Season's trappings, wrappings bring environmentalists' lament


'Tis the season for colorfully wrapped presents and freshly cut Christmas trees. But much of the packaging amounts to decking the halls with boughs of garbage, environmentalists say.

Yesterday, environmental groups, including Clean Water Action of Baltimore, presented some of the worst offenders in the stores this year with their annual "Wastemaker Awards" at news conferences across the country.

The products -- mostly toys -- ranged from Matchbox cars packaged in cigar-box sized containers to an "Obsession" perfume set obsessively packed in a heavy cardboard designer box and held in place with a plastic insert.

At the offices of Clean Water Action, director Dru Schmidt-Perkins said, "We could have taken virtually anything in the toy store. I hope we've seen the peak of all this excessive packaging."

The environmentalists also singled out Fisher-Price "Smooshees Smugglers" -- a small girl's comb encased in a plastic tray and hung on a plastic and paper insert, and a Hasbro toy featuring one of Nintendo's Super Mario brothers atop a plastic pedestal and surrounded by a cardboard box with a plastic window.

"We believe that the volume of packaging used for the product is clearly excessive and that it adds unnecessarily to the terribly urgent garbage crisis," Ms. Schmidt-Perkins said in a statement.

All that packaging and plastic eventually ends up in ever-fuller landfills or in an inciner

ator that can pollute the air, noted John Kabler, the regional director of the group.

Manufacturers contacted said they had discontinued most of the toy lines singled out for criticism.

"We're a little surprised they selected a product we haven't sold since 1988," said Hasbro Vice President Wayne Charness from corporate headquarters in Pawtucket, R.I. Besides, he said, 90 percent of the company's packaging is made from "recycled fibers."

The waste goes beyond toys and gifts, though. Environmentalists say that wrapping paper -- usually destroyed in the frenzy of Christmas morning -- fuels the garbage crisis, too.

Environmentalists recommend that gift-givers put their presents in those colorfully decorated gift bags that can be used over and over again. Or, look for the recycled wrapping paper many stores are carrying this year -- it's usually tough enough to be reused, too.

Last, the debate over the merits of live Christmas trees vs. fake trees rages unabated. While live trees represent a renewable resource, of which environmentalists approve, artificial trees can be recycled for dozens of Christmases.

If the environmentally conscious family does get a real live Christmas tree, it should try to get one that can be replanted, Ms. Schmidt-Perkins said. Unfortunately, trees with the roots attached are much more expensive than regular trees. Barring that, don't just throw the tree away after Christmas -- take it to a wood chip operation that will turn it into mulch. Better yet, she said, "Hang some decorations on the old ficus plant."

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