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Going Green with Gifts & Gatherings - December 24, 2017

                As we plan our holiday season and all the meals, parties, gifts, and decorations that come along with it, we may find taking out the trash to be more of a chore than usual. In fact, the amount of trash produced in the United States from Thanksgiving through the New Year historically increases by about 25% compared to the rest of the year-- this adds up to nearly 1 million additional tons per week.  However, by making a few simple changes, we can all make our holiday season a bit more “green”.

                A big part of this influx of garbage is due to food waste, most of which doesn’t actually need to be sent to a landfill at all. Americans are notorious for wasting almost 30% of their food annually. However, most food scraps can be composted, which decreases the amount of garbage going to landfills and, in turn, reduces harmful gas emissions and provides natural soil fertilization. To help lessen the amount of food you waste, plan out your holiday meals to minimize excess, reinvent your leftovers to ensure they are eaten and not lost in the back of the fridge, and throw scraps in a compost pile instead of your trash can when it’s time for them to be pitched.

In addition to planning out the proper amount of food for your feast, it’s a good idea to buy local and in-season food when possible. Supporting your local farmers, by purchasing their produce and meat, is a gift to both your guests and the local economy. A few local farms even offer preorders for holiday meals, allowing for early planning and a decreased footprint. If you don’t have enough dishes, glasses, and flatware for all your guests, ask them to bring some along with them, or, opt for recyclable, compostable, or reusable items.

                Holiday packaging also contributes to a good portion of extraneous waste—4 million tons of gift-wrap and shopping bags are thrown away each year, and over half of all paper used year-round in America is for wrapping and decorating. The dye and lamination that makes wrapping paper pretty and appealing often render it ineligible for most recycling programs, so it must be sent to the landfill when discarded. Instead of buying more rolls of wrapping paper during the holiday season, old newspaper, magazine pages, and paper bags all work as alternatives to wrap your gifts.  If you are one who enjoys the decorated gift bags and tissue paper, these are very easy to collect and reuse year after year! The ribbons and bows used to decorate presents can be used again as well, but, instead of buying new ones, try using biodegradable twine for a bow and garnish it with some festive greenery like holly leaves or pine picks. Outside the holiday season, bring reusable shopping bags while running errands; plastic bags are non-recyclable and are one of the most common items gathered from beach cleanups.

                Much like decorating gifts, home decoration can be surprisingly impactful as well. Of the 50 million live Christmas trees that are purchased in the U.S. every year, 30 million of them wind up in landfills. Instead of throwing away your tree, have it recycled into mulch or even toss it in the woods or a compost pile to let it naturally decompose. When lighting your Christmas tree and home exterior, LEDs are a gift that keeps on giving to both your wallet and the environment. The cost of using traditional incandescent lights on one Christmas tree for 12 hours a day over 40 days is $25.13, while the same electric bill using LED lights is only $0.56. They use 90% less energy and last for decades! If you are interested in switching, HolidayLEDs.com provides a discount on LEDs if you send in your old incandescent lights to be recycled.

                The holidays are a time where we celebrate with friends, family, and food, however, we are often so busy that we forget to acknowledge the impacts we are having on the environment.  Through a few conscious decisions, we can all become more sustainable, save time and money, and help create a healthier, happier environment.

               

Waite is a seasonal scientist with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.     



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