Oh the holidays! Who doesn’t love it, even though it can be overwhelming? One of the ways it is overwhelming is all the stuff. The paper, the packages, the presents, the bows, the tree, the garland and don’t forget the mistletoe!
And all that stuff has a big impact. December is the highest month for landfill deposits. Ready to be overwhelmed? Household waste increases by a whopping 25% between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 30 million Christmas Trees will end up in landfills. 4 million tons of wrapping paper and gift bags alone will be used.
We all know as Christians that we want more focus on the birth of Jesus versus all the stuff. So here are 12 ways to recycle stuff and reduce the overuse.
Day 1 - Paper Bags
I love brown paper bags! Especially if they are made of 100% post-consumer recycled content like you get at some up-end grocery stores. Now I normally take my own recyclable cloth bags but every once in a while, I forget. As my friend says, shoot for progress not perfection. So in my progress of trying and desperately looking for my roll of craft paper that I must have used up, I came across my brown paper bags. Guess what? Cut apart they make the perfect craft wrapping paper for shipping. This is not a unique solution but one we shouldn't forget and saves you about $4.95 a roll and a trip to the store.
Day 2 - Plastic Bags
Are you like me? Do you feel like when you store plastic bags, they get busy propagating with each other so that the 10 that come into the house end up being hundreds? Once again, I very seldom have plastic bags anymore but if I do, beyond using them for cats and dogs and their business, plastic bags are a great packing material.
Day 3 - Maps
Arguably one of my favorite Christmases was the year I had picked up a bunch of maps at a yard sale. I decided immediately to use them as wrapping paper since most of them were hiking maps. The kids loved seeing what their maps were and they wrapped like a dream because the paper is thicker than any bargain paper you can get at the store. Would also be fun for origami.
Day 4 - Boxes
Almost every box can be used again. My mother is proof of that. For years she has been recycling cereal, cracker, Bisquick and a variety of other boxes as gift boxes. She sometimes even cuts them apart and rebuilds them. It's always amusing to see what fit in the Bisquick box. A while back I was in a Big Box shopping, I ran across an aisle of empty shoe boxes. I picked one up and asked the clerk if I could have it and she said yes. Might as well use it again before recycling it.
Day 5 - Milk Cartons & Beverage Bottles
I could give you one of Martha Stewart's wonderful ideas of using them to create some lovely punch center piece. It's a good thing! But what I use milk jugs for is the cooler. I often find myself porting food across state lines during the holidays and these large containers make great ice packs. Because of their size they stay frozen longer than anything else and if you don't need to port food back, you can leave them at your destination for recycling. Another great use is if you are like me and don't have tons of frozen foods, you can leave them in the freezer and it makes your freezer more energy efficient because once frozen they keep the freezer cold and therefore the freezer doesn't have to cycle on as much. Think energy efficiency.
Day 6 - Gifts
This one, I guess can be touchy. But everyone has a gift that was great but you didn't use. Why not re-gift? I know the stores are trying to convince you that it's tacky. But who will really know and why not have someone else receive it who might really enjoy it? If you feel too guilty to give to a family member or friend then why not donate it to a worthy charity? There are charities who give gifts to needy adults as well as children. In my town, Decatur, Senior Citizens are allowed to request gifts. So check with a local nursing home or homeless shelter. After all giving is better than receiving, especially if it means one less thing to dust around.
Day 7 - Butter Papers
My Mother was an environmentalist without ever knowing she was one! My mother never threw away a single butter paper. They were folded and stored in our butter keeper in the refrigerator waiting for cookie making time. Sure they would slip out if you opened the draw but they were quite ingenious. They made greasing easy and fingers never got messy. It was before the days of Pam but truthfully anything that extends time with Mother in the kitchen is always a treat and you can feel better about what's going on the cookies.
Day 8 - Fabric
My family is full of sewers and crafters. I am embarrassed to tell you how many crafts I have started and done then still ended up with scads of leftover materials. This idea came from a dear friend however. She used cloth to wrap gifts. Sort of along the idea of flours sack being made out of calico. Using material as wrapping paper can create provocative talk. The material can even become an additional gift. Why not use a dish towel to wrap a kitchen gift? Or a wash cloth to wrap a bathroom gift or bar of luscious handmade organic soap? How about a fat quarter of fabric to wrap a gift for a quilter?
Day 9 – Books
Are you a reader like me where people give you stacks of books? If the re-gifting day made you uncomfortable don't worry, even manner experts say it's okay to re-gift books without penalty. If you don't have anyone to re-gift to why not make a donation to your local library? We are a big fan of Better World Books who will take almost any books you can't find a home for. Plus, books are guaranteed to get recycled one way or another when they go to Better World Books. Look for a bin in your metro area or you can ship them to Better World Books for free. That's right for free and yes now there is one less box in your house too!
Day 10 – Electronics
Electronics are now a staple of holiday gifts. Whether it's a an Xbox, Laptop, or I-this-that-or-the-other, someone made Santa happy this year and Santa is giving them something that is now smarter than Mom and Dad in about a dozen ways. But what happens to the gizmo from last year that was only slightly smarter than Mom and Dad? Well good news! You don't have to throw away the trace amount of gold that is in all electronics. Many non-profits collect at least cell phones as a fund raiser but if that is too hard don't worry Best Buy has announced they will recycle all electronics nationwide now. Just drop it by the store. No more excuses...everything can be dropped off for proper disposal. If you decide to support a local charity or recycler make sure they are E-Stewards certified so it doesn't end up in a developing country making a toxic mess. Also, look for ECO-ATMs. They recycle the phones and you can get a little cash back.
Day 11 - Wrapping Paper
My brother calls me the Wrapping Paper Ninja. After years of wrapping gifts at my family's gift shop, I do have a talent! However, no matter how much I like to wrap gifts, I am aware that wrapping paper is...well not so sustainable. Most of it can't be recycled and the quaint burn the paper in the fireplace that we used to do at my grandparents can be toxic. The dyes used can off-gas chemicals. Is nothing sacred anymore? So what to do? Save the wrapping paper for packing materials. Try to find a local place that will recycle wrapping paper. Don't put it in your normal paper recycling. Look for wrapping paper that is sustainably made.
Day 12 - Christmas Trees
I feel like I should sing "and a partridge in a pear tree"...And yes, here's another one of those don't mess with my tradition items. I am a sucker for a real tree. However, most years I don't even decorate because I am always out of town for Christmas. And to tell the truth, the one year I had an 8 foot tree, that I could only afford to decorate half of it, was the year I learned that Christmas trees for cat owners are really just great big cat toys. I have an infographic that weighs in on the live vs fake tree debate. Spoiler alert: The real tree wins. The best tree is a live tree that you can plant, I've been told, but how many Christmas trees can you really replant unless you get really motivated and plant them at nursing homes, local parks or even at your church? The good news is if you do go with a live one you are supporting most likely an American run business and most cities now offer a chipping or a recycling service so you can use that tree to mulch or start getting your spring garden really early.
This is not an exhaustive list. So please share down in the comments list what you do to reduce your Christmas. This is a community effort and we appreciate your input.