A Christmas wish: Less waste

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    The sign for the crafts fair in Santa Ana, Calif., where many eco-friendly Christmas items are sold.

    - Caitlan Carroll

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    A shopper at the Santa Ana, Calif., crafts fair looks at environmentally friendly handmade cards.

    - Caitlan Carroll

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    Delilah Snell, organizer of the Santa Ana crafts fair.

    - Caitlan Carroll

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    Holiday cards made from recycled paper on a table at "The Road Less Traveled," Delilah Snell's store in Santa Ana, Calif.

    - Caitlan Carroll

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    Nicole Stevenson, left, operates a booth at the Santa Ana crafts fair.

    - Caitlan Carroll


KAI RYSSDAL: I went out last weekend to put the Christmas lights on the house. Forgot to make sure they were working, though, before I got up on the ladder. And so, of course, every single string was dead. So I chucked 'em all. Multiply me by the millions out there like me and the lights, the trees and all the wrapping paper really do add up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we generate an extra 25 million tons of trash from Thanksgiving to New Year's. But there may be some ways to trim the waste and stay as jolly as ever. Marketplace's Caitlan Carroll explains.

CAITLAN CARROLL: Back in 1944 Frank Sinatra might have had a white Christmas. This year the holiday's looking decidedly green. Rudolph the Recycling Reindeer is grazing the floors in Barney's New York. Disneyland's Main Street shimmers with energy-saving LED Christmas lights.

Retailers are right to think this matters to consumers. A Deloitte and Touche survey reveals 18 percent of shoppers plan to buy eco-friendly holiday gifts and decorations this year. Deloitte's Stacey Janiak says consumers are prepared to pay more for those green trimmings.

Stacey Janiak: So I think that's something that is very important that retailers need to pay attention to because not only are consumers looking for this but they're also willing to pay more to try and help sustain the environment.

At a craft fair in Santa Ana, Calif., customers pore over racks of reconstructed wrapping paper and handmade ornaments and cards. These retailers charge three-to-four times what you might pay at a big box store.

That doesn't bother shopper Kevin Butler.

Kevin Butler: Yeah, the cards over there are beautiful. They did beautiful, kind of hand printing press. So that's probably what interests me more is the hand craftsmanship.

They're locally made so that cuts down on some of the waste and pollution that come with shipping. Christmas tree retailers are cutting down on waste, too. Many nurseries now sell trees in pots so you can plant them outside after the holiday.

Bob Lilienfeld is the editor of the Use Less Stuff Report. He suggests following Disney's lead and buying LEDs. They use about a third of the energy of a standard incandescent light set. Again, they're more expensive but Lilienfeld says they're worth it.

Bob Lilienfeld: Energy is so expensive that anything you can do to reduce the amount of energy you consume and therefore reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that you create is going to save you a lot of money.

Consumers not wanting to pay extra this year can always tap into their inner preschooler and get crafty.

Back at the Santa Ana fair, designer Nicole Stevenson's booth is packed with shoppers. She says creating your own decorations isn't really that difficult.

Nicole Stevenson: When you start talking about handmade and hand-making things people get really scared. So start simple. A little bit of construction paper, glitter, hello.

She says use what you already have around the house. If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Stevenson suggests wrapping presents with old grocery bags decorated using a potato stamp.

Stevenson: Get a potato, cut it in half, and then you're going want to take a knife and carve an image into there. Put your potato down in the paint and then just start stamping.

Of course, you might not want to get covered in paint, glue and glitter. Delilah Snell is the organizer of the Santa Ana fair. She offers another option: just buy less this year.

Delilah Snell: Be simple about it. You don't need to have your mantle filled with 30 different kinds of Santa Clauses. Sometimes a bowl of pomegranates makes the same statement as a whole bunch of knick-knacks that you really only use for three weeks out of the year.

The environmental chorus is swelling this Christmas. Green issues have struck a chord with shoppers. Now the challenge for the conservation movement is turning that trend into a tradition.

In Los Angeles, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.


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