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Holiday Recycling Tips – Dreaming of a Green Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa
December 7, 2009 - 10:21pm — Matt Kegelman
Let’s face it, the holidays are a time when we create a lot of trash, and most of it destined for a landfill where it will take centuries to decompose, all the while leaching toxins into our environment. But how much of our holiday trash actually has to be thrown away?
Most of the gifts we give and receive during the holiday season come in elaborate packaging that includes cardboard, paper, plastic, Styrofoam and other materials. Then (as if all that is not enough) we wrap them—all over again—in tons of pretty wrapping paper, ribbons and bows! In the end it makes for lots of extra trash each year.
So we generate all this garbage, so what? Why is it bad? Can’t we just throw it all away and be done with it?
No one here would dare suggest you should give up the gift giving traditions of our holidays. We love the holidays! Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and Kwanzaa are too important to our families. But we can minimize the impact we make on our Mother Earth by following these three guidelines: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Start the Recycling Process With Your Shopping
Bring your own bags. For small items , let them know you don’t need a bag. If you do want a bag, make sure you reuse it at home and recycle it when you’re through.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Gift Wrap
Have you bought your gift wrap yet this year? If you haven’t already, then it’s going to be easy for you to be eco-friendly this year. When you go out to buy your wrapping paper so you can wrap all your holiday presents, buy wrapping paper made from recycled material. (see pictures of green-wrapped gifts)
Don't forget to look for the highest post-consumer content you can find whenever buying goods made from recycled materials.
This means that the fewest trees had to be directly cut down for the gift wrap to be made, and according to the EPA, recycled paper generates 74 percent less air pollution and uses 50 percent less water compared to new paper, during the production process.
And while you’re at it make sure that it can be recycled. It’s a good idea to check with your local recycling authority—by viewing their website or giving them a quick call—to see if they will accept wrapping paper and if so how they want it handled. (That’s right, not all gift wrap can be recycled. Some may not be acceptable if it is laminated, dyed, or covered in glitter.)
One great way to avoid this concern is to purchase reusable and recyclable gift bags made out of recycled materials. The bags will be used over and over until they can’t be used any more, and then they will be recycled.
Cardboard and Shipping Materials
As pointed out above, the holiday season creates an amazing amount of cardboard waste, when buying and sending gifts and when receiving them. Using shipping materials made of recycled materials will have a significant impact. If you’re packing boxes old newspapers make good filler materials, compared to Styrofoam peanuts.
When you want to recycle those boxes you’ve received, check with your local recycling authority first to see if they accept cardboard and how it should be prepared. (You really should know this already.) Do you know a college student returning to school? Sometimes students need to pack for the move.
Holiday Card Recycling
Look to be sure you’re buying cards made of recycled paper. Make sure you recycle cards whenever possible. You can reduce the use of envelopes by sending postcards instead of cards. If you really want to be serious, clip holiday cards to make gift tags for next year.
Green Holiday Decorations
Save your holiday decorations for reuse again and again. Whenever possible use natural ornaments such as pine cones, shells, dried flowers or berries. If you are tired of older decorations, donate them to local schools, churches, town offices or non-profit organizations, or at least sell them in a garage sale.
Recycle Christmas Trees
Many communities recycle Christmas trees - chipping and mulching them for compost or landscaping materials. Many coastal communities use old Christmas trees to present beach erosion. Check with your town to see if a tree recycling program exists in your neighborhood. If not, you can still recycle your tree: use the trunk for firewood or kindling and use the branches as mulch under acid-loving bushes and shrubs, such as rhododendrons or evergreens.
Don’t Let Your Food Go to Waste
Send your guests home from holiday dinners and parties with some leftovers or share them with your neighbors. Many times there is a shut-in who could use a meal. Ask your church or temple. You should also compost your kitchen food scraps. Remember compost fruit and vegetable wastes only, not meat or grease.
Batteries… The Toxins Keep on Going and Going and Going
How can you celebrate the holidays without batteries? To stay green your best bet is to invest in rechargeable batteries. You’ll save money and the environment. No matter what you need to recycle your batteries. They are among the worst household toxins. Towns really need to make this easier.
Some recycling stations (where they have lines of huge bins for different materials) will have one bin that is specifically designated for batteries only. Some places you wouldn’t think of accept them too—like RadioShack or WalMart—they sell them back to companies in need of the materials - a win, win situation!
Holiday Gift Packaging – Recycling Plastics
Many gifts come in packages that contain cardboard and plastic. You ‘ll have to separate the cardboard and recycle it as discussed above. Now for the plastics.
Knowing what types of plastics are accepted is easier than you might think (mainly because nowadays more and more are being accepting by recycling companies…) Of course, you have to check with your township or local recycling authority to be certain.
Plastics are coded by a number system—the purpose of which is to indicate what materials they are made of. While there are seven main types here are the ones you’re most likely to encounter this holiday season.
- #1 and #2 plastics, Polyethylene Terephthalate and High Density Polyethylene, respectively, which most know of as the plastic bottles and containers used most commonly for food and beverages, are almost always accepted by recycling companies, as these are the most readily made/ recycled plastics.
- Increasingly, #3 plastics, which are made from Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, are being accepted. Number three is the type of hard/clear formed plastic that is commonly used as front packaging for toys and small electronics so you can see what’s inside. It’s the stuff that is really hard to get open unless you have a really good, sharp pair of scissors on hand!
- Number 4 plastic, Low Density Polyethylene, includes things like bread bags, dry cleaning bags, and squeezable bottles. These are probably less likely to be accepted, but it’s worth checking as more and more the can be recycled.
- Plastics coded #6 are made of Polystyrene; commonly used for plastic tableware (plastic cups, solo cups, plates, and plastic cutlery are all made from it), but unfortunately not too many community-wide recycling programs are equipped to handle it as of yet.
Have a Happy Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Holidays!
So, it isn’t that hard actually to enjoy Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa in a way that is not disrespectful toward the earth, the environment (or ourselves). Try your best to separate what can be recycled or reused for another purpose from what must absolutely be thrown away! With a little effort, you can make this year the best Holiday Season ever for your loved ones, your own self, and our environment!