At this time of year a lot of attention is focused on picking out and giving the “perfect” gift to our loved ones. Since many of us have a special fondness for the natural world and time spent outside, I thought I would do a post about some small changes that each one of us can make this holiday season that can make a BIG difference to Mother Nature.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American’s generate 25% more trash each year between Thanksgiving holiday and New Year’s. That extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about a million extra tons each week. This is an amazing number and one we can all affect in a small way if we make some small changes. Here are some to consider:
1. That wrapping paper that covers every gift and makes everything look festive? Consider opening gifts carefully so you can fold it up and use it again next year. Same for the bows and ribbons. This is not hard to do and there is no good reason not to use this stuff more than once. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet! If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. (statistics from Use Less Stuff.com) And next year when you are buying the paper, consider choosing wrapping paper that’s made from recycled paper or wrapping gifts with newspapers, used paper bags or magazines. Each small change can make a big difference. Think how amazing it would be if everyone made just 3 or 4 changes. As a side note–I always thought the wrapping paper was recyclable and added it to my paper recycling. However, I learned that most of the shiny, laminated wrapping paper is unfortunately NOT recyclable! Which means if you add it to your bag of paper recycling, the entire bag of stuff might get thrown out! Thus, in this case, it is actually better to put it in the garbage… OR REUSE IT!
2. If you are hosting a holiday party, avoid disposable products that add to the landfill. Styrofoam takes the prize for the LEAST environmentally friendly item since it is not going to decompose. In 50 years from now that styrofoam plate will look very similar to the way it looked when you threw it out. Opting to use real dishes and washable silverware makes a BIG difference. If everyone in your neighborhood avoided disposable products, think of the amount of trash that would be saved from the landfill. Many cities, including Asheville, where I live, have days during the year when they collect hard to recycle items, including styrofoam. If you live in Asheville, here’s the link: Asheville Green Works.
3. Another idea if you are hosting a party: Send leftovers home with guests in zip lock bags and compost food waste. Putting a small container beside the garbage can with a label will save pounds of unnecessary waste added to the landfill. Food waste can be composted. If you don’t have a yard for compost or don’t want to have your own bin, check if your city has a municipal compost. Many do. Google yours and see if it does.
4. If Uncle John sent you three boxes filled with packing peanuts, bag them up and donate them to a local business. Many packing and mailing businesses use these peanuts and are thrilled when people give them. This saves space in the landfill, gets them out of your house, and saves these small businesses some money. It is a win-win all around. No matter where you live, you can call 1-800-828-2214 to learn which businesses in your area accept packing peanuts.
5. So perhaps you did a lot of your shopping on-line. Well guess what? Now you are on the mailing lists of dozens of companies which means you will start to get catalogs in the mail. Did you know…if each household canceled 10 mail-order catalogues it would reduce trash by 3.5 pounds per year? If everybody did this, the stack of canceled catalogues would be 2,000 miles high! (statistics from Use Less Stuff.com) To stop receiving these catalogs here are a few things you can do: 1. If you are ordering by phone tell the operator during your order that you DO NOT want to be added to the mailing list. 2. When you receive a new catalog, call the 800 number immediately and asked to be removed from the list. 3. Put your name on the Do Not Mail list. This is easy and requires only a few minutes on-line. Fill out the quick form HERE. 4. For those catalogs you DO get and do want, please recycle them! Many locations accept junk mail or mixed paper.
6. And speaking of mailing lists–you know when you are checking out and the salesperson at the register asks for your phone number? And you give it without thinking? Well many do this in order to add you to their mailing list! If you don’t want to be added to the list, simply say you’d rather not give it.
7. If you have a live tree for Christmas, be sure it gets disposed of properly. If your yard permits, stand it up outside so the birds can hide in it and use it or add it to a brush pile. If these aren’t options, recycle it through your city. Many cities have programs in place that provide collection of trees for making mulch. Check with your city for the details. And here’s something I learned from a CNN website:
“Many people think they are helping the environment by not buying a real Christmas tree. Not true, said Berry. “There are 500,000 acres of farmland in North America dedicated to Christmas trees,” she said. “When you buy a real tree, you are buying it from one of these farms and not from a national forest.” Also, for every tree that’s cut down, the farmer will plant three to four new trees. “So you are not contributing to deforestation,” she said.
There are many more things you can do, but this is a good start. Let’s not forget Mother Nature this holiday–and always for that matter! Each of us has the power to make a difference. Make some changes! Spread the word. Mother Nature has no voice–let’s make sure we speak for her!
Have a wonderful holiday…do have any other great ideas for helping the environment? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
A great resource is called Earth 911. You can learn about all things related to the environment.