And may all your Christmases be green
Did you know that Americans generate a quarter of their annual trash in December (and the final week of November)? That's when we celebrate—and shop for—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.
We buy presents, cards, and of course, wrapping paper and ribbon. And of course, we buy packaging, too. Except for the presents, it's all trash by New Year's Day. Besides the sheer volume of trash, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture and ship it.
Shipping alone requires trips from raw materials to manufacturers, warehouses, stores, home, in some cases to friends and family, and ultimately the landfill. Or preferably, the recycling center.
How can we enjoy these holidays and waste less?
If you do not enclose letters in the cards you send, consider postcards instead of cards with envelopes.
When you receive cards, reuse them. Artistically minded people can make collages from them, either to give as gifts or sell at craft fairs. The rest of us can use the fronts for gift tags next year.
For that matter, artistically minded people can make their own cards and use up scrap paper in the process
Electronic cards may have their own environmental issues, but they never take up space in landfills. Not everyone will appreciate getting one, but it's worth finding out. That's a great way to start conversations on how to reduce waste in general.
Plan your shopping trips to avoid backtracking in order to travel the least possible distance.
Cloth bags aren't just for groceries. Acquire and use a supply of them to avoid plastic bags.
If you can't avoid plastic, recycle them at a grocery store or other store that accepts them. I have a large plastic bag from a bookstore that I put bread bags, produce bags, etc. in. When it's full, I empty it at the grocery.
Look for gifts made from recycled materials. The more we buy, the more stores will make available.
Prefer products that come with the least packaging. In other words, take home as little trash as possible.
Use (and reuse) printed boxes and gift bags instead of wrapping paper. Fasten tags to them in a way that they can be easily removed.
Therefore, don't buy sticky tags. Scraps of wrapping paper (last year's, of course) make great tags.
Dispense with ribbon. If you're shipping wrapped presents or loading them in a car or airplane, the bows won't survive the trip anyway.
With creativity and imagination, you can find all kinds of alternatives to wrapping paper and ribbon. Using newspaper to wrap packages doesn't have to be as tacky as it sounds! It's easy to find ideas in magazines and blogs.
Reuse the shipping boxes you receive throughout the year. Recycle them only if they're not in good condition.
Don't buy packing peanuts unless you can find some that are biodegradable. And if you do find compostable ones, notify the recipient.
If you receive shipments with packing peanuts, reuse them. They're practically indestructible and won't break down in the landfill.
Bubble wrap and other air-filled products make the best packing material. Keep and reuse whatever you get. Some people really love to pop bubble wrap. Okay if you must. Just don't pop enough bubbles that it won't work for packaging any more.
Wadded up newspapers likewise make environmentally friendly packing material.
Real tree or artificial? The most environmentally friendly choice is a live potted tree that stays in the house. You can decorate it over and over. If you have an artificial tree, keep using it.
Here's a question to consider before deciding which to buy: what does your municipality do with discarded cut trees? Some collect them and make mulch. That's good. Others simply dump them in the landfill. That's bad. In that case, either buy and artificial tree or a chipper to make your own mulch.
Now that even "dumb" cell phones have cameras, perhaps it is less necessary to warn against disposable cameras. But if you want to use film, use a real camera.
What's a celebration without food? But plan meals and parties carefully so that you don't have excessive leftovers.
If you do wind up with more leftovers than you can eat in a week, freeze what you can. Urge your guests to take some home with them.
On the other hand, if a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen accepts home leftovers, cook as much as you want!
Speaking of leftovers, a turkey carcass that has been completely picked clean is enough for excellent broth. You can season it the way you want instead of the way a factory does it, and then freeze it in one and two cup containers.
Cook in washable pots and pans. Eat from washable dishes. Avoid disposables. No one really likes washing up, but many hands make light work. Send the cooks out to relax, and others can wash up and bond at the same time.
For that matter, use cloth napkins and table cloths. And despite the clever commercials for paper towels, use dishcloths. What that mother should really tell her daughter is to get a clean one and put the used one in the laundry.
Christmas lights recycling
Every municipality has its own rules. You need to know what you can recycle or what you can't.
For example, online advice conflicts about whether wrapping paper with pieces of tape can be recycled. If your municipality can't handle paper with tape on it, it's much better to tear of the tape and put them in the trash than to send the whole piece of paper to the landfill.
If you compost, you can compost paper waste as well as food waste.
I have already mentioned that many grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling. Municipalities can't. It interferes with their sorting machinery.
You can recycle Christmas lights, too. It just takes more preparation. Occasionally stores will announce that they will collect Christmas lights for recycling. St Louis Walmarts collected 3 tons—more than the weight of a car—in 2009 alone.
On the other hand, some companies accept Christmas lights by mail for recycling year round. Use a search engine to identify them. The best one for you to use is the closest to home, which minimizes the fuel needed to transport them.
These suggestions come from various posts on my blog Sustainable Green Homes. Check out how it is a different kind of green blog.
What does a green Christmas mean to you?See results without voting
© 2013 David Guion
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