As the holiday season approached, Kristy Myers sent a message on Twitter to see if anyone minded that she wasn't planning on mailing cards.
When no one responded, Myers joined other environmentally conscious people and skipped the paper. It's one of many steps her family took to make this Christmas especially green - a trend that seems to be catching on locally and nationally as people begin applying their year-round ethos to the holidays.
The economy surely is contributing to the cause, and may even be driving it, as many Earth-saving measures are also less costly. But Myers says it's all helping reduce waste.
"This truly can be about cutting down on spending, simplifying things," she said. "I know other people are cutting back, too, and I'm not sure if they're doing it for environmental or economic reasons, but either way it's a good thing."
The Myers family, from Leonardtown, decided to donate the money they would have spent on buying and mailing holiday cards to Heifer International, a nonprofit that works to end hunger and poverty with gifts of livestock and training. The Christmas tree, which they debated even getting, will go in the backyard as a snag tree, which provides habitat for wildlife as it degrades.
Other people appear to be changing their spending and sending habits this season. Michael P. Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, says first-class mail was down 11 percent in the first two weeks of December, when most cards are mailed. The Postal Service estimates 16.6 billion cards, letters and packages will be mailed over the holidays, down from 19 billion last year.
Woods believes that's mainly because of the economy, and the numbers might have been even lower, but, "When it matters, it's mailed, and you can't put an e-card on the refrigerator [or] on top of the mantel."
Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association, says e-cards, many of which are free on the Internet, are way up, with about 500 million now sent annually, according to the group's research. However, she said paper cards still are faring well.
As for wrapping, gift bags are now the No. 1 way to present gifts, no doubt because they are reusable, says Deidre Mize of Hallmark Cards Inc., one of the largest suppliers of cards and wrapping.
Myers and husband Jon decided not to wrap gifts this year, or to wrap them in packing paper they had on hand. Their kids, 6-year-old Aidan and 3-year-old Caitlin, had fun decorating them.
But for those who still like paper, most of Hallmark's roll wrap and tissue paper comes from sustainably managed forests and the roll cores are 100 percent recycled fiber, Mize said.
Many postal boxes and envelopes are also recyclable, according to the Postal Service. And postal officials note other green stats: About a fifth of their 195,000 vehicles use alternative fuel; 10,000 workers deliver mail on foot; and there are recycling bins in thousands of locations.
Baltimore's Department of Public Works says recycling in general is up more than 50 percent since the city started once-a-week pickup this year, and paper is just over three-quarters of the haul. Christmas trees will be collected for mulching and recycling next month.
Still, all that holiday waste has many people, businesses and organizations rethinking their roles.
Nevins & Associates, a Baltimore communications and marketing company, sent e-cards for the second year to be more environmentally friendly. Of course, several environmental groups did the same, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Nature Conservancy offers picturesque e-cards on its site.
Profiles Inc., another area communications company, discussed the issue and decided to continue sending paper cards because officials wanted to personalize them with notes and a signature. They also wanted recipients to enjoy the cards longer than it takes to delete an e-mail.
They might be onto something, says Tamlyn L. Franklin, president of the Etiquette Consulting Group LLC. She says times are changing, but paper cards still "show caring" and shouldn't be replaced entirely by e-cards. Cards should be handwritten and signed, and sent early with a return address and proper postage. Photo cards of the kids and pets are nice to send to friends and family but not to business associates.
"It is true that many people are trying to go green and save paper, and others like saving money and hassle," she said. "But when it comes to holiday cards, don't save time, paper and money and risk offending someone or lose a friend or business associate in the process by neglecting small details and taking extra effort. Remember, a little goes a long way."
For many people, gift giving is a necessity. But some make their own gifts or buy something from a local crafter, vendor or farmer.
The Myers family bought some gifts off Craigslist, an online classifieds site, to give them a second life. They've bought locally made scarves for winter and locally produced oysters and cabbage for holiday meals.
Others go to eco-conscious stores, such as bluehouse in Towson.
Owner David Buscher says he thinks that cost now is trumping everything, but after a slow year, holiday sales have been good. Everything in the store has an eco-feature. For example, the LED Christmas lights use less energy. The bamboo flooring comes from sustainable crops, the bottle openers use recycled bicycle parts. One of the most popular holiday gifts is a $15 ornament made from reclaimed oxygen tanks left on Mount Everest; sales help support cleanup on the mountain.
Through the downturn, Buscher said, "The really hard-core people try to be economical and environmental."
Dave Eske of Owings Mills agreed that being green wasn't the only concern people have when they shop, during the holidays or year-round. He does buy food at the local farmers' market, plans to redo his floor with eco-friendly cork and has sent some e-cards.
But shopping at bluehouse Tuesday, he simply wanted a big plate for a party. It happened to be made of recycled glass.
"It's not my No. 1 concern, but it's important," he said. "If there is an environmental alternative, I'll use it."
Leslie Mooney said the environment has been on her mind a little more lately because her son Patrick, a sixth-grader, has been learning about it in class. The family recently bought new recycling bins for their Towson home, and Patrick is working on a rain garden at school.
And the Christmas tree? Mooney said, "We'll recycle it through the Boy Scouts."