Dealing with holiday trash
Our tree is up and decorated and, according to my son, who is the arbiter of “best,” it is the best tree we’ve ever had, from the spaceman at the top to the collage wreaths with pictures of him and his sister at the bottom.
He also has hung the stockings as near to the wood stove as safety allows, and Santa will just have to negotiate the stove pipe.
The only thing that would make this best of all situations even better, to his mind, is snow outside and presents under the tree.
The first of those presents will likely arrive soon, in a box from the grandparents in Florida, full of wrapped gifts packed in old newspapers and Styrofoam peanuts.
And then the next holiday tradition will begin: figuring out how to celebrate without filling a landfill with trash.
It’s easy to come up with ways you can avoid adding too much to the holiday garbage pile at the beginning of the season — bring reusable bags when shopping, switch to LED Christmas lights, wrap your gifts in reusable things (a bread in a tea towel, some mittens in a hat, or anything else in a reusable bag). It’s harder to figure out how to responsibly deal with all the excess that shows up in your house, uninvited.
And so here, in the spirit of the season, are 10 tips to help eliminate waste on the tail end of the festive holiday season.
1. Recycle those Styrofoam peanuts the in-laws send. We’ve stored them in bags in the basement for years, thinking we would reuse them someday, but it’s a lot easier to take them to a package-shipping center. Then they really will get reused.
To find a reuse spot near you, check www.loosefillpackaging.com.
2. Recycle all that newspaper that the in-laws wrap things in. We use it for fire starter in the wood stove, but you can also just add it to your own newspaper recycling pile. Our town has curbside recycling pickup twice a month. If yours doesn’t, check with your county DPW to find out where the nearest collection site is.
3. Reuse that wrapping paper. Our daughter hates to rip paper, and with a scissors to slice the tape and endless amounts of patience, she carefully removes all wrapping paper and folds it neatly to put into a box for next year.
The son, on the other hand, excitedly rips open every package he gets, and when he’s done there is nothing left to save. Fire starter, unless it’s got metallic dyes. Then, sorry, it’s trash.
4. Reuse the ribbons and bows too. Even the boy can’t shred those, and the girl is good at untangling. They get saved in their own box.
5. And reuse the boxes too. Those gift boxes, the kind shirts come in, can be refolded and saved in the bottom of your gift wrap box. The big boxes can be reused or broken down for recycling.
6. Recycle that tree. Some towns pick up trees in the first weeks of January, and grind them for mulch. Or you can put yours out in a corner of the yard as shelter for bunnies and other little critters. We stand ours in the snow near the bird feeder to give the little birds a place to perch and some shelter from hawks.
7. Save your Christmas cards to cut up and make into gift tags for next year. (I’m going to save every one I get that says “Happy Holiday’s” to make a collage for my copy editor friends, who are driven to distraction every time they see an errant apostrophe.
8. Try not to waste food. If you’ve prepared more food than you need for that gathering at your home, package and freeze the leftovers for future meals before it all goes bad in the back of the fridge. Do the same if you end up with too many plates of cookies — you can always eat them or serve them later.
If you are the happy recipient of more cheese logs than one family can possibly devour, there are food pantries and soup kitchens that will be happy to help you out.
And if your holiday meal leaves you with a fine goose carcass, make soup. Dice the leftover ham to serve with pasta, or make the mashed potatoes into pancakes. Ask your grandmother. Or ask Google.
9. Dispose of your old stuff responsibly. If you need to find space in your closet for new sweaters, shirts and socks, consider a donation to your local thrift store, or look for a clothing collection bin, for whatever it is you no longer need.
And if you get that new electronic whatever you wanted, recycle your old e-thing. It’s easier than ever since New York passed a law mandating that electronics manufacturers offer “free and convenient recycling of electronic waste.” Stores that sell electronics generally take them back for recycling now, and there are free e-waste collection days pretty regularly. Check out the DEC’s website (www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/65583.html) for more information on the law, and for recyling sites.
10. Recycle your lights. Full disclosure: We haven’t gotten LED tree lights because some of our 25-year-old strings of lights are still working. When they do go, they can be recycled. Check www.holidayleds.com or www.christmas-light-source.com for information on how to recycle your old Christmas lights. Both sites will send you a coupon for LED lights.
And then you’ll be all ready for next year.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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