Category Archives: Sustainable Holidays

Love, the Earth and the greenest candle options (Part 1)

candle_Candle_light_4010

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I cannot help but reflect on love– the love of our planet and we the people that inhabit it. What a perfect time to resume this candle blog post that I started weeks ago.

When you light a candle, you ignite an intention: I want to create  a romantic ambiance, I want to create a peaceful atmosphere, I want to meditate, etc.   Digging more deeply, I cannot think of a better way to express intention and love than choosing products that are good for people and the Earth.  Products, such as candles, can effect us personally (self love).  They can effect our loved ones (friends and family love).  They can effect the people involved directly in their production  or  the people living near the site of where the raw materials are created or extracted (humanity love).  They can also effect the surrounding eco-systems and beyond (planet love).

So, in what ways can you create some interconnected love with your green, eco-friendly candle choices?

Choose candles scented with essential oils

When you smell a scented candle, its scent can effect you in many ways.  On one level, there is the pleasure of scent preferences enjoyed.  And then, there is the aromatherapy– this is the magic of pure plant essential oils.  What a gift mother nature has given us.  Just by smelling the bounty of her plants, your brain and nervous system are positively benefited through  feelings of  relaxation and upliftment.  What a great way to give yourself some love or share the with others!

But what happens when you have a candle scented with “fragrance” or “fragrance oils”.  The word fragrance includes a includes a whole host of chemicals you, your loved ones and the people involved in the production of these candles should not be breathing in, such as phthalates.  Phthalates are endocrine system disruptors, among other unsavory ill effects.

Even if you get a candle from the healthfood store, I would still check to see if they are made with essential oils or fragrances.  I have seen the term, “natural fragrance oil”.   Is there such thing as  natural, non-toxic fragrance that is not an essential oil?  Maybe. I have yet to do more research on this, but here is a preliminary teaser:    http://www.bathbodysupply.com/category-s/34.htm .

If you find a company that you feel may be wholesome and has the words “natural fragrance” listed as an ingredient,  ask them for the complete list of ingredients that make up their “fragrance” .  You can research those ingredients online to see if they are safe to use.

Choose organic and/or non-GMO soy candle wax and essential oils

I am holding a soy candle made by Sunbeam Candles.  It is a tall, white, unscented pillar candle with an 80 hour burn time.  Having purchased it a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I have enjoyed its  glowing warm light many times as we meditate, share intimacy or wind down for bed.  The truly nifty thing about this lovely candle is that the soy it contains is non-GMO.

Why buy non-GMO and/or organic?  My heart tells me for the love of all life, to support agricultural practices in harmony with the intelligent, life-sustaining system of nature.  In nature there is biodiversity; each organism supports the whole of the ecosystem.  One organism’s waste is another’s food .  This flow and order that has evolved over millions of years to perpetuate the thriving of life.  Let’s be part of it.

To get, briefly, more technical (I will be writing more on this later), over 80% of GMO crops are modified to help them withstand heavy-duty sprayings of herbicides.  This creates herbicide-resistant “super weeds” and  “super bugs” that are very hard to kill.  These type of farming practices are not in harmony with nature.  These chemicals that kill weeds and pests are also harmful to humans and the eco system.  Not to mention, this type of farming also includes the use of  of artificial fertilizers.  Artificial fertilizers, create nitrogen run-off that flows into streams, rivers and ultimately coastal waters, causing excessive algae bloom and decomposition which depletes oxygen from the oceans and ends up killing the marine life.

Stayed tuned for Part Two of this article, arriving in the next day or so!  More valuable, important information regarding  people and earth- loving candle choices will be explored.   Happy Valentine’s day from my heart to yours!

Sustainable Christmas Tree Choices

xmas trees

I have mixed feelings everytime I pass Christmas Tree vendors. On one hand, I love the Earthy smell of pine and the beautiful flourish of evergreen colors filling my vision. On the other hand, I look at the tree trunks cut off abruptly before the roots and  feel a little sad for the trees, once deeply rooted, majestic and bursting with life, that are now destined to wither away after a few festive weeks of viewing pleasure. But don’t let me put a damper on your holiday spirit.  I know decorating and enjoying a Christmas Tree can be a beautiful experience.  That said, there are green options for everyone, even people like me who would prefer a potted tree.

Plastic versus Real Trees: which is better for the environment and healthier for you?

