Give the gift of green this holiday season

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It's not hard to believe that Americans produce about twice as much waste as usual during the holiday season. From gift packaging to paper plates at parties and even pollution from additional travel, the environment suffers from as much seasonal stress as the average, frazzled person. This Saturday, Midtown Global Market hosts the Green Gift Fair, an event offering green wares, information on green living, demonstrations, crafts, and more. Ami Voeltz, executive director of Do It Green, took a moment to speak to City Pages about being green during the holidays.

City Pages: Just for the record, can you tell me what qualifies a business as green? How did you go about selecting vendors for this event?

Ami Voeltz: We have an ongoing project called the Minnesota Green Pages Directory—the newest version will be available at the event—and for the directory we have a long list of criteria that we've created using a combination of what the National Green Pages Directory uses as well as locally specific criteria. We've doubled our vendors for the event from last year, so that is a great sign. There's a much larger number of artists this year. It's really exciting that artists are starting to think about reusing materials or reclaiming.

CP: Are there traditions or other things we do around the holidays that are detrimental to the environment?

AV: Definitely. There're six main things we are hoping to get people to think about. First, simplifying the holidays, meaning not overdoing things, spending time with friends and family rather than excessively giving. Second, supporting local, eco-friendly businesses is important. Third, being lower waste during the season is crucial. For example, 95 percent of the wrapping paper we use is non-recyclable. People should consider using cloth gift bags or reusable materials like newspaper comics. Fourth, give thoughtful, long-lasting gifts that won't end up in a landfill by next year, like some plastic toys do. Fifth, decorate and entertain green: Use real or reusable plates and silverware. Finally, think about carpooling when traveling or planning your errands more efficiently.

CP: Going green is often associated with wealth. In our struggling economy, can the average person on a budget afford to live green?

AV: I think there is a really big range of what you can do over the holidays. Some of the things I have mentioned do cost money, but a lot of things really don't cost more and some options are actually cheaper. There will be great vendors at the Green Fair, but you can also make your own gifts this season, give a coupon, or give time rather than a product.

CP: In the ‘90s, being an enviro–friendly was cool, but today recycling and other green–friendly activities are almost something we do reflexively. How to we step up our game?

AV: It’s important to support local green businesses. Not just those at the green fair, but other eco–friendly businesses in the area. It's great that green buildings, homes, and businesses are so much more common these days.

CP: How has Minnesota changed over the years in terms of green awareness?

AV: In the last 2 to 3 years I have seen a pretty significant change. We started our work around 2000, and back then we had to define things like what green meant, what sustainable meant. Those words weren’t out there yet, and we had to help people understand how those terms were related to how we live. In the last few years there has been a significant awareness of people understanding what those terms means and how they relate to decision we are making in real life. People are also more comfortable doing things like bringing their own cloth bags, or carrying things without a bag. With products, manufacturers are actually thinking about how they can create their products in a more eco–friendly way, from the manufacturing end of it to the packaging end of it.

CP: What are you hopes with this green shopping event?

AV: It goes back to our main goals: people becoming more aware and thinking about the gifts they are purchasing this year. We also hope that people think about at least one thing they can do to decrease their waste this year.

The Green Gifts Fair is this Saturday, November 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Midtown Global Market (920 E Lake St., Minneapolis). For more info, visit www.doitgreen.org.


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