Recycling Christmas Trees. Image credit:Denver Post
The holiday season can be overwhelming, filled with family reunions, last-minute shopping and gift exchanges. With these activities comes an increase in the waste we generate. Being caught up in the seasonal bustle can cause even the most conscientious consumer to forget tasks like composting and recycling. But just as these environmentally friendly activities hold importance in our every day lives, they also follow in the holiday spirit of giving back to our friends, family, community and world. Each year between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, household waste increases by more than 25 percent. In other words, Americans generate around one million tons of waste in one month's time! Everything from shopping bags to gift wrap to Christmas trees turn up in the waste stream. And if you consider the thousands of lights strung on houses and trees and the gallons of gasoline filling vehicles as they drive to meet family across the country, consumers also use a substantial amount of energy this time of the year.
To alleviate some of the pressure this season puts on ourselves and the environment, we at Waste Management are here to share a few ideas for making the holidays greener.
- Composting can reduce the organic waste we generate, such as the vast amount of food prepared during holiday meals. Compost piles are easy to create, both indoors and outside. In addition, you can give the gift of composting to your loved ones by purchasing a composting bin.
- For the more ambitious recycler, you can give the gift of vermiculture: indoor recycling that uses worms to digest organic waste. This process creates rich compost that can be used in the garden or other plants in your home.
- Recycling is available in some areas for fresh trees, garland or wreaths. Check with your municipal office about tree collection schedules. If you live in a more rural or secluded area, trees can be placed in an out-of-the-way spot and can provide a new habitat for surrounding wildlife.
- Consider giving no-waste gifts, such as music or sports lessons, memberships to a gym or museum, or donate time or money to your loved one's favorite charity in their honor. Click here for a short list of additional no-waste gift and gift wrapping ideas.
- Purchase items made from recycled or organic content, such as bags or fleece clothing made from recycled plastic bottles or other organic apparel. Several online and catalog retailers offer these types of products.
- For the trendsetter on your list, purchase vintage clothing or accessories from consignment or second-hand stores. And to keep the reuse cycle going, you can donate clothes and other items you no longer need to these establishments or other charities like Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
- Give potted plants, flowers or trees that your loved one can plant in the garden or yard. Not only will this gift keep on giving throughout the year, but it will also benefit 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. You can help reduce this number by instead bringing reusable shopping bags when making the holiday shopping rounds. For small or oversized purchases, tell store clerks you don't need a bag at all.
- 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, package small, themed gifts in a larger item, or even use last year's wrapping as packaging material.
- Make your own wrapping paper by using old maps, posters or pages from newspapers or magazines. This paper can be used later as shipping material, or recycled. Be sure to also save bags and bows to use for future gifts.
- Use reusable containers when bringing food to a party or dinner. If the food item is a gift, it can be placed on a decorative holiday plate, in a washable kitchen container or wrapped in a holiday towel.
- Send holiday greetings via e-mail rather than paper cards to save both paper and postage.
- When entertaining, use washable utensils, plates, glasses, napkins and table coverings. Be sure to have containers available where your guests can put recyclable cans and bottles. If you have leftovers, send it home with guests in reusable containers or donate it to a local homeless shelter.
By taking a few simple steps throughout the holidays to manage and reduce this waste, we can all make a positive impact on the environment and share in the spirit of giving this season.