Sorry to Burst Your Bubble, But We Are Going to Talk About Waste and Holidays in the Same Sentence
It’s official! The holiday season is in full swing. Maybe you’re frantically running around town picking up those last minute gifts, or perhaps you’re baking and decorating away in anticipation of all those family and friendly gatherings. Whether you’re keeping it small this year or really amping up the festivities, here’s one thing you might not have considered: household waste.
I know, I know. It’s kind of a drag to think about things like conserving energy and reducing waste when there are holiday cookies to decorate and bubbly drinks to imbibe. But the fact of the matter is that household waste increases by over 25% during the holiday season. In one home that’s a major increase, but across the country, that adds up to a lot of trash. If you’re inspired to do something about it, check out these tips and tricks.
“Every year, Americans use at least 40 million tons of paper products for wrapping, packaging, and decorating gifts during Christmas, birthdays, and other holidays,” writes Hearts.com. That’s not even counting the shopping bags (another four million tons) and ribbon (38,000 miles worth).
We know what you’re thinking: Presents have to come wrapped! Agreed. That said, there are sustainable options when it comes to wrapping your gifts, and they don’t sacrifice holiday cheer, either. For example, you can use reusable items such as gift boxes, baskets and fabrics. You can also use paper products that would end up tossed anyway, such as newspapers, magazines and even maps.
Go with Real Over Faux
It may seem counterintuitive to get a real tree versus a synthetic one that can be used over and over again. However, according to EarthEasy.com, real trees are the more earth-friendly option. “Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping,” they explain. “While artificial trees theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them last forever.”
If you’re feeling particularly eco-conscious, buy a small, living tree that’s potted. You can keep it for two to three years without having to re-pot. Once it becomes too big, you can plant it outdoors. If it doesn’t live, have it chipped and mulched for free.
Switch to E-Cards
We’re sad to break this to you, but holiday cards usually end up in the trash at the end of the holiday season. Womp womp. That said, an e-card takes up no space in the landfill, can be sent and received instantly (hello, procrastinators!), and are low (or no) cost.
Fast fact: “The amount of cards sold in the US during the holiday season would fill a football field 10 stories high, and requires the harvesting of nearly 300,000 trees,” writes EarthEasy.com.
Buy Environmentally Friendly Gifts
Going green with your gift wrap and holiday cards is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. Take things one step further by actually gifting green presents.
For example, a thermos or water bottle or reusable coffee mug will conserve over a long period of time. Another idea is to purchase items that are solar powered versus battery or electricity powered. “Experience” gifts — such as tickets to an event, museum passes, and spa or health vouchers — won’t end up in the trash, either.
Other ways to buy with the environment in mind: buy local (cuts transport costs and energy), purchase gifts made from recycled materials, and re-gift items you don’t intend to use.
We know ol’ tannenbaum looks pretty all lit up, and the same’s true for your exterior decor, as well. However, if you’re not home — or if you’re sleeping — it’s best to turn lights and decor off.
Another way to conserve electricity is to utilize a fireplace over a heater, and to make sure that windows and doors are sealed tightly to keep heat inside. Finally, instead of holiday lights, opt for popcorn or cranberry garlands. If you don’t want to give up your lights, consider reducing the amount of lights you use. You can also try LED or solar powered lights, which use far less energy. In fact, according to ConsumerEnergyCenter.com, you can save up to 90 percent of your energy costs with LED holiday bulbs.
Another tip from ConsumerEnergyCenter.com: “To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill unnecessarily, use an automatic timer, both indoors and out. You’ll remove the burden of turning the lights on and off and avoid leaving them on all night or during the daylight hours. Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.”
Take it Easy on the Food Prep
“In the United States, we generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, including three times as much food waste as at other times of the year,” writes WorldWatch.org. “When our total food waste adds up to 34 million tons each year, that equals a lot of food.”
Food waste is a serious issue throughout the year, but as you can see from those stats, it’s exacerbated during the holidays. This is because many people prefer to make more food than necessary over not having enough. Really think about the amount of people you’re baking for, and don’t buy any more than you need. Trust that there will be plenty of cookies and plenty of ham.
If you do have leftovers, make a concerted effort to use them. If you don’t think you’ll have a chance to eat your leftovers, donate to a local shelter.
By Wendy Rose Gould
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