The holiday season is now in full swing – and along with good holiday cheer comes a lot of extra waste. Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s as compared to any other time of the year. The extra waste amounts to about 1.2 million extra tons per week (or an extra 6 million tons during the entire holiday season) and is being predicted to be roughly the same for this year even in light of the economic downturn.
“We can all save money and time and reduce our impact on the environment by looking for more creative, sustainable gift options,” said Rachel Amar, community relations manager for Waste Management of New York. “Whether it’s buying products made from organic or recycled content or giving the gift of time to a favorite charity, if each of us tried a few waste reduction efforts, we would see a significant positive impact during the holiday season. The packaging from gifts, food waste from the large meal preparations and decorations really starts to add up.”
Here are a number of ways to make this holiday season greener:
• Consider giving no-waste gifts, such as music or sports lessons, memberships to a gym, symphony or museum, favors like babysitting or tickets to a sporting event or concert. Find out the gift recipient’s favorite charity and make a donation in his or her honor, or commit to volunteering time with that organization.
• There are many products made from recycled or organic content that make great gifts – look for bags or fleece clothing made from recycled plastic bottles or organic cotton t-shirts or other apparel. Many online and catalog retailers sell these types of products. Whatever you give, be sure to buy durable, reusable products that will last a long time.
• For the trend-setter on your shopping list, purchase vintage clothing or accessories from consignment or second-hand stores. Help keep the re-use cycle going by donating clothes and accessories you no longer want to these establishments or charities in your community.
• Give potted plants, flowers or trees that the recipient can plant in the garden or yard – not only will it be a gift that continues to be a beautiful reminder of the holidays throughout the year, but it will also provide benefits to the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air.
• Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable cloth bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don’t need a bag for small or oversized purchases.
• When packaging gifts, consider reduced or no-waste wrapping options. Put a reusable bow on the gift; place the gift in a reusable bag such as a backpack or purse; or package small, themed gifts in a larger item – such as plates or tableware in placemats or a tablecloth or kitchen utensils in an apron or decorative dishtowel.
• Make your own wrapping paper by using old maps, posters or pages from the newspaper or magazines. Recycled-content wrapping paper is also available. Save bags and bows to use again and be sure to recycle the newspapers or brown paper shopping bags after the gift is opened, or use it for padding when shipping gifts.
• If you are attending a party or dinner and are bringing a dish for the meal or an edible gift for the host, be sure to package it in a reusable container. If the item is a gift, place it on a decorative holiday plate, in a washable kitchen container or wrap it with a holiday towel.
• Use e-mail for your holiday greetings – it’s a great way to share photos and keep in touch more frequently and saves paper and postage. If you send cards, make them with last year’s cards or wrapping paper.
• When entertaining, use washable utensils, plates, glasses, napkins and table coverings. Decorate with potted plants (that your guests may take home and plant) or candles. Be sure to have containers available where your guests can put recyclable cans and bottles.
If you have leftover food, send it home with your guests in reusable containers or donate it to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.