I keep seeing the statistic that in December (that is, roughly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day), Americans produce 25% more trash than at any other time of the year. We buy and send Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa) presents and cards, along with the attendant wrapping paper, ribbons, and packaging material. In addition to the volume of trash, think of the energy it takes to transport all of that stuff: from materials to factory, from factory to warehouse, from warehouse to store, from store to home, and from home to friends and loved ones, and ultimately from everyone’s homes to the landfill.
There has to be a better way. Most of the following suggestions are given as imperatives, but most of them can include “as much as possible” somewhere. The idea is not to stifle anyone’s fun or deprive anyone of presents that they really want or need, just to maximally reduce the waste.
- Reuse the cards you receive instead of throwing them out. The fronts might make nice tags for next year’s gifts. Or, the more artistically minded can make collages that would make nice gifts, or even something to sell at craft fairs, later on.
- If you do not send a letter with cards, consider postal cards instead to avoid using envelopes.
- Make your own cards.
- I have seen advice to send email or electronic cards instead. Many people find that impersonal and tacky, so you should at least know what your friends think before doing so.
- Buy locally made gifts from local stores.
- Plan your shopping trips to travel the least distances and therefore use less gasoline.
- Have a supply of cloth bags and use those instead of bags from the store. Consolidate purchases from different stores into as few bags as possible in order to reuse bags on the same trip.
- If you can’t avoid plastic bags, save up a supply and recycle them at a grocery store; most chain stores have receptacles for that purpose.
- Avoid buying disposable gifts, gifts that come with excessive packaging, or gifts made of environmentally sensitive materials.
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- Use printed boxes, or even plain white ones, instead of using wrapping paper.
- Use appropriate sized gift bags instead of wrapping paper. After all the presents have been opened, collect and store the bags and reuse them until they fall apart.
- I have seen lots of suggestions for using ribbons from recycled materials, using twine instead of ribbons, or even making bows from old magazines or chips bags. Actually, since the bows don’t survive shipping or long trips in the car, I haven’t used ribbon for years.
- Likewise, I have seen suggestions for using colorful magazine pages, calendars, even the comic sections of the Sunday papers for wrapping paper. Perhaps some readers know how to do so without making it look as tacky as it sounds!
- Instead of buying tags, use scraps of whatever you use for wrapping paper. If you follow the unwrapped box or gift bag suggestions, tag them in a way that permits them to be reused later, perhaps with a safety pin, a string, or attached to ribbon or twine.
- Don’t buy packing peanuts, unless you can find biodegradable ones. If you must use packing peanuts, reuse whatever you receive from others. Wadded up newspapers work at least as well.
- Bubble wrap and other air-filled products work the best. When you receive it in various packages, keep it handy for reuse. Some people find it fun to pop bubble wrap, but that reduces it from a reusable product to more waste.
- Reuse boxes that are delivered to your house; recycle them only if they are somehow not fit for reuse.
- Don’t use paper plates, disposable flatware, etc. Washing dishes really does beat carrying plastic bags of used disposables to the trash!)
- Cook in washable, not disposable, pans.
- Plan meals and party food carefully to avoid excessive leftovers. Whatever leftovers you will not eat over the next week, freeze it, send it home with guests, or donate it to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
- Don’t use a disposable camera.
- Each municipality has its own rules for what plastics it will accept and what it will not, but you took that into account before you bought anything, didn’t you!
- Plastic bags (and popped bubble wrap?) can be recycled at the grocery.
- I have read that if there is tape on wrapping paper, it can’t be recycled; I have also read that it doesn’t matter. The truth might vary by municipality, so it’s good to ask. If tape is forbidden at your recycling center, it’s best to tear off a little tape and put it with the trash than not to recycle the rest of the paper at all.
- Keep in mind that recycled paper and other products become commodities that the municipalities must sell at market prices. Those prices fluctuate with supply and demand. If we produce so much more trash in December than other months, it stands to reason that paper will bring a much lower price as a result.
- If you have a garden, you can choose to compost waste paper instead of recycling it. But please don’t throw it out with the trash!
- If you have followed many of these suggestions, you have less waste than in previous years. Of course, no matter how careful you are about disposing of waste, it’s best not to generate it in the first place.