December is flush with potlucks, parties and social gatherings of every imaginable sort. While the gift-giving and good cheer can be contagious, so can the waste. Did you know that during the holidays, Americans throw away 25% more trash and waste 33% more food?
But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a Grinch to be green during the holidays. There are a few things you can do to reduce waste from gifts, potlucks and decorations this season.
When it comes to gifts, there are many ways to rethink and reduce. Try gifting experiences, rather than things, to avoid waste. It’s the perfect opportunity to try something new with your loved ones — wine tasting, a new restaurant, a sporting event or pottery class. The options are endless.
Whatever your gift, our No. 1 waste reduction tip is to wrap presents with reusable materials like newspaper or last year’s gift bags and bows. When you can’t reduce or reuse, make sure you Recycle Right. Almost all wrapping paper can be recycled. The exception is paper with a plastic coating or metallic finish. Bows and ribbons cannot be recycled, so save them for next year. If they’re not in reusable condition, toss them in the garbage.
Another way to go green during the holidays is to avoid food waste. Holiday feasts can lead to extra food, so ask dinner guests to bring a reusable container to take home leftovers. Freezing leftovers is also a great option. For food scraps that can’t be salvaged, make sure to put them in the food/yard waste cart so they can be composted.
Finally, remember to be environmentally conscious when it comes to holiday lights and decorations. As always, the first step is to reduce and reuse as much as possible. Get creative with a homemade wreath or ornaments. Buy energy-efficient LED light strands wired in parallel, so if one burns out, the others will still work, and you can avoid throwing away the whole strand.
Once it’s time to retire a strand of lights, dispose of them properly, which is to say, not in your recycling cart (this is important and worth repeating: Holiday lights cannot be recycled in your curbside cart!). Light strands cause problems at recycling centers because they tangle around recycling equipment and create hazards for workers.
However, some facilities offer holiday light recycling. To find a list of locations near you, an internet search for “holiday light recycling near me” will bring up options in Puget Sound.
Here’s to a green holiday season filled with fun and good cheer!
Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Learn more about waste reduction at RecycleOftenRecycleRight.com.