By Kathleen Miller
Gaia’s Farm and Gardens
Every holiday season a million extra tons of garbage are thrown away each week in the United States. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, household waste increases by more than 25%. Food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons all add up. The U.S. alone generates annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totaling four million tons. More electricity with holiday lights is used than some countries use in an entire year. All this waste is really unnecessary but a reality of our present world. I love the holidays and have wonderful memories of all the shining bows and packaging I ripped through on Christmas mornings growing up, and I still love to wrap presents today. So, without being like the Grinch, I wanted to come up with some realistic tips on reducing your environmental footprint this holiday season without compromising the spirit of the season. I am sure your family and friends would appreciate your eco-friendly contributions more if you are like the Grinch that recycled Christmas instead of the Grinch that stole Christmas and took all the fun out of it.
You can start by being more creative with gifts and wrapping. Wrap your gifts in style and save money and paper. Reuse fun paper such as maps, comics, posters or calendars. Go reusable with colorful fabric scraps or a gift bag. No need to throw the bows, ribbons and shining packaging out after unwrapping; with a little tape you can reuse them for next year. If you do use wrapping paper, make sure to recycle it in your curbside bin. Do not include foil or metallic wrapping paper, ribbons or bows because it is difficult to recycle and cannot be used for mulch or composted since there are heavy metals used in the foil paper. You can also recycle tissue paper and cardboard in your curbside bin. Bubble wrap can be stored for reuse, or recycled. Foam packing chips are not as easily recycled.
Another idea is to use environmentally friendly wrapping paper made using fibers such as hemp, or recycled paper. Consider giving gifts with a smaller eco-footprint. Look for gifts with minimal packaging, or made from recycled materials, and produced locally. Gifts from nature, such as a holiday flower arrangement, plant or seasonal wreath with minimal packaging, have an earthy feel. Gift baskets, edible gifts, or the gift of an experience such as tickets to a local concert, play or sporting event, and gift certificates from local shops, artists, crafters or restaurants are a well-received alternative to traditional presents. A spa treatment, yoga classes or makeovers are also good sustainable gift ideas. Giving gifts that can be experienced enables you to minimize wrapping and shopping. Anything that allows your loved one to spend quality time experiencing something fun, new or interesting will make a gift sure to be remembered for years to come. When you choose to purchase retail gifts, try to shop local and select products that come in minimal packaging, are made from sustainable materials, and can be easily recycled. There are so many ways to reduce your consumption when giving holiday gifts. Do-it-yourself gifts like homemade ornaments, crafty picture frames with photos of loved ones in them, or homemade baked goods can be as much fun to make and give as to receive. There are tons of ideas on the internet, and you are only limited by your imagination. Stocking stuffers tend to be small, plastic trinkets that end up broken, lost or in the garbage by the end of January. Instead, fill your stockings with yummy, healthy treats like dried fruit, nuts, oranges and even homemade holiday cookies.
Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees are the more sustainable choice. Plastic trees are made of petroleum products, and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees last forever, discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them truly last forever. Live trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource grown on tree farms that are replanted regularly. They contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent are recycled into mulch. Live trees are usually locally grown and sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution. Live trees also smell like Christmas! The best part is you can recycle your live tree after Christmas. Many waste management providers will collect trees during regular pickup schedules on the two weeks following Christmas, or you can take your tree to a drop-off location. Most counties have free drop-off locations. Usually, you may take up to two trees to a drop-off location at no charge. Tree recycling and mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. The best way to avoid a mess removing your tree is to place a plastic tree bag underneath the stand when you set the tree up. You can hide it with a tree skirt. When the holidays are done, pull the bag up around the tree, stand and all, and carry it outside. Various stores around town will also accept Christmas lights for recycling! Drop off your lights at boxes designated for recycling at Ace Hardware, both locations in Fort Collins, and Lowe’s Home Improvement, all locations in Fort Collins and Loveland. So this Christmas if you follow the basic principle that sustainability is achieved when the needs of the present are met without compromising the needs of future generations, you can find creative sustainable solutions to reduce your impact on Mother Earth during the holiday season. What a wonderful gift to give to the world. Who knows, your heart may even grow three sizes.
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!