Family gatherings, decorations, and presents are upon us as we enter the holiday season. These traditions bring hope and joy, but also bring an increased amount of trash and waste. It is estimated that about 1 million extra tons of garbage is generated every week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (https://go.rutgers.edu/HolidayRecycling). Last month’s email spoke about reducing food waste during the holidays (https://go.rutgers.edu/FoodWaste). This month we tackle some ways to reduce other forms of waste created during the holiday season.
Wrapping Presents – Many celebrations involve exchanging presents. Gift wrap is usually non-recyclable due to the dyes and shiny materials used in their production. Ribbons and bows are made from plastic and paper components that prevent them from being recycled, as well. There are many possibilities when it comes to finding reusable or recyclable wraps.
Simple brown paper wrap and natural ties (raffia, twine, or paper bands) can be used instead. Kids can even help decorate the paper with drawings or using craft stamps and washable, non-toxic paints (https://go.rutgers.edu/StampMaking). Newspaper is another good option, especially the comics section for their colors and graphic quality. Gift bags can be used, saved, and reused, but make sure to get a good quality bag to last for several years.
Many different types of containers such as tins, jars, boxes, and tote bags can be used to hold a present and be part of the gift itself. The same is true for fabric presents, such as towels, scarves, and bandanas, which can replace gift wrap altogether.
Bonus Tip: When mailing gifts, make sure that they stay safe by stuffing recyclable materials like shredded paper or wadded up newspaper in the mailing container instead of Styrofoam packing peanuts.
Decorations – Decorating the house and yard is a great way to get into the holiday spirit! Whatever holiday you celebrate this winter, decorations can be both beautiful and eco-friendly.
Avoid single use decorations like tinsel or garlands which don’t break down in landfills. Go into the wild for natural materials such as pinecones, pine boughs, holly berries and leaves, and seedpods that can be used as decoration and can also be composted. Stringing foods like popcorn, dried fruits, nuts, or cranberries together to use as garlands is a great way to decorate and can be strung outside to feed wildlife during the winter.
If buying decorations to be used for many years, make sure to buy long-lasting ones of high quality. They can be used for many years and decrease the number of replacement decorations needed over a lifetime of use. For example, energy-saving LED holiday lights use up to 75% less energy, and last 25 times as long as regular lights.
Old bottles and jars can be recycled as candle holders/displays after being decorated or painted in appropriate holiday colors.
Bonus Tip: Buy recycled paper greeting cards, or even send electronic cards to reduce paper waste and save money on postage.
Rutgers Cooperative Extension ‘Basics of Recycling’ webinar video
While recycling specifics vary depending on where you live, learn about the universal recycling truths, dispel myths, and shine a light on what happens when your recyclables leave the curb with Amy Cook-Menzel, the Communications Manager with the Atlantic County Utility Authority. Presented in November 2020 for Rutgers Cooperative Extension Earth Day at Home webinar series.
Recording link: https://rutgers.webex.com/rutgers/lsr.php?RCID=bed941d413f242bf9854e259eb1610f2
Stanford University’s Frequently Asked Questions: Holiday Waste Prevention
Looking for more ideas to reduce waste this holiday season? Check out this site from Stanford University to spark your creativity. https://go.rutgers.edu/HolidayRecycling
Happy Holidays from the Earth Day Every Day Team
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