for a sustainable, well-managed way to source an environmentally friendly Christmas tree.
According to Green America, an environmental advocacy organization, a real tree is even better for the environment when it is mulched and returned to the earth as ground cover.
In the same study, Green America also determined that thousands of tons of real trees wind up in landfill, where they produce methane — a pollutant 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Decomposition of real trees in a dump takes decades and produces a higher carbon footprint than incineration.
There are a lot of considerations, but I am able to come to a conclusion regarding which type of tree is least harmful to the environment.
Real trees have less of an environmental impact than artificial trees. Real trees have an even greater environmental advantage over artificial trees if they are organically grown, locally sourced, and recycled.
If you already have an artificial tree, don’t go throwing it out though. Keep using it for as long as possible so you can keep it out of the landfill. Then donate it to extend its lifecycle even further.
By Frank Scotti, Sustainable Energy Advocate – October 01, 2022 – As far back as I can remember, my mom always used liquid laundry soap, or detergent, to wash our clothes when we were kids. Like most everything, my parents never questioned the product, or its environmental impact. Liquid detergent was just what you used. Then, when I moved out and was responsible to wash my own clothes, I, too, chose liquid detergent out of familiarity and habit.
But now I know that liquid laundry soap is not good for the environment. Heck, it’s not really even a soap. Detergents are mainly a synthetic combination of chemicals designed to produce optically clean clothes, but as a result, also introduce a ton of chemical pollutants. These chemicals include; phosphates, formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, ammonium sulfate, dioxane, sodium lauryl sulfate, optical brighteners, ammonium quaternary sanitizers, dyes, benzyl acetate, dichlorobenzene. After your clothes are washed, all of these chemicals are drain out with the water and remain in our water, forever.1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of every day in the US. Assume we use an average of 2 ounces of detergent per load, that equates to 492,750,000 gallons of chemical detergent pollutants added to our water supply each year from laundry alone.
In addition, 700 million empty plastic detergent jugs are thrown away each year in the US alone, with less that 30% ever being recycled. Factor in all of the water used to create the detergent, and all of the CO2 emitted to transport these heavy jugs from factory to consumer, the environmental impact of liquid laundry detergent is simply staggering.
Recently we have finally seen an innovation in the category, laundry detergent sheets.
Laundry sheets are lightweight, compact, don’t use water, are pre-measured amounts, and come in compostable paper packaging.
The basic ingredients of laundry detergent sheets are: deionized water, natural plant-derived surfactants, enzymes, and in some cases, a fragrance. A box of 100 load sheets weighs only about 7 oz., compared to the equivalent liquid weighing almost 10 lbs. Plus, laundry sheets and packaging contain no plastic at all.
I tested a laundry sheet brand called Earth Breeze for one month. I use a front-loading wash machine, so the sheet goes in the top detergent cup, folded. I was skeptical at first. But here’s what I found.
The sheet dissolved fully. There was no residual residue or signs of soap or other chemicals. Surprisingly, clothes seemed to be just as clean. I did not notice any difference. I used both the fragrance free and the Fresh Scent. I did prefer the Fresh Scent over fragrance free.
Like I said no noticeable difference between the Earth Breeze laundry sheets and my other liquid detergent. I shall admit that I do not have heavily soiled clothes. Both my boys no longer live at home, and I don’t regularly work on cars getting oil stains on my work clothes. But the average garden variety soiling came clean with no issues. The switch for me is a no-brainer, especially since the cost per load of laundry sheets vs. liquid is about the same.
I have freed up extra space in the laundry cabinet to store other stuff I don’t need. I don’t have any large jugs to dispose of and hope they get recycled. I can take on with me when I travel. My clothes get just as clean.
No matter how hard I try, I really can’t find anything to complain about. Laundry sheets are an amazing substitute to liquid laundry detergent.
Since testing laundry sheets, I have not reverted back to liquid detergents. I think I may have finally broken the cycle of habit and complacency and made the full-time switch to laundry sheets. I suggest that everyone give them a try.
Energy efficiency is one of the largest topics for homeowners in recent years. Buyers want a property that will have predictable bills, and homeowners want to lower the monthly charges they’ve been seeing.
If you’re interested in finding energy-efficient remodeling ideas for your home: consider trying some of these tips!
Seal Your Home From Top to Bottom
Your home should be as sealed as possible. This means everything from the roof to the floor should be air-tight and capable of handling anything you throw at it. The most common areas people miss are their soffit, roof gaps, their HVAC system, and the exhaust from their washer and dryer, and stove. Make sure these allow for one-way flow only, stopping your home from filling with whatever temperature you’re avoiding.
