The following is an op-ed piece by Wes Muir, director of communications for Waste Management. It does not describe the views or opinions of Earth911.
Now that Hanukkah is underway and Christmas is around the corner, people of all ages are giving and receiving holiday gifts. With all the new clothes, toys and electronics come an onslaught of boxes, bags and wrapping paper. In fact, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than they do during the rest of the year. That’s 1.2 million extra tons of trash a week. The still slow-moving economy isn’t expected to make an impact on this year’s waste either: 226 million shoppers visited stores and retail websites on Black Friday this year, an increase over 2010. Online sales were up 26 percent from last year, which translates to a commensurate increase in packaging.
As we move toward the New Year, we can look for ways to reduce our impact on the environment – while saving time and money – by looking for more sustainable gift options. The packaging from traditional gifts really adds up at this time of year, but there are creative, thoughtful and stylish alternatives that are more environmentally conscious. Lots of gifts don’t require any waste at all. Here are a few ideas:
- Give “experience” gifts. Consider giving music or sports lessons; gym, symphony or museum memberships; sports or concert tickets or personal “coupons” for favors like babysitting. You could also donate to your friend or family member’s favorite charity in his or her name.
- Take your giving global. Instead of a new DVD set for your friend or relative, at Alternative Gift International, you can buy a month’s supply of grain for a family of six in Cameroon, or buy livestock for a family in need at Heifer International in his or her name.
- Seek green materials. Look for bags and apparel made of recycled or organic materials. Lots of online retailers offer this eco-friendly option. Many bags and fleece clothing are made from recycled plastic bottles.
- Think vintage. Keep the clothing reuse cycle going! Vintage clothing and accessories make great gifts. Check out your local consignment and vintage stores for the fashionista on your list.
- Go back to your green roots. Give potted plants, flowers and trees that the recipient can plant in the garden or yard. They’ll be reminded of the holiday all year.
- Try reusable bags. When you’re shopping for gifts, bring your own, re-usable bag.
- Get creative! Go for recycled-content wrapping paper, or get creative with old maps, posters, newspapers or magazines when wrapping gifts. Save bags and bows for next year.
- Dine eco-friendly. If you’re attending a party or dinner and bringing food, bring it in a reusable dish.
- Go paperless. Try emails for holiday greetings instead of paper mail. It’s a great way to share photos, keep in touch and save on postage.
- Avoid dinner party waste. When entertaining, be sure to use reusable utensils, plates, glasses and napkins.
Don’t forget that another holiday mainstay, your Christmas tree, can be recycled, too. Communities all over the country have programs to turn trees into garden mulch, which can be used as a soil erosion barrier on beaches or to create feeding grounds for lake fish.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, pine needle mulch is great for plant growth. In the winter, it helps soil retain heat, and when spring arrives, warm soil encourages early seeding and fast growth. As the season progresses, the mulch stabilizes temperature and moisture, and prevents sunlight from germinating weed seeds. Just make sure that before you recycle your tree, all the tinsel and ornaments have been removed. Use Earth911 to find a tree recycling program near you.
With these tips, a little creativity and a few small tweaks to the traditional gift-giving routine, you can create an eco-friendly, sustainable holiday season. Happy Holidays!