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[INFORM's Tips for a Cleaner, "Greener" Holiday]
INFORM's Tips for a Cleaner, "Greener" Holiday
One of the enduring images of the December holiday season is the imposing
mound of garbage that follows the wrapping and opening of gifts, the office
party, and the holiday dinner. But the holidays can be just as much fun, just as meaningful,
and just as colorful without being so wasteful. How?
By celebrating a clean environment along with the holidays, and by
giving "green" gifts during the holidays.
As managing our garbage becomes an increasingly costly and difficult problem,
environmentalists and many government leaders have come to realize that
the best solution to the waste problem in the US is to prevent the creation
of garbage in the first place. We can all play an important role by shifting
our buying habits from disposable products to more durable and long-lasting
Why is this so important? At home, in school, at work, and at play, US residents
throw away more than twice as much waste per person as citizens of other
industrialized nations with comparable standards of living. Each year, we
discard billions of razors, pens, plastic and paper plates, cups, and bags.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day alone, Americans produce an
extra one million tons of trash per week compared to any other time of the
Shopping around for a new piece of electronic equipment this holiday season...perhaps a cell phone?
Before replacing your old phone, bring in your used unit to a wireless store so it can be recycled or
refurbished and reused. Better yet, go to
or http://www.charitablerecycling.com for ways to dispose of
used phones so they don't end up in a landfill or incinerator. (See INFORM's new report,
Calling All Cell Phones, for more information
on cell phone collection, reuse, and recycling.)
Give gifts that are unpackaged or minimally packaged, without unnecessary
plastic wrap or cardboard, and buy gifts made from recycled materials
Give durable and long-lasting items that replace disposables or highly
polluting items, such as:
- Cloth or linen napkins, and napkin rings.
- Men's or women's handkerchiefs.
- Refillable pens and pencils.
- Nondisposable razors.
- A mug for the office; an insulated mug or thermos for commuters.
- A ceramic, glass, or plastic pitcher for drinks made from concentrate.
- A vintage lunch box with reusable bags or containers.
- Loose tea and tea ball (you may be able to find an interesting
antique tea ball).
- Canvas or other reusable shopping bags.
- A reusable seltzer canister with rechargeable cartridge.
- Manual or solar-powered appliances, rather than battery-operated
or plug-in ones.
- A set of rechargeable batteries and charger.
- A perpetual calendar that never needs to be replaced.
- Erasable message boards.
- Long-life light bulbs.
- A solar watch or calculator.
- A water-saving low-flow showerhead.
- A refurbished computer instead of a brand new one. (Or give a
leased computer -- the dealer will take back the old one upon renewal!)
- A bicycle or rollerblades (to encourage alternatives to motor
- A backyard composter.
- Houseplants or a garden (for example, give seeds, gloves, or
- Biodegradable soaps and shampoos.
Or give a gift that isn't an object, such as:
- Membership in an environmental, philanthropic, or relief organization.
- An experience: a vacation, lessons, a day at the spa, gift certificates
for a meal at a restaurant, guided tours, tickets to concerts, theatre,
museums, or the movies, etc.
- The gift of time, such as a gift certificate for an afternoon
of companionship, helping with household chores, babysitting, running
errands, or going on an outing.
- Make a donation in someone's name or donate a tree planted
in someone's honor (or plant a tree yourself!).
- A savings account or savings bond for a child.
Or give a reused item, such as something bought at an antique shop or
Don't put usable items in the trash! Donate unwanted gifts, clothing,
furniture, and housewares to a local charity or thrift emporium.
Try to avoid unnecessary wrapping. The average consumer wraps 20 gifts
during the holidays. If just three of those gifts were wrapped in reused
paper, the paper saved could cover 45,000 football fields!
- Wrap gifts using the gift itself (for example, use a scarf
- Use decorative newspaper ads, colorful pages from magazines,
old maps, calendars, or color comic strips as wrap. When buying new
wrapping paper, purchase recycled-content paper.
- Wrap music gifts in old sheet music and use the tape from an
unwanted audiocassette as ribbon.
- Wrap gifts in fabric, reusable cloth bags, pillow cases, or baskets.
- Reuse old ribbons and wrapping paper (if wrinkled, press with
a warm iron).
- Use an old necktie or scarf as a bow or ribbon.
- Use the fronts of old holiday cards as name tags for this year's
Packing for the Mail
Consider these alternatives for your holiday mailing needs:
- Biodegradable-starch packing peanuts.
- Used packing peanuts from previous gifts. (Unwanted peanuts,
if they are clean, are accepted by certain packaging stores for reuse.
Call the Plastic Loosefill Council's Peanut Hotline at 1-800-828-2214
for the names of local businesses that reuse them.)
- Crumpled newspaper or pages from magazines.
- Use old cardboard boxes to ship presents and reuse peanuts and
- Use your own shopping bags and consolidate purchases into one
- If you shop by mail-order catalogue, remember to cancel the catalogues
you don't need so they don't end up piled in the trash.
- Shop early and consolidate trips to save fuel.
- Walk and use public transportation when practical.
One year's worth of holiday cards would fill a football field 10
- Send e-mail or Internet greetings to friends and family, or
send a holiday postcard to save paper and envelopes.
- Create your own cards made out of used paper.
- When buying cards, choose ones made with recycled paper.
- Recycle old holiday cards. Send them to St. Jude's Ranch
for Children, a home for abused children in Nevada, where children make
new cards from old ones and sell them to support the ranch. Used cards
can be mailed to St. Jude's Ranch for Children, 100 St. Jude Street,
Boulder City, NV 89005, or call (800) 492-3562.
- Consider buying a potted Norfolk pine, fig tree, or indoor
house plant that can be reused every holiday season.
- Purchase a tree from a tree farm rather than cutting one down
in the wild.
- Make use of your tree: use boughs to protect plant beds, convert
leftovers to mulch or compost, and use trimmed branches for decorating
around the home or making wreaths. For more information on what to do
with your trees in New York City, contact Eve Martinez at INFORM, Inc.,
212-361-2400, ext 229. Eve is the Director of the New York City Waste
Prevention Community Coordinators Program, a new program that is helping
to reduce the residential waste stream in New York City.
Try these alternatives to buying new items:
- Popcorn and cranberry strands (use them as birdfeed after the
tree comes down).
- Old jewelry.
- Small stuffed animals and toys.
- Memorabilia such as a child's first shoe.
- Edible cookie ornaments.
- Buttons knotted on a sturdy length of string.
- Use reusable plates, flatware, glasses, tablecloths and linen,
or rent them rather than buying new ones.
- Make sure you have a recycling system for aluminum cans, plastic,
and glass bottles set up for your party. Show your caterers, helpers,
and guests where to put items and demonstrate to them that you care
about the environment!
- Use washable pans instead of disposables for cooking. It's
much cheaper to buy a roasting pan than to purchase foil pans all year
- Buy fresh, unpackaged foods when possible.
- Plan meals wisely and send guests home with leftovers or donate
them to food banks rather than throw food out. In New York City, contact
City Harvest at 917-351-8700 or www.cityharvest.org to arrange a pickup
of your leftover food.
- Take holiday photos with a standard camera, not a disposable
one. Did you know that purchasing film in rolls of 36 instead of 12
reduces waste by 67% and saves about $4.00, or 40%?
- Cook multiple items in the same oven.
- Run appliances on full loads.
- Save energy (both fossil fuel and the stress associated with
looking for parking places) when going shopping or to parties by walking,
using public transportation, or carpooling if you have to drive.
- Turn the heat down before your guests arrive. The extra body
heat they generate will warm up the room.