Inspect Your Windows and Doors for Air Leaks
Windows and doors are the largest culprits for heating and cooling issues. Carry a lit candle near your windows and doors, and watch the flame carefully. If it suddenly pulls towards, or away from, any door or window: you have an air leak. There are a couple of options for what you can do next. You can either replace the windows and doors entirely, or you can go for something smaller like a window sash replacement and simply weatherstripping your door. Although eventually, you’ll want to replace them: this can be a fantastic fix in the meanwhile.
Check Your Insulation Levels
How well insulated is your home? Do you know the last time your insulation was checked? If you’re not sure, call a professional and ask for them to check out your property. Be aware that if your insulation hasn’t been checked in over forty years, the company you work with will probably charge extra in case of asbestos. This is a normal charge and will protect them from a potentially hazardous environment.
Know What Solar Can Do For You!
Solar can help both your home and the environment in one go. By absorbing solar rays and converting that power into electricity, it can lessen the amount of power your home needs to draw from the grid. Beyond that, this can also give you tax cuts that many homeowners are thankful to grab.
Although solar is expensive upfront, you’ll save enough money in the long term that this equipment will pay for itself over time. This isn’t a great fit for every home, depending on which direction it’s facing, but it’s a fantastic choice if you want to source your energy in a greener way.
Make the Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting
Your lighting could be doing more damage to your bills than you expect! Just like you wouldn’t expect roller skates to be useful on a crush-and-run driveway, you can’t expect the same old lightbulbs that haven’t been updated in sixty years to offer the amount of energy-efficient LED bulbs can. With brighter and clearer light, longer lifespans, and more energy efficiency, there’s no reason to avoid these bulbs. They’re very useful and offer everyone an affordable chance to have a greener home.
Replace Any Older Roof or Siding
Your old roof and siding could be holding you back. These both protect your home from the elements when they’re in good condition, but the second they’re older, you’ll realize they’re holding you back and leaking a lot of air (and possibly moisture!). Go for a roof that will last over fifty years and works great with solar, like slate shingles! For your siding, it’s vital that you pick something that’s both attractive and sturdy. Some types of siding can work well over thirty years, although they can be a little more expensive.
Check Your Foundation and Repair if Necessary
If you test your windows and doors, and over half of them are leaking, aren’t shutting correctly, and seem almost tilted despite being fine not long ago: it’s time to look at your foundation. One of the main reasons it’s vital to fill cracks in concrete is water can take a small issue and blow it out of proportion in no time. Keep an eye out for any foundational issues: and call a professional if you suspect something might be wrong.
Add Extra Shade On Your Home’s Windows
Although no tree should be anywhere near your roof: you can shade your home by using greenery that covers your windows to some degree. By planting shrubs and bushes along the exterior of your home, the light will be more filtered before it gets to your windows. This will allow less heat to come in and will protect your home. Beyond this, when paired with landscape drains, local shrubs can also help keep water out of your yard, an added bonus!
Every Property Can Be More Energy Efficient
Your property should be as energy efficient as possible. Take the time to follow these tips, and you’ll be amazed at how much your heating and cooling bills will drop!
Susan Holmes is a contributor to Innovative Building Materials. She is an editor and content writer for the environmental industry. Susan is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that increase property value, maximize energy savings, and turn houses into homes.
Thinking about switching from a gas to electric stove? Or want to change out that old gas dryer or furnace for an electric alternative and contribute to climate action planning?
San Luis Obispo is considering new building policies that would require new housing to be all-electric. A panel on Aug. 22, 2019, discussed the benefits of using electric over gas.
To ease the transition and help reduce environmental impacts from gas-related carbon emissions, a regional program has been launched to help residents save money and use reliable contractors. 3C-REN, which stands for the Tri-County Regional Energy Network, is spearheading the “Switch Is On” campaign with the Building Decarbonization Coalition to help Tri-County residents in San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties convert from gas-powered to all-electric appliances.
There is currently a $3,100 rebate to switch from a gas water heater to a heat pump water heater. GET A QUOTE TODAY.
Read more at: sanluisobispo.com/news/
Julian Mackenzie, NRDC.org –
With minimal effort, you can turn those banana peels and apple cores into gold. Let us break it down.
If you’re going to ask an environmentalist why you should compost, make sure you have a minute. Darby Hoover, NRDC’s senior resource specialist in the Food and Agriculture program—and master of the household compost heap—can reel off a long list of reasons for keeping your food scraps and other household waste out of the trash can. “Compost adds nutrients and organic matter back to soil, which benefits agriculture, reduces our reliance on synthetic fertilizers, diverts methane-producing organic materials from landfills, and improves soil’s water retention capacity so you don’t need to water as much,” she says.