I would vote, hands down, for real trees for multiple reasons:

  • Plastic trees are made from petroleum.  Oil drilling is very risky for the environment (think oil spills).  Oil is a non-renewable resource. And, once your plastic Christmas tree becomes old and ratty,  it is destined for a landfill and will not bio-degrade.  Plus, landfill space is finite.  Do we really need to create more garbage than is necessary?  However, if you already have a artificial tree, enjoy it while it lasts.  If it is still usable when you are done with it, find a local charity donate it to.   There may also be recycling possibilities available in your area. Please know, however, that each time plastic is recycled, it downgrades in quality, until it is un-recyclable and ends up in the landfill anyway.
  • Real trees do not have to go to a landfill (in a landfill they would take a VERY  long time to biodegrade).   Personally, if I had a few acres of wooded land, I would just let my Christmas tree become food for microorganisms.  However, for many urbanites like myself, “treeycling” would be the best option.   According to Earth911, “Recycled trees are most commonly used for mulch, erosion protection, habitat creation and shoreline stabilization.” To find out if tree reycling resources are in your area, go to:   http://earth911.com/news/2011/12/27/how-to-recycle-your-christmas-tree/
  • Several known carcinogens, including dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, are generated during the production of PVC (a major component of artificial Christmas trees), polluting neighborhoods and ecosystems located near factory sites. Most of those factory sites are actually in China, where 85 percent of the artificial trees sold in North America are made. Labor standards in China do not adequately protect workers from the dangerous chemicals they are handling.  Not to mention, fake trees often contain lead.
  • Real trees are more pleasurable to look at and also emit phytoncides (wood essential oils) which are beneficial to our health on many levels (think aromatherapy).  More information is available in the book, “Your Brain On Nature”. 
  • According to Earth911, “A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. With more than 350 million real Christmas tress growing in U.S. tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon sequestering associated with the trees. Additionally, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people.” 
  • My initial concern about Christmas tree farms was that it could mean the destruction of ecosystems, particularly,  if forests were cleared so Christmas trees could be grown.  However, according to the New York Times, “Christmas tree farms also help preserve farmland and green space, particularly near densely populated urban areas where pressure for development is intense.”  Additionally, Mike Garrett, owner and operator of a Christmas tree farm in Sussex, N.J. said,  “It allows people with land that may not be the best farmland to have a crop that they can actually make a profit on, and not be under pressure to sell out to developers.”   
  • One of the downsides, many green-tip websites are quick to point out, is the carbon footprint from driving to get a real Christmas tree every year, as opposed to once every 10 years for a fake tree.  But really, is one extra errand a year going to make or break your carbon footprint? And, what if, you ran some other errands along the way to your Christmas tree-shopping, making it a very efficient trip?  I think it’s more about all of us  investing in greener transportation modes (the greenest we are able to afford) that reduce our overall impact or are carbon neutral, which has a much larger positive impact, than one less errand. 
  • Another downside is that many Christmas tree farms use pesticides and artificial fertilizers, which are not good for surrounding eco-systems, nor for your health.  However, depending on where you live, you may be able to purchase an organically raised Christmas tree. Here are some green resources websites that can help you in your search for a sustainable Christmas tree or any other sustainable products your heart could desire:
  1. localharvest.org
  2. toxicfreenc.org
  3. beyondpesticides.org
  4. greenpromise.com

Here is a (somewhat) local Christmas tree farm serving the NYC area:

wind swept farm

Buying  a Living Tree

If you want to go uber green or cut trees just make you a little sad, opt to buy a Christmas tree with its roots still intact.  Keep in mind, however, that a living tree can only be indoors for about a week, lest it  “wake up” and begin to grow again in the warmth of your home. If this happens there is a good chance the tree will not survive once it is replanted in the cold winter outdoors. You would also need to gently transition the tree indoors for about two weeks beforehand, inside a garage or enclosed porch.  You would need to put the tree back in the enclosed porch or garage after its week indoors to gently transition it back outside.  For more information on buying and caring for a living tree, go to:

http://www.hgtv.com/gardening/how-to-care-for-your-living-christmas-tree/index.html

A few online articles also mentioned keeping the tree in a pot for a few years so it can be reused as a Christmas tree again.  I assume that they mean a smaller potted Christmas trees that wouldn’t quickly outgrow the ability to fit indoors.  I also assume that the tree would live outdoors in a pot when it is not the holiday season:

http://eartheasy.com/give_sustainchristmas.htm

Last, but not least, I am teleported back to childhood, when we had our first  “Christmas tree”.  Well, it was not really a Christmas tree in the traditional sense; it was my mom’s potted Norfolk Pine houseplant that was suddenly transformed into an exotic, four foot Christmas marvel.   Needless to say, Peanutbutter, our fluffy tan and white cat, could not resist climbing the Norfolk Pine, which bowed under his robust weight,  to retrieve Christmas ornaments dangling off it.  We later found the said ornaments floating and sparkling in the toilet.  On that note, may your holiday be warm, wonderful, magical and perhaps, even a little bit playfully mischievous!