Released December 2, 2009
STILLWATER, Okla. – Everywhere you look there are signs of the holidays – decorations, Christmas trees, festive lawn decorations and advertisements for this year’s “must-have” gifts.
Unfortunately, along with all of this holiday cheer comes a tremendous amount of additional waste, said Ilda Hershey, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension assistant state specialist, solid waste management programs.
“During the few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, we generate an additional one million tons of waste per week compared to any other time of the year,” Hershey said. “Thinking green this holiday season should include more than bough and holly. Consumers are encouraged to keep the four R’s in mind this time of year – reduce, reuse, recycle and rejoice.”
It may take a little bit of planning, but being eco-friendly can help save money. Many families entertain more during the holidays and here are a few tips that are beneficial to the environment.
- Plan ahead to avoid impulse buying.
- Turn down the heat.
- Use free online invitation services.
- Consider renting formal attire or buying from consignment shops.
- Ask guests to bring canned food, clothing or toys for a local shelter.
- Purchase products in recyclable containers.
- Bring reusable grocery bags to the store.
- After the party, send leftovers home with guests, freeze it or compost it.
- Donate untouched food to local food banks.
- Use durable serving ware instead of disposable.
- If you must use disposable goods, buy paper because it is biodegradable.
- Use cloth napkins and pull out the family linens.
“There has been a long debate over using a live Christmas tree as opposed to an artificial tree. Both have pros and cons,” Hershey said. “Live trees have a wonderful smell, they are biodegradable and can be chipped into mulch or compost. Additionally, Christmas trees trap more carbon dioxide than other trees. Good choices for planting after the holidays include the potted Norfolk pine or a fig tree.”
Additionally, at the end of the season, a live tree can be sunken in a pond for fish cover.
On the downside, live trees can be loaded with pesticides, they may have been trucked across the country, they need to be watered regularly, they shed needles and not every community provides a recycling program.
Artificial trees are less expensive because they are reusable year after year, they do not dry out and consumers can put them up earlier in the season.
“Unfortunately, artificial trees are made mostly of plastics and metals, including lead, that aren’t biodegradable,” she said. “Also, they often are shipped long distances because many artificial trees are made in China. You also need a place to store it all year long, and, depending on the quality, an artificial tree may not be as aesthetically pleasing.”
When making your final decision regarding what type of tree to get, Hershey suggests cutting down a tree if there is a farm nearby. Also consider how to recycle the tree after the holiday is over. If you decide on an artificial tree, opt for one made in the United States to reduce the costs associated with overseas shipping.
Decorations do not have to be the store-bought variety. String a garland of popcorn and cranberries. Natural ornaments can be made from seed pods, leaves, twigs and pine cones.
“In an effort to recycle, buy ornaments from a thrift store and personalize them with paint, markers or glitter,” she said. “Seasonal fruits such as oranges, gourds and pomegranates also make great holiday decorations. As an added bonus, they can be eaten afterward or composted.”
Technology makes it much easier to stay in touch with family and friends. Send e-greetings instead of traditional holiday cards. If you choose to send cards, purchase ones made from recycled paper. Another idea is to look for recycled cotton cards embedded with wildflower seeds. These cards can be planted in the spring.
When it comes to gifts, less is better. Rather than piling up “stuff” under the tree, think about what family and friends really want. In an effort to reduce the amount of “stuff” this year, consider giving gift certificates for services, create and give a family recipe book, plant a tree in someone’s honor, consider giving gifts only to the children in the family, make investments for family members in green companies and donate unwanted gifts to charity.
“Consumable gifts are a great option this holiday season. A membership to a local museum or zoo is a great gift for a family. Gift certificates for a facial, pedicure or other spa service is surely to be welcomed,” Hershey said. “Another idea is to make a personalized coupon book for services such as car washing, a massage, cooking lessons, snow shoveling or house cleaning. Check to see if your area has a local food co-op or other group that delivers locally grown fruits and vegetables.”
When it is time to wrap gifts, make tags from old greeting cards. Use old maps, wallpaper scraps, newspaper comics or reusable gift bags. Simply tie a bow around a large gift such as a bicycle.
“With careful planning and consideration, you can help make this holiday season even greener,” Hershey said. “And as you head into the new year, keep practicing these activities in an effort to be green all year long.”
Writer: Trisha Gedon, 405-744-3625, firstname.lastname@example.org