A holiday toast to the planet

It’s that season again. We’re down to the last minute to buy a few more gifts. Rather than picking up whatever is on the nearest shelf, consider buying some truly meaningful gifts for the Earth.

Surprise the special people in your life with new full-spectrum compact fluorescent lights for the bathroom mirror. They look like daylight, not the sickly greenish of the past. Everyone will look better in their light.

Replace all of your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and cut your electric bill as well as the pollution inherent in energy use. By what amount? It depends on how many bulbs you use, how many you leave on, and for how many hours. Limit your outdoor lighting and turn it off for the evening.

Surprise your holiday guests this year with a new, trendy drink: a pitcher of water with ice cubes and a twist. Forget the bottled water, which involves energy consumption and wast—from obtaining water from distant places, bottling, shipping and refrigerating it to eventually disposing of the plastic container. As with many other items we purchase, its convenience overcomes our consideration of environmentally-friendly, readily available alternatives.

Use local water as the source of your new holiday cheer. It might remind us all that there are plenty of good local alternatives to our existing patterns of consumption.

It is also a refreshing drink after a vigorous workout of shoveling snow and chipping ice.

If a few troubling ice spots remain, try using a magnesium chloride de-icer, which includes an additive from grain processing byproducts to help cut its corrosiveness. The new product, known as Bare Ground, might be available locally. If not, check the Real Goods Web site and encourage local stores to carry the product or something similar.

Another gift for the Earth that saves money is unplugging appliances that come with adapters or chargers. They are convenient but inefficient and are on as long as they’re plugged in—not just when they’re in use. Turn off power strips, too. Is the adapter or charger warm to the touch? Anything that produces heat uses electricity.

Need new appliances? Look for the Energy Star label.

Solar-powered gifts save energy. Consider a solar charger for a cell phone or laptop computer. Solar-powered outdoor lights, both decorative and security, are available at home improvement stores at prices for all budget levels. Solar-powered toys teach children an appreciation for renewable energy. Other high-tech items including radios, watches, and flashlights can also be powered by the sun. Low-tech solar cookers act like crock pots to produce slow-cooked meals that require absolutely no tending. They can be taken on camping or canoe trips. They’re also great for introducing the uninitiated to solar power.

Here’s a real energy (and money) saver. At this point in our lives, we no longer need much of anything, so we exchange books and magazines we have finished, homemade items (such as food, photos or recipe collections) or memorabilia with relatives. Of course, they are wrapped in recycled newspapers.

Need more ideas for Earth-friendly gifts? Share this column with your friends and brainstorm. Happy Holidays to the Earth!

Suggested Web sites: www.energy.gov www.energystar.gov.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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