A Holiday Gift for our Planet – Reducing our waste

By: Shubir Kapoor

The holiday season is upon us.  Especially in this year of COVID-19, many of us are reflecting more deeply on those less fortunate and how we can help.  While in this frame of mind, let’s also consider future generations who will be impacted by our actions today.  Let’s leave them a legacy showing we cared.  How we celebrate the holidays provide many opportunities to take actions to make our lives more sustainable – think of it as our gift to our children and their children. This is a great time to start new traditions and practices!

During the holiday season, household waste increases by more than 25 percent, and this extra trash — mostly food, shopping bags, packaging and wrapping paper — adds up to an additional 1 million tons a week that’s sent to landfills, according to the EPA.  This waste also results in increased carbon dioxide emissions encouraging climate change.

Reducing waste and carbon emissions is a necessity as we experience a staggering increase in the quantity of trash. The total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 was 4.9 pounds per person per day. Of that, only 32.1 percent of it was recycled or composted. (You can read more about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions by visiting https://yorktown100.org/blog)

But we can do something to slow these disconcerting numbers. This holiday season let’s try to apply the 4Rs for reducing our waste.

Reduce packaging material when shopping for and wrapping holiday gifts. The easiest way to cut back is to reduce the amount you bring home in the first place.  Look for retailers that offer package-free products, or which sell gift items that come wrapped in paper instead of plastic. When purchasing online, be sure to recycle boxes and packing materials.  Avoid buying novelty items that will quickly be disposed of.  As much as possible, order multiple items at the same time, so they’ll be shipped together.

When decorating, convert to LED lights, which use about 10% as much energy as incandescent bulbs and last much longer.  Use timers for control and avoid motorized or fan-driven decorations, as they use much more energy. It is a great time to consider converting to Community Solar or an energy provider (ESCO) that provides electricity from renewable sources so the electricity you use doesn’t add carbon to the atmosphere.  

Reducing food waste at holiday meals is also important. Prepare only as much as you will eat, and consider options other than beef (which has a high carbon footprint). When baking, make items simultaneously to minimize oven use and associated emissions. Each year 72 billion pounds of food goes to waste while 50 million people struggle with hunger. Love Food Hate Waste has tips on how to reduce your food waste. This holiday season, you can also plan to donate excess food. Check with your local food bank or use Feeding America’s food bank locator to find a nearby location which accepts food donations.

Reuse material when possible. According to the recyclers handbook, annual waste from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons in the U.S., and half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products. Keep your wrapping paper and gift bags from this year to reuse next year.  (Note from Bob: `We have used the same gift boxes, bags, and bows in my family for over 20 years.  It really works quite well, and the reused wrappings add the memories of previous holiday joys.)  

Recycle whenever possible. Set up a system for composting, as this is a great opportunity to reduce the waste set out for curbside pickup. Wrap gifts in newspaper, old wrapping paper or gift bags, cloth, or brown paper.  

About 25-30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.  Consider these options:

  • Purchase a living potted tree, and plant it after the season.  It will absorb carbon dioxide for its lifetime.
  • Buy a real organically grown cut tree and leave it for your town to pick up and dispose of properly.  Yorktown chips trees for mulch. 
  • If you own an artificial tree, keep using it. It can last almost indefinitely. They are not recyclable and are made of plastic and metal that will last hundreds of years in a landfill.

Enter your zip code at Earth 911.com to learn where you can recycle electronics, cell phones, batteries and other household items 

Rethink the materials you use and those you throw away. Get crafty and make some presents yourself. It can be a good family activity and your recipient will appreciate the personalized effort. Remember that presents needn’t be material goods. Post-COVID-19, gifts like classes, museum memberships, charity donations and movie or concert tickets are great ways to show someone you care without adding to the landfills.  If you are purchasing appliances, look for the energy star label.  Use your phones and computing devices as long as possible.

And our fifth ‘R’Remember that you don’t have to strive for zero waste perfection. Every effort to reduce waste can be deeply satisfying. Not only will you reduce your personal trash volume, you will be contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and doing your part to keep our precious planet clean and healthy.  What a great holiday gift!  

Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs.   Contact us if you would like to learn more or would like to join. We welcome new members! Visit us at https://yorktown100.org/ and help make a difference.

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