This time of year we're busy spreading joy to the world over the hills and through the woods. But unless we're careful, we'll also spread around enough solid waste to bury the North Pole in the process. Here's how to make mincemeat of most of it.
According to the EPA, the nation's production of household garbage increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's a million additional tons of bah humbug headed for landfills. Yet by making a few changes, we can all be wise men and stuff Earth's stocking with sustainability instead. Here's how:
Send season's greetings digitally. Some 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold annually in America, an amount that would fill a football field 10 stories high. But there are also lots of free online resources for ecards, none of which turn trees into eventual trash. Use these instead to spread your holiday cheer.
Light your celebrations with LEDs. Another thing wasted during the holidays is electricity. You'll save sleighloads of the stuff by switching to LED lighting — the same amount of power used to light one incandescent holiday bulb will light a 48-foot strand of LEDs that lasts for decades. And you can recycle your old strands for free.
Give smarter. Choose gifts that don't need packaging like donations to a good cause, offers to babysit or perform cores, a massage, a museum pass, or tickets to something fun.
Leave the batteries behind. Around 40% of all battery sales happen at holiday time. Gifts that don't need any won't contribute to this waste. Or give rechargeable batteries and a charger as a gift.
Wrap outside the box. According to Earth911, four million tons of shopping bags and wrapping are discarded each year in the U.S. But if you "wrap" your gifts in reusable shopping bags, you'll solve two problems with one smile! You can also wrap gifts in other gifts, like a bandanna or a towel. Baskets are good, too. Or recycle old maps, newspaper, bags, and gently-used gift wrap for the purpose.
Bow out on the bows. Americans throw out 38,000 miles of ribbon every year. But we wouldn't if we trimmed gifts with evergreen tips, holly, pine cones, raffia, ornamental grasses, and other biodegradable visuals.
Decorate like the Dickens. Forget store-bought stuff and deck your own halls with evergreen, stings of popcorn and cranberries, and other biodegradable trimmings.
Soup-up supper. Don't let holiday food go bad. From the turkey carcass to those sweet potatoes, you can toss them all into a soup pot when everyone is sick of leftovers. Add a little stock for a brand new meal that devours food waste.
Cut down tree waste. Roughly 33 million live Christmas trees are sold each year. Don't send yours to a landfill come January. Instead, look for a local mulching, wood fuel, or beach erosion program that will turn it something more useful than garbage.
Pack with popcorn for peanuts. If you're mailing stuff, substitute oil-free air-popped popcorn for polystyrene packing peanuts. Or recycle foam peanuts you've gotten yourself.
Pack up your remaining troubles. If you're swimming in packing materials come January, check to see if any local shippers, museums, movers, or stores want them. Most UPS Stores, for example, love clean packing material donations. Check with the Plastic Loose Fill Council for local foam peanut recycling options.
Send foam home. Stuck with large pieces of custom-molded foam packaging that cushion electronics and other fragile gifts in their boxes? The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers can help.