Several years ago, I started a new Christmas tradition — no more gift boxes.
We definitely do not have the prettiest packages under our tree, but over the years, I’ve gotten much better at making “boxless” gifts look, well, decent.
This tradition was established after carefully separating, stacking and tying up all the leftover boxes – yes, even a few of those prized Marshall Field’s boxes from my childhood (sorry, Mom!) – and walking them down to the curb for recycling. The only problem was that I watched my neat little bundles get tossed right into the very same truck as our garbage that week. Seriously?! I thought all cardboard was supposed to be recycled, but apparently in our town the decision was left up to the discretion of the trash collectors.
By now I hardly even notice the puzzled expression when store clerks ask how many boxes I need, and my reply is no boxes, thank you!
I know every little bit helps, and after reading that the EPA estimates American households generate 25 percent more waste in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s – about one million extra tons of trash in just a short six-week period – I wanted to learn even more ways to reduce waste over the holidays.
Since the EPA also reports American households currently recycle 32.5 percent of the waste they generate, which is up considerably from the five percent reported in 1970, that number has been holding steady for quite some time now. So with a little extra effort on everyone’s part during the holidays, we may just be able to get it back on the move up again!
Like me, you may be surprised to learn that about half the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products — with most wrapping paper not recyclable because of dyes and other difficult to process additives. Looks like the presents under our tree are getting another new look!
Waste reduction experts suggest giving gifts that require little or no packaging, such as the gift of your time (cooking, babysitting or gardening), a charitable donation or tickets to an event.
Here are a few more suggestions for innovative gift giving, alternative gift wrapping and no-waste holiday practices from the EPA:
• Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable cloth bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don't need a bag for small or oversized purchases.
• Wrap gifts in recycled or reused wrapping paper or funny papers. Also remember to save or recycle used wrapping paper. Give gifts that don't require much packaging, such as gift cards or gift certificates.
• Send recycled-content greeting cards to reduce the amount of virgin paper used during the holidays. Remember to recycle any paper cards you receive. You can also try sending electronic greeting cards to reduce paper waste.
• About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away, and can save money in the long run.
• Turn off or unplug holiday lights during the day. Doing so will not only save energy, but will also help your lights last longer.
• Approximately 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in North America every year. After the holidays, look for ways to recycle your tree instead of sending it to a landfill. Check with your community solid waste department and find out if they collect and mulch trees. Your town might be able to use chippings from mulched trees for hiking trails and beachfront erosion barriers.
• To help prevent waste from cutting down and disposing of live trees, you can buy a potted tree and plant it after the holidays.
• Have a create-your-own-decorations party! Invite family and friends to create and use holiday decorations such as ornaments made from old greeting cards or cookie dough, garlands made from strung popcorn or cranberries, wreaths made from artificial greens and flowers, and potpourri made from kitchen spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
• Consider the durability of a product before you buy it as a gift. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing you money.
• When buying gifts, check product labels to determine an item's recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available.