Flying for the Holidays? Follow our Tips to Manage Your Carbon-Footprint Guilt

By Sophia Rini

I usually avoid travelling for the entire time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But occasionally it’s unavoidable. Despite taking public transportation to work every day, just one holiday season and it seems like I’ve undone all my good climate karma. The fact is that for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have family nearby, sometimes flying is the only option. To help my fellow airborne travelers with their jumbo-jet sized guilt, I did some research on how to minimize our environmental impacts, even while travelling in the most un-ecofriendly of ways.

Although some of the suggestions below might seem small, since almost one-quarter of all travel occurs during the holiday season, if everyone followed them, the impacts would certainly add up.

Tips for decreasing the environmental impact of flying:

  • Use electronic tickets whenever possible and save the unnecessary paper.
  • Bring your own water, snacks etc. and pack them in reusable containers. Now that airlines charge for everything, this is both economically and environmentally smart. The last time I was at LaGuardia Airport, I was impressed by a water bottle refill station in one of the terminals. I hope these become more common in public places around the country.
  • Travel light. Don’t bring disposable items or things that will become waste, ask your hosts where you’re going if you need to bring shampoo and other toiletries or if they will be able to share. Alternatively, divvy up the items with your travel companions – your partner can bring the toothpaste, no need for two tubes. Packing lighter means less fuel is used and less shoulder strain too. In addition, consider giving experiences or gift cards rather than lugging a pile of presents across the country.
  • Go before you fly. Use the airport bathroom instead of the one on the plane. I read this tip on the Go Green Blog and though it sounds funny, according to them, the fuel for every mile-high flush could run a car for six miles.
  • Decrease your emissions getting to and from the airport. Take public transportation or carpool.
  • If you can, opt for non-stop flights and avoid flying on older, fuel-guzzling jets like first-generation 737s and MD-80s.
  • Take direct flights. If you do have to stop over, try and have the layover be at an airport that supports recycling or other green initiatives. Chicago O’Hare recently installed an urban garden that is not only visually appealing, but also supplies vegetables to airport restaurants (just in case you didn’t follow tip #2 and forgot to bring your own snacks).
  • Review which airlines are the greenest before purchasing your tickets.
  • Consider participating in a carbon offsetting program. Find out your personal carbon footprint to determine how big an impact your regular lifestyle has on climate change. You can also calculate the extra amount your flight will add to your emissions and choose to offset the carbon dioxide. Carbon offsetting neutralizes the carbon emitted when you travel from point A to point B. Offsetting is performed by organizations that channel funds to carbon-reducing projects such as tree planting or solar panel installation. Remember to investigate the plan before you purchase: check how the donations are used, if the results are guaranteed, and if there is a seal of approval.
O'Hare Garden

The urban garden at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport provides vegetables to the airport restaurants.

Do you have any suggestions for decreasing the environmental impact of airline travel? Add your tips to the comments section.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

“Don’t Bring Unwanted Guests Home From Vacation”

By John Butler

Summer is here, and that means vacation. Warm sunny days, relaxation, and maybe that family vacation to a seaside hotel or mountain resort. In hotels large and small, a problem is lurking: bed bugs. The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites, and generally irritating its human hosts.

Experts believe the increase in bed bugs in the U.S. may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about prevention, and ineffective pest control practices by hotels.

So, I want to share some easy ways to avoid bringing bed bugs home from vacation.

  1. When you travel, take a flashlight along to inspect your hotel room. The most common place for bed bugs to hide is on the mattress and box spring. When not feeding, bed bugs can be found around the bed; near piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring; and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard. Check furniture, the floor around the bed, behind the headboard, and even the closet and drawers.
  2. Look for warning signs. Other than seeing actual bugs, warning signs to look for include dark spots about the size of a pencil point on bedding, which could be from their fecal matter. Also, look for small white specks, which may be eggs. Being aware helps avoid spreading these excellent hitch hikers.
  3. Keep your luggage off the bed and floor.
  4. Inspect, inspect, inspect! If you find signs of bed bugs, notify the hotel immediately. If they aren’t giving you any satisfaction, you can call the local or county health department. Last October, a couple of co-workers and I stayed at a hotel that at first glance was not top-of-the-line. I thought for sure I’d find bed bugs. We looked high and low and when we were finished it looked like a wild boar had run through the rooms. But, we didn’t find any signs of bed bugs and my colleagues and I felt much better during our stay.
  5. When you return home from a trip, it is a smart idea to wash your traveling clothes as soon as you can to kill any stray hitch hikers. You might want to also dry them on high heat. Also, do a final inspection of your luggage before storing it away.

