When I walk through the mall looking for gifts I can't help but cringe at all of the junk I see. Giant plastic remotes, magic eight balls, and other wasteful plastic toys – half of which no one actually uses and in due time relocate to the landfills. Call me a Grinch but to me the holidays translate to an onslaught of waste.
Between Thanksgiving day and New Years Day, Americans generate 25 percent more waste than usual. That is an extra 1.2 million tons per week (6 million tons total). That's why I'm going to offer to you a list of ideas to cut back on waste. If only one person reduces their waste output, then I'm satisfied that I've made a difference. (But please tell friends and family, too.)
Wrapping Paper and Packaging
Wrapping paper is a key source of waste during the holidays. It is laminated and biodegrades very slowly. It is difficult to recycle because it often contains non-paper additives and dyes. Consider other forms of gift wrapping. For instance, aluminum tins are great for cookies. Most small to average sized gifts can be kept in baskets and gift bags with gift paper stuffed around the sides. Another creative surprise is to hang pieces of jewelry on the Christmas tree or menorah. If you're hell-bent on using wrapping paper, recycled wrapping paper is available.
We use a lot of styrofoam in packaging when shipping presents. Styrofoam, the brand name for polystyrene, is a petroleum based polymer, much like plastic. Its decomposition leaches hydrocarbons into the air and water and these can be hazardous to our health and environment.
A good alternative includes corn-based dissolvable packing peanuts. Ask about "green" packaging materials at the local UPS store over at 12-45 River Road in Fair Lawn. While you're there, also ask about their carbon neutral program, which is designed to offset the carbon emissions produced by shipping your small packages.
It may sound crazy, but unbuttered, popped popcorn is also a great packaging material. Like many others, you're likely to have surplus stash of plastic grocery bags that you're just itching to find a use for. Try packaging your gift with bundles of these.
Like wrapping paper, gift cards are another source of paper waste during the holidays. You can always go for cards made from recycled paper, but if you have any skill with programs like Photoshop and flash consider designing your own electronic gift cards. If you aren't savvy with the computer, visit www.123greetings.com for free, easily personalized greetings.
The National Audubon Society sells beautiful holiday cards, they have a New Jersey chapter in Franklin Lakes you can visit or surf their webpage at www.audubon.org.
Party Favors and Decorations
If you're planning on throwing a holiday party, take a few precautions to minimize waste along the way. Use free online invitation services like www.evite.com. This cuts back on paper, postage, and time. When buying decorations, invest in high quality ones that are made to last. You could even opt to make your own. This route may not be the cheapest, but these decorations will last years. Another cool idea is to use decoration made by nature by taking boughs of holly and draping them across the mantle and adding pine cones to the mix. Be innovative!
Although it may mean more of a cleanup, try to ditch the plastic party favors. Even if you choose to use reusable plastic cups its better than those horrendously, wasteful red solo cups used to serve alcohol at parties. Remember to use table non-plastic table cloths, and you can pump the green by choosing one made of hemp or organic cotton. Instead of buying balloons choose to buy a bouquet instead.
Gifts and Shopping
There are a lot of cheaply made products out there, which is a shame because they often result in consumers scrapping heaps of plastic when they break – a shameful waste. For this reason, splurge, do your research, and buy quality gifts built to last and designed without disposable parts. Also, while some people consider gift cards to be thoughtless, I think they are quite the opposite. They effectively cut back on packaging and waste.
Another idea is to buy charity sponsorships or memberships to organizations and clubs. Not only do these innovative gifts minimize wasteful packaging, but they save fuel by avoiding a trip to the mall.
If you do decide to take a cruise over to the mall, spare a few plastic bags by bringing some reusable ones.
Electronics and Batteries
Around this time each year, many people are likely to upgrade many of their electronics and gadgets. With this comes a massive accumulation of electronic waste. There are a lot of raw resources that can be extracted from old computers and cell phones so make sure you take them to the local recycling center here in Ridgewood.
Our new talking robots and digital cameras will be sure to start quickly eating up alkalines. I personally hate disposing of used alkalines. Try switch to rechargeable batteries. These batteries can be recharged by chargers that plug into the wall or even your laptop's USB drive. If you're interested in rechargeable batteries check out the Radioshack over in Midland Park. To dispose of batteries–rechargeable or not–make sure you take them over to the recycling center instead of throwing them in the trash.
Challenge yourself this holiday season. Try to reduce your consumption of 'stuff' as much as possible by being as sensibly clever as possible. Instead of making three trips to the mall, make one, and do it during the off hours to avoid wasting fuel in traffic. (Or skip the mall altogether and shop local.)
By adding a little innovation to what think to be a mundane process–gift wrapping–we can impress our love ones and the planet too.