Tuesday, November 30, 2010

From Waste Generation to Waste Reduction This Holiday Season

As promised, here are some tips for greening the holidays just a day shy of December - hope I'm not already too late to curb some bad habits! In the spirit of the 4Rs (that's the standard 3Rs, with Refuse added to the front as the best waste reduction / energy conservation method), I've provided four options for each topic.

  1. Create your own decorations - refuse to buy more each year. These days you can easily find DIY instructions with a quick internet search.
  2. As I mentioned in my post about the light exchange, be selective about how many seasonal lights you use - reduce. Cheerful holiday design doesn't have to involve large amounts of decorations.
  3. Focus on decorations that can be easily stored for many years to come - reuse.
  4. Popcorn and cranberry garlands belong in your green bin/compost, not the trash - recycle food waste back into the soil it came from.

  1. Buy local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients - refuse to contribute to our unjust food system.
  2. Turn down the thermostat just before guests arrive - reduce. It's amazing how warm a room gets when people get together in good spirits.
  3. Invest in cloth napkins - reuse. If you must use disposable ones, compost them.
  4. Feed those wine bottles to your blue bin - recycle.

Greeting Cards
  1. Send electronic greetings - refuse to waste paper. In this digital age, it is completely acceptable to choose e-cards over their paper counterparts.
  2. Send cards only to your closest family and friends - reduce. One year I received a card addressed to the previous tenants who moved out almost one and a half years earlier! If you never talk to 'em, don't send 'em a card.
  3. Cut off the image side of cards to make your own for next year, and use any blank sides as note paper - reuse.
  4. Don't trash cards and envelopes, they go in the blue bin - recycle.

(Not) Buying Gifts
  1. Make something - refuse to buy more stuff. A selection of holiday cookies (provided you're a half-decent baker) would be appreciated by pretty much anyone on your list.
  2. Pick gifts with less or no packaging - reduce. If you know someone is really passionate about a certain cause, make a charitable donation towards that cause in their name. Or why not give "two tickets to that thing you love", like the Old Spice man on a horse says?**
  3. One person's trash is another's treasure - reuse. Let's face the ugly truth: our planet is drowning in garbage, so there is no shame in regifting items you just don't want.
  4. Got a fancy tech gadget a few years ago that is now broken/obsolete? Dispose of it properly - recycle electronic waste according to your municipality's guidelines.

Wrapping Gifts
  1. Not all gifts need to be wrapped - refuse to waste gift wrap. Place small items inside of larger ones, or if you're gifting fabrics (tea towels, clothing), use those as wrapping for other gifts.
  2. Find creative alternatives to use less gift wrap - reduce. For example, large items or those too cumbersome to wrap look just fine with a bow on top instead of a mess of wrapping.
  3. Choose sturdier wrapping options - reuse. Years ago my mom invested in cloth gift wrap that she has been using within the family ever since. Gift bags are useful, too, but make sure to reuse the tissue paper as well!
  4. Your blue bin is happy to accept paper-based gift wrap and cardboard packaging - recycle.

At this time of year I urge you to remember what's important about the holidays: the people. No unnecessary packaging there. Unless you indulge in too many sweets...

**NB: While I love that commercial, I do not endorse Old Spice products because they are full of toxins and other harmful chemicals!

Photo credits: string of popcorn and cranberries - Gare and Kitty; greeting card - hartboy; gift bags - jmackinnell (all via flickr)

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