For more information on protecting yourself and your family from bed bugs.

About the author: John Butler is the Pesticides Expert for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

To Drive Or Not To Drive. How Will I Get To My Family?

By Amy Miller

During the holidays we drive. I personally drive to see my mother at Thanksgiving and my in-laws at Christmas. I drive to find presents for my loved ones and I tend to be on the road for movies, sibling visits and snow fun during school breaks.

Most of the time I don’t even consider the options. Like staying home, for instance. Or taking a bus or a train as a family. My loved ones await. And the convenience of door to door service is too much to give up.

But what if I were to add up the cost. In dollars, yes, but not JUST in dollars. As the new lingo goes, it would be interesting to know the embedded costs as well.

To visit my mother is 270 miles, times two. That’s 44 gallons of gas and one quart of oil. That’s $5 in tolls and, in my case, $100 in parking fees (yup, those old NYC roots popping up again.) So, let’s call it $260.

And then the environmental costs. Taking my car just that once will create the amount of carbon that 10 tree seedlings can sequester in ten years. Or a tenth of an acre of pine forest in a year.

And besides the air pollution, there is the traffic congestion to which I contribute and the use of a car that will need to be repaired and replaced a little bit sooner with each journey it makes.

The bus might have cost $250 round trip; the train $400. The environmental costs? I’d like to say nothing, since these vehicles were going anyway, but of course the more of us who travel by public transportation, the more trains and buses will be on the road. Still, with the costs divided, we will call it negligible.

So what is the numerical value of protecting the environment? What is the worth of relaxing instead of fighting traffic? How many angels fit on a pin? These numbers are elusive, but real. We are already paying to fix pollution problems we created. And we are already suffering health costs born of our ailing environment. Someday, we will be able to see those numbers in black and white, and perhaps then we can make driving decisions more responsive to reality. In the meantime, I realize I am running up the bill.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Celebrate the environment: Your holiday shopping list can be eco-friendly

About the author: Andrea Drinkard is Web Content Coordinator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

If you’re like me, when you go shopping the environment isn’t always the first thing on your mind. I’m always worried whether they’ll have my size or if it’s going to be on sale, but not necessarily what the environmental impact of my purchases will be.

On my last shopping trip, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye-a sticker that asked me to shop smart. Smart shopping doesn’t just mean finding the best deals, taking the most efficient route, or finding what you’re looking for as soon as you walk in the store. But it also means keeping the environment in mind while you shop.

With the holidays coming up and lots of shopping in my near future, I started to think how easy it would be to put Mother Earth on my gift list. I mean, a lot of the things I’m already doing to be eco-friendly at home, at the office or on the road could be done while shopping for holiday gifts. I take public transit to work; why not take it to the mall? I use the energy-save mode on my computer; why not buy one that has earned the new ENERGY STAR? I reuse and recycle at home; why not make a gift out of reused or recycled materials instead of buying a new one?

These small, but important, choices also have a positive impact on your wallet. Planning ahead to reduce the number of trips you take saves gas and saves you money. Buying ENERGY STAR products reduces your energy bill year-round. And that all adds up to a gift that keeps on giving.

So, this holiday season, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the environment by traveling, shopping, decorating and cleaning up in an environmentally friendly way. Check back with us at www.epa.gov this week and throughout the season to find out how you can turn your holiday green.

To see how others are being green this holiday season and to let us know what you’re doing, check out EPA’s question of the week about greening your holiday.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.