The holiday season is now in full swing and along with good holiday cheer comes a lot of extra waste. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 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 million extra tons per week.
“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 director of 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 all throughout the year, but it will also provide benefits to the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air.
- When packaging gifts, consider reduced or no-waste wrapping options. Put a large, 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 table service inside placemats or a tablecloth or kitchen utensils in an apron or decorative dishtowel.
- Make your own wrapping paper by using pages from the newspaper or magazines, decorating paper shopping bags or cutting pieces from maps or posters. Recycled-content wrapping paper is also available. Save bags and bows to use on future gifts. Be sure to recycle the newspapers or paper shopping bags after the gift is opened, or use it for padding when shipping gifts instead of the packing peanuts that can become litter when discarded.
- 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.
- Send holiday greetings via e-mail – it’s a great way to share photos and keep in touch more frequently. If you send cards in the mail, make them with last year’s cards or wrapping paper.
- When entertaining, use washable utensils, plates, glasses, napkins and table coverings. If you don’t already have these items, rent them rather than purchasing them. Decorate with potted plants (that your guests may take home and plant in their yards as a commemoration of the holiday celebration) 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.
- If you have a Christmas tree, garland or wreaths, be sure to recycle them when the holidays are over.
With a little imagination and commitment, we can use this holiday season to create new traditions that help preserve the environment, not only for our families, but also for future generations.