By Lori Draz with Jody Sackett, Rumson Environmental Commissioner
The holiday season is of good wishes, food, friends and fun, but itâ€™s also a time when trash cans fill with piles of gift wrap, Christmas trees, packing materials and food containers that cause household waste to increase more than 25 percent from Thanksgiving through New Yearâ€™s Day. You can still have all the fun while being ecologically responsible. Jody Sackett, Rumson Environmental commissioner, has some clever ideas to help you keep some of that waste from heading to the landfills.
Begin by evaluating what you really need. This will save excess waste and money too. Resist unnecessary and impulsive spending. Look for energy-efficient products made of recycled materials, and avoid as many battery-operated gifts as you can. You can also reduce your carbon footprint and support the community by buying from local business and shopping online.
Make your list and check it twice. Studies show more than half of people get gifts they donâ€™t want. Many people prefer experiences over stuff, so try tickets to local theaters and events, day trips and museum admissions, classes, music and dance lessons, fitness training, wine tastings, even a reading from a psychic â€“ and donâ€™t forget gift certificates and all-purpose gift cards.
Sackett added, â€śDonâ€™t underestimate the value of your company to your friends. Make a date to share a meal, a drink or movie instead of a physical present. You can also make donations to a favorite charity. KIVA gift cards for curated micro-loans allow the recipient to decide who they want to support, as well as the amount and the purpose. Heifer International gifts enable the recipient to give a flock of chickens, a cow or even a drinking well to a needy international family. If youâ€™re handy, give DIY gifts like flavored liqueurs, a homemade ornament, dog biscuits, holiday and packaged homemade goodies or even a framed letter explaining why you love and admire the recipient. Re-gifting is not a crime, and you can even make it fun. Host a re-gifting party where each guest brings and swaps nice new presents that they wonâ€™t be using. Youâ€™ll learn a lot about your friendsâ€™ hobbies and have some laughs too.â€ť
Keep your wrapping simple. Sackett shared that a Yale study found that nicely wrapped packages raised expectations and increased the risk of the recipient being disappointed, like giving a Walmart gift card in a Tiffany box.
â€śGift wrap and bags add four tons of landfill waste each year,â€ť Sackett said. â€śLaminated and shiny gift wrap often canâ€™t be recycled because it is made of low-fiber paper with foil, dyes and other unrecyclable designs. Try using eco-friendly, recycled materials such as old maps or newspaper comics. Let the kids decorate plain brown paper and bags. Furoshiki, the Japanese art of cloth gift-wrapping, uses simple cloth squares to cleverly wrap everything from boxes to wine bottles. Use some upcycled materials from thrift shops like pretty scarves, old tablecloths, even clothing, and youâ€™ve hit the environmental and artistic jackpot here. Thereâ€™s also Seed Paper, which contains embedded plantable seeds â€“ great for gift tags.â€ť
When it comes to decorating, Sackett suggests LED over incandescent lights for a 95 percent energy saving. Use timers too. Plastics take decades or centuries to decompose, so go retro and create centerpieces and accents using natural items like sprigs of boxwood, branches with holly berries and pinecones, and stay away from glitter which is often made from slow-degrading PET plastic.
Start new family traditions that emphasize your eco-values. It can be as simple as constructing a Grateful Tree with a branch from your yard, then write what you are thankful for on construction paper leaves and hang them on the tree to remind you of your many blessings. Stretch your legs and take a birding walk using apps like iNaturalist or Merlin to identify birds you hear and see. Then let the little ones create bird gifts by making simple pinecone-and-birdseed peanut butter bird treats to hang in your trees.
Finally, Sackett weighs in on the real vs. artificial tree debate. â€śThis is really up to you. Artificial trees come primarily from China and often use plastics with lead-stabilized PVC content. Though they cannot be recycled, they are reusable, which saves real trees. Real trees provide oxygen, air filtering, soil protection, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, can be recycled, and ideally, sustainable farming plants more trees than are cut down each year. However, it takes a lot of fuel to cut them and bring them to you, accelerating carbon emissions.â€ť
And for those celebrating Hanukkah, she suggests lighting the Menorah with vegan or eco-friendly candles instead of petroleum-based paraffin ones with synthetic color and scent chemicals. Choose organic, locally sourced foods and use the eight days of Hanukkah to implement eight Days of Action. Your family can make daily commitments to being more environmentally sustainable each day.
Now for some sustainable New Yearâ€™s resolutions, Sackett suggests these eco-friendly ideas for 2023. Sustainable household ideas include composting leftover food. Get a clean start on the year with eco-friendly cleaning products. Switch to cloth napkins and pack lunches in reusable, washable containers and avoid plastic utensils or cups. Always look for reusable products like old-fashioned razors and metal straws, and shop for locally grown organic foods. Help local insects and wildlife by adding native plants and rain gardens to reduce the storm water runoff. Join your townâ€™s Environmental Commission or Green Team and participate in community cleanups. Pick trash wherever you go and remember the mantra: reuse, recycle, repurpose and reduce.