The most wonderful time of the year just so happens to be the most wasteful time of the year as well.
From overeating to overwrapping, Americans produce 1 million extra tons of garbage each week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Below are tips for ways to stay merry and green throughout the holiday season.
A bad rap on wrapping paper
For most of us, Christmas Day ends with a giant garbage bag filled with the remains of ripped off ribbons and wrapping paper. According to Earth911.com, almost half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods.
This year consider wrapping gifts with recycled or reusable items. For those that want to recycle, the Sierra Club suggests using the newspaper’s comic section, old maps or a child’s artwork.
Or regift those stack of gift bags in your closet. If you don’t write the name on the tag, the bags can be used from year to year.
Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for the city of Lawrence and Douglas County, thinks wrapping presents with recycled brown paper sacks and tying them with string or ribbon offers a simple and elegant alternative.
An even better way to decorate a gift is by giving a present within a present. Put gifts in a basket, pillowcase, scarf, dish towel, bandana or fabric bag.
If you can’t resist the shimmer of store-bought wrapping paper, at the very least look for products with recycled content. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to recycle the paper, boxes and plastic packaging engulfing gifts.
‘Oh (fresh-cut) Christmas tree’
Chopping down a tree might seem like a strange piece of advice for creating a more sustainable holiday, but Rodney Ferguson with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said it is the option that makes the most environmental sense.
Even if they can be used year after year, the majority of artificial trees are made of materials that can’t be recycled. On the other hand, most of the fresh-cut Christmas trees come from farms, where a new tree will be planted to replace the one in your living room. And, when that live tree was in the ground, it was turning carbon dioxide into oxygen and providing habitat for animals.
The key to having a green-friendly tree is disposing of it correctly at the end of the season.
For Lawrence residents, the city will collect fresh-cut trees on the mornings of Jan. 3 and Jan. 10. Those trees will be used to enhance wildlife habitat, said Kathy Richardson, the city’s waste reduction and recycling operations supervisor. Last year, the city of Lawrence collected more than 2,300 trees.
Richardson also encourages residents to use holly, cedar, berries and nuts to decorate the home and to use popcorn and cranberries to festoon the tree. All of these can be composted at home.
Along with more sustainable gift wrappings and a recycled tree, there are other ways to cut down on waste during the holidays. For holiday dinners, the KDHE recommends not using disposable paper goods. Instead use dishes. If you don’t have enough for everyone, ask friends to bring their favorite table setting.
As for after the meal, Richardson encourages people to turn unwanted leftovers into nutrient-rich compost. For those who aren’t adventurous enough to make their own compost pile, the city of Lawrence sells backyard composting bins ($40) and a kitchen scrap pail ($10). To purchase one, call the Waste Reduction and Recycling Division at 832-3030.
Let there be (LED) light
A shiny star in holiday sustainability, LED holiday lights can save 90 percent more energy than traditional incandescent lights, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Along with saving energy, LED lights lower the risk of fire and injury and can last up to 40 holiday seasons. LED lights, which come in all colors and sizes, can be purchased at most major retailers.
If you don’t have the funds to invest in LED lights this year, wait until after Christmas for holiday sales, Horn said.
Or hold off on the purchase until next season. For the past few years, Sears, 2727 Iowa, and Home Depot, 1910 W. 31st St., offered deals where customers can bring in old strands of incandescent holiday lights. For every strand recycled, the store gives a coupon for $3 to $4 off a new set of LED lights. For both stores, the deal ended before December.
If you’re not sure if LED lights are for you, Horn encourages people to check out the light display in downtown Lawrence, which uses only LED lights.
Purchasing goods from local vendors means generating fewer carbon emissions to transport products and keeping more money within the local economy. Both of those translate to a more sustainable community.
Almost every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Lawrence shoppers will be able to find some kind of fair that promotes local goods.
Here’s some of our favorites:
• Each year, farmers gather one last time at the always festive Lawrence Farmers’ Holiday Market. Along with offering a small selection of fresh vegetables, the market will have local meats, eggs, baked goods, nuts, jams and woolen wares.
The market this year is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.
• For those who lean more toward boutique shopping, check out the Ladies of Lawrence Artwork (LOLA) Giant holiday sale Saturday and Sunday. More than 25 local female artists will be selling stationary, jewelry, baby clothes and sock monkeys. The holiday sale will be from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at Van Go Arts, 715 N.J.
• If you can’t make it to a holiday fair, swing by The Community Mercantile, 901 Iowa. Through December, the food co-op still sells fresh greens, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and radishes from nearby farms. And the store always has a steady supply of local eggs, tofu, milk, salsa, jams, chocolates and flowers.
When it comes to gift-giving, think outside the box. Literally.
Instead of gifts that are manufactured in China and come with lots of plastic packaging, Ferguson suggests giving gifts of service — tickets to a show, a night at a hotel, or a class, for example.
Or it could be a lot more personal, Ferguson said, like an offer of a home-cooked meal or a clean house.
“Gifts of time are a lot more meaningful,” he said.
Buying presents from antique stores and vintage clothing shops provides unique gifts and less manufacturing, Richardson said.
Horn has a list of gift ideas that could nudge someone toward a greener lifestyle. They include the city’s backyard compost bin ($40), paying for a year’s worth of curbside recycling ($59.40 through Deffenbaugh Industries) or buying a monthly bus pass on the T ($34).
Horn said going green for the holidays shouldn’t mean depraving yourself of long-standing holiday traditions.
“More sustainable doesn’t mean not giving gifts; it just means giving lower-impact, more thoughtful gifts,” she said.