The Union Recorder

Top Stories

December 11, 2013

Old-fashioned trimming for tree isn't as green as you might think

Strands of lights are ubiquitous this time of year - tangled in leafless trees, framing windows, sparkling their way to Santa's sled. They are a beaming reminder of both the warm feelings of the holiday season and the environmental costs of this time of hyper-consumption. In 2003, a paper published by the Department of Energy estimated that holiday lights accounted for 2.22 terawatt-hours of energy use per year in the United States, which roughly equals the energy consumed by 200,000 homes annually. With numbers like that, coal may be the best thing to stuff in your neighbor's twinkling stocking. He may need it.

Fortunately, Christmas lights have gradually switched over to LED in recent years. They are up to 90 percent more efficient than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. So, should you trash your old holiday blinkers for their LED counterpart?

From an environmental perspective, it's rarely advisable to discard something that works and replace it with an energy-efficient version, since the energy required to produce your new bauble is often greater than the savings it offers once you use it. It wouldn't make sense, for example, to trash a perfectly good sedan to buy a new Toyota Prius: Producing a car takes a lot of energy, and hybrids are only about twice as energy-efficient as conventional engines.

Holiday lights, however, are an exception to the rule. A new strand of LEDs will last four or five decades, possibly the rest of your life, depending on how long you leave them on (and how long you live). They're also less likely to start a fire, which is important when you're wrapping them around a bundle of kindling like a Christmas tree. If you're still harboring an old strand of incandescent lights, the Earth begs you to ditch it and go for the LEDs. (If it's one of those multicolored, flashing strands, your neighbors would probably second the motion.)

Of course, there are more extreme options for electricity grinches. When I was a child, my favorite tree adornment was a string of popcorn. Making such a thread is a fun family activity, and you can sneak a few kernels for yourself in the process.

Is it greener than a strand of lights, though? To make this comparison, we'll have to make some assumptions.

It's hard to say how much embedded energy is in a strand of Christmas lights. However, since the lights will last 40 or 50 years, that embedded energy comes very close to zero on a yearly average. The only energy we have to attribute to the lights is the electricity, which, for a strand of larger LEDs, is 2.5 watts. If you run them four hours per day for 30 days, that means 0.3 kilowatt-hours over the course of a season. According to EPA conversion data, generating that much electricity would emit 0.44 pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents. (A carbon dioxide equivalent is all the greenhouse gases emitted, expressed in terms of the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.)

Now for the popcorn. There's very little popcorn-specific environmental data, but the variety of corn commonly grown for popping is closely related to the corn used in cornmeal. So if we just use generic corn data, our estimates will be close enough.

According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts, cultivating an acre of corn generates approximately 1,700 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. The average farm produces 155 bushels of corn per acre. Since a bushel of shelled corn weighs approximately 56 pounds, there are around 0.2 pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents embedded in a pound of corn by the time it leaves the farm gate. For most foods, transporting, processing and cooking account for slightly more than the amount of greenhouse gas emitted during cultivation and harvest. So let's say a pound of popcorn - which is probably enough to trim a medium-size tree - would result in the production of just under a half-pound of carbon dioxide equivalents.

In other words, from an environmental perspective, there's very little difference between trimming your tree with a pound of popcorn and using a strand of LED lights. That may seem surprising, since natural, farm-raised popcorn just feels greener than manufactured lights.

But details make a difference. Old-fashioned incandescent lights would be far, far worse for the environment: They use 10 times as much electricity as LEDs and don't last nearly as long. You'll also need to store your LEDs properly and turn them off when no one will see them anyway. Of course, if you have a few extra lights, you can't eat the leftovers.

 

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • web break-1.jpg Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg Guilty plea to murder in Macon law grad slaying

    A week before his trial was set to begin, the man accused of killing and dismembering a law school classmate in Macon pleaded guilty Monday to malice murder.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break.jpg Georgia online tuition dropping for first year

    Jenni Small has good reason for avoiding 8 a.m. world literature classes at Dalton State College in northern Georgia. The 23-year-old works night shifts as an operator for carpet manufacturer Shaw while finishing her bachelor's degree in mathematics.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg Deal set to sign bill expanding gun rights in Ga.

    Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign legislation next week expanding gun rights in Georgia.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg Deal signs medical school scholarship regulation

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation requiring some recipients of a state medical school scholarship to work in rural areas.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg GA insurance commissioner releases enrollment data

    State Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens says nearly 150,000 Georgians will be insured through policies they bought through the federal health care marketplace.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • web break-1.jpg Ga. alters state employee health insurance program

    The Georgia Department of Community Health announced Tuesday that it is looking to increase the number of companies participating in the State Health Benefit Plan and will offer more coverage options for state employees, including HMOs, beginning next year.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

Poll
AP Video
Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly Pipeline Opponents Protest on National Mall Hagel Gets Preview of New High-tech Projects S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter New Yorkers Celebrate Cherry Blossom Blooms SCOTUS Hears Tv-over-Internet Case Justice Dept. Broadening Criteria for Clemency Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers 'Miss Meadows' Takes Holmes Back to Her Roots Biden: Russia Must Stop Talking, Start Acting David Moyes Out As Manchester United Manager Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Stowaway Teen Forces Review of Airport Security
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Stocks
NDN Video
Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Jenna Dewan-Tatum Strips Down Rise of the Milkbots TRENDING: Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice' on ‘Tonight Show’ Middle School heroes rescue students from burning bus WHOPPER OF FISHING STORY: Florida man catches massive Mako shark Maks Chmerkovskiy's "DWTS" Meltdown The many faces of Mike Woodson Ape Builds A Fire And Toasts Marshmallows In Amazing BBC Video Manchester Utd sack manager David Moyes "RHOA's" Dramatic Brawl High school, College Drug Ring Busted In Montgomery County High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Raw: Keflezighi, Jeptoo Win Boston Marathon Teen hitchhikes in wheel well of flight from California to Hawaii Lindsay Lohan's Jaw-Dropping Secret President Sends Message To Boston And Marathon Runners LA Pastor Attracts Churchgoers with Pot Lauren Stoner Shows Off Her Incredible Bikini Body