Tis the season to be … trashy? While wrapping paper flies through the air as children tear into much-anticipated gifts, and special foods are prepared for a holiday feast, Americans are generating a whole lot more waste during this festive season than any other time of the year.
Reduce, reuse and recycle are the best gifts for the environment
In fact, we tend to generate as much as 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This waste is not only wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, it also includes electronics such as old computers and cellphones that are long forgotten when their most up-to-date replacements have been unwrapped.
With holiday parties in full swing, it is likely your household is creating more-than-normal food waste as well.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in all of the fun and festivities of the holiday season, but it’s so important to keep in mind the impact we’re having on the environment,” said Lynn Malley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension assistant specialist, solid waste management programs. “Although it’s just a few short weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the amount of waste we create has a significant impact on our world. Research shows that extra waste is about 25 million tons of trash, or about 1 million tons per day. That number is significant, especially considering the limited number of acres available for licensed landfills.”
Consider these facts for a moment: About 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold each year in the United States. That’s enough to fill the area of a football field 10 stories tall. If every family sent just one less card, that could conserve about 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Reusing just two feet of holiday ribbon results in about 38,000 miles of ribbon saved. Considering the earth has a circumference of 24,901 miles, that would be plenty of ribbon to tie up this planet with a festive bow. And another thought to ponder is if every family in the United State wrapped just three gifts in reused materials, that simple act would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
Chris Knight, waste management manager for the city of Stillwater, said it certainly makes sense the amount of trash increases during the holidays in many areas across the country; however, it remains fairly consistent in Stillwater during this time of year.
“Our biggest trash-collecting time in Stillwater is between April and June when the college students are getting ready to either move back home for the summer or have graduated and are leaving town,” Knight said. “Our numbers don’t really show an increase during the holiday season since a large percentage of our residential customers aren’t in town.”
When it comes to cutting down on trash output, Knight said consumers really need to start the reduce, reuse, recycle thought process at the store, before ever bringing items into their homes.
“Look at the packaging and determine if you can buy something similar that comes with less packaging,” he said. “Also, consider purchasing things that can be recycled. Something else that can help cut down on the amount of trash you accumulate is to buy in bulk.”
For example, many grocery stores offer grains, granola, candy and other products in bulk. This will help eliminate some household waste. There is a whole lot of cardboard used for a box of rice.
Knight also suggests taking advantage of your city’s recycling centers when disposing of televisions, monitors and other recyclable items.
“Curbside recycling has been really popular in Stillwater, with about 90 percent of our customers utilizing a recycling cart at their homes,” Knight said.
Malley said another option to reduce waste, especially during the gift-giving season, is to give memberships to a local museum, amusement park, a state park or health club.
“Sometimes the best gift of all is simply the gift of time. Trips to the park, hikes around the lake or a picnic will create memories that will long outlast the latest toy fad,” she said. “Other ideas that are fun, as well as good for the environment, are gardening tools, seeds or decorative flower pots.”
For those individuals whom you find it hard to buy for, give them a service such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, painting the porch, babysitting or house cleaning.
If you must send holiday cards, do so via email to help eliminate paper waste. When it is time to wrap gifts, think outside of the box and use old posters, newspaper comics, maps or even material left over from a previous sewing project. When receiving a gift, be sure to save the ribbons and bows.
“This season, after the gifts are opened and all the trash have been disposed of, think about the gift you can give back to our planet,” Malley said. “Make a plan on how you can reduce, reuse and recycle. This will be the best gift of all and will have a lasting effect.”