The holidays are the most giving and generous time of the year. They are also the most wasteful. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans throw out about 25 million tons more trash than normal — a 25 percent increase over the rest of the year. We can change that!
Here’s a list of suggestions to help you celebrate the holidays, or any special occasion, while making the planet happy:
Make a gift using upcycled material.
This one is near and dear to our hearts. You knew that, right? Not as crafty as you’d like to be? Bake a treat or invite your friends over for a lovely home-cooked meal. They can return the favor by making it a potluck party.
Donate in someone’s honor.
Your loved ones are as concerned about conserving resources as you are, right? You can honor them and give back to the planet by donating to a nonprofit that reduces waste, protects the environment, or prevents pollution. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Choose zero waste products.
Every trashcan you fill during the holidays (or any time, really) represents 70 cans of waste created just when your stuff is manufactured. The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council offers comprehensive third-party certification to producers that reduce, reuse, recycle, compost or recover at least 90 percent of the material in their waste stream. Buying from zero waste certified companies like Mountain Rose Herbs takes your waste reduction to the next level.
If you can buy something from a local producer, do. Trains and semi-trucks account for 25 percent of the pollution that causes smog. Buying close to home clears the air, saves fossil fuel, and supports the local economy.
Go electronic with your greeting card.
The mountain of holiday cards we purchase — about 2.6 billion per year — would fill a 10-story football stadium. E-cards let you spread the spirit of every holiday the zero waste way. Sending one less paper card saves us 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
Use durable shopping bags when you play Santa and whenever you shop.
Do we even need to explain why this suggestion is a zero waste standby?
Buy a living tree.
We purchase around 30 million Christmas trees each year, most of which are thrown away after the lights come down. Buy a living tree in a pot to use year after year, or make planting part of your New Years tradition to reduce carbon emissions, cool the neighborhood, and create wildlife habitat.
Reuse holiday ribbon.
If every American family reuses two feet of ribbon per year, the savings can equal about 38,000 miles worth, enough for a Planet Earth-sized bow. Talk about a waste reduction present! Use the same strategy for wrapping paper and for year-round gift giving to rack up real savings.
Leave one less cookie for Santa.
Lightening up on the holiday treats by a single cookie per household adds up to 2 million pounds less food waste.
Trim the travel.
By using just one less gallon of gas in December, the nation’s families cut greenhouse gasses by a million tons. Twenty miles less car travel per household per year will save 12 million tons. Choose walking, biking, or public transportation to realize those savings while getting where you need to go.
Save the stuff, share an experience.
This is an especially great suggestion for parents with busy teens or anyone with loved ones they’d like to see a little more of.
Ephraim Payne is the Development and Communications Director at BRING Recycling, Lane County’s oldest sustainability nonprofit. A BRING customer before he became an employee, Ephraim loves to build things out of reclaimed material. When not at work or in the shop, he can most likely be found in Oregon’s bountiful backcounty or planning his next excursion.