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Eco Etiquette: Can I Email My Holiday Cards?

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Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

I usually send out all my holiday cards right after Thanksgiving, but I can't seem to get it together this year. All that work! Is e-mailing them now an acceptable alternative? And is it really more eco-friendly?

-Lizbeth

I know this is going to put me on everyone's holiday hit list (or something that rhymes with that), but I can't help it: There's nothing that brings out my green grinch more than opening my mailbox to a stack of Season's Greetings.

To be sure, I'm enchanted at the sight of my far-flung friends and family and their collective broods dressed in matching reindeer suits, but all that paper! All those trees! And don't even get me started on the holiday cards from my bank/dentist's office/homeowners insurance agent. One glance and they go straight to the recycling bin.

But Miss Eco Etiquette!, you exclaim. I cherish those holiday cards for years/recycle them into ornaments/shred them up into bits and reuse them as gift packing material. Doesn't matter. Even if you strung up a greeting card garland from Bismarck to Bangor, it still wouldn't offset the eco impact of the more than 1.5 billion Christmas (and Chanukah; and Kwanzaa) cards that are sent in the US every year.

The paper products industry is the largest industrial consumer of water in the developed world; it's also the third-largest source of greenhouse gases. And most people aren't as crafty as my aforementioned devil's advocate: Forty percent of the trash clogging our landfills is paper waste.

Then you have to factor in the fossil fuels to ship all those holiday cards to the store, and to create the plastic most are packaged in. Tack on the gas to drive to the store and purchase them, as well as (though I shouldn't be saying this since it lost $8.5 billion last year) for the US Postal Service to deliver them.

Let's also not forget about the emissions from the sweat evaporating off your brow as you handwrite, address, stuff, and stamp 100 nativity-scene notes to your nearest and dearest.

Kidding aside, I've touched on the eco; now let's talk about etiquette. In a column last year about online wedding invitations, I argued against etiquette experts at The Emily Post Institute, who called them an "email no." But interestingly, the Post family is all for emailing holiday greetings, calling them a "greener and less expensive" alternative.

Not surprisingly, I agree. Keep in mind, though, that emailing cards rather than snail-mailing them isn't entirely green guilt–free. Creating, sending, and storing an e-card takes energy. The internet uses around 3 percent of our nation's total electricity consumption -- that's no small sugarplums.

Still, the average email has about 1/60th the carbon footprint of a letter; but because e-cards take less time to "mail" out, you may wind up sending more of them. Keep your carbon footprint in check by e-mailing cards only to whom you would have mailed out paper cards.

Can't stand the thought of your family mug shot not making it to someone's mantle this year? Consider mailing a recycled paper option. My five favorite finds for tree-free tidings:

Paperless Post. The elegant e-vite site has been written up everywhere from The New York Times to Vogue, and for good reason: It's difficult to find designs this posh, even on paper. Added bonus: You can customize your holiday card with a logo -- perfect for sustainability-savvy businesses.

Cocodot. You may be ready to take the e-card plunge but your Great-Aunt Elsa still doesn't own a computer; thankfully, Cocodot lets you create an online and paper version of the same season's greeting. (Downside: The paper stock is only 30 percent recycled.)

Botanical PaperWorks. Want to spread some green with that holiday cheer? Botanical PaperWorks plantable cards are made from 100 percent post-consumer waste and embedded with wildflower seeds.

Minted. Those looking for a creative paper card might want to check out Minted, which sources its original designs from indie, mostly female designers (who earn commission off every sale) and offers printing on an ultra-luxe recycled paper.

Nothing. Who says you have to send out cards at all? Even that e-card will probably head straight to the (e-mail) trash bin. Save your farthings and the planet by picking up the old-fashioned cell phone to connect with the faraway ones you love.

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