The students get a break from "readin', ritin', and rithmatic" during the holidays, but none of us should forget about the other "Three Rs"--Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. During the time from Thanksgiving to New Year's, we create an extra 5 million tons of garbage. The extra waste is generated because the average American household increases its trash output by 25% during the holidays. By practicing the Holiday "Three Rs," we can change that trend. In addition to being good for the environment, it might even help reduce the final price tag of our holidays.
Reduce--First, we can reduce the amount of waste we create by making wise buying decisions. When you are choosing gifts, look for items with small amounts of packaging. Better yet, give gifts like movie tickets, restaurant gift certificates, memberships or savings bonds that don't have any packaging. Consumable gifts like homemade breads, cakes, cookies, and pies are delicious and create no waste if they are given in a decorative reusable container. Coupons for services like babysitting, snow shoveling, or spring cleaning are very much appreciated. For the person who has everything, perhaps you could make a donation to their favorite charity and send a card saying it was given in their honor. When you are shopping, bring your own reusable totes to avoid adding to your collection of paper and plastic bags. Try wrapping gifts in reusable items, like scarves, kitchen towels, fabric scraps or other creative containers. Tie on candy, an ornament or other small trinkets that can be reused instead of a bow. When entertaining, use real plates, cups, and silverware rather than the disposable variety. Rather than mailing greeting cards, think about sending your greetings electronically this year. When decorating, try using only things that you already have at home. Natural decorations, including greenery, nuts, pine cones, and fruit are both beautiful and biodegradable.
Reuse--Next, we can think about ways to reuse items, rather than discarding them. For example, have a box handy to collect bows, gift bags, and wrapping paper that isn't too wrinkled as people are unwrapping gifts. If you are really energetic, you can press wrapping paper with an iron on a low no-steam setting. (Pressing is not recommended for foil or waxed wrapping paper.) Or shred old wrapping paper to make "stuffing" for gifts bags or packing material for gifts you are mailing. Wrinkled bows can be "refluffed" in the dryer with a damp wash cloth for two minutes on a low or gentle setting. Use small scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon to wrap small boxes to use as tree ornaments or gift decorations. Wrap the top and bottom of a box separately for a gift box that can be used again and again. Cut up old Christmas cards to make gift tags for this year's presents. Kids can use cookie cutters to cut any cardstock weight items, such as old file folders or boxes, into items that can be decorated as ornaments, gift box decorations, or gift tags. If the item needs additional embellishment, simply cover it with aluminum foil, glitter glue, tinsel, or other decorative materials. If you prefer to leave the Christmas cards intact, staple or tape them to a ribbon to hang as decorations. Purchase "previously owned" decorations at thrift store rather than buying new ones. Damaged ornaments can be place into a glass bowl to use as a centerpiece (with damaged areas hidden, of course).
Recycle/Donate--Finally, do your best to find a way to recycle or donate anything that you no longer have a use for after the holidays. You may have to make some phone calls to find out the specifics in your community, but here are some ideas to get you started. Wrapping paper and gift boxes can be placed into "mixed paper" recycling bins. Many landfills will recycle Christmas trees and other greenery by chipping it for mulch. Teachers of young children are always looking for craft materials, which could include old greeting cards, wrapping paper and ribbon. Used cards can also be donated to St. Jude's Ranch for Children, where the children will add new backs to the cards and sell them as a fundraiser: http://www.stjudesranch.com/help_card.php. Look in your phonebook or community services directory to find charitable organizations that could benefit from the things you are discarding. Animal shelters can always use blankets and towels, as long as they are washable. Domestic violence shelters give old cell phones to their residents to be used for emergency situations. Local thrift stores will take almost any gently used item to be resold to benefit charity or given away to families in need. There are even a number of ways to donate or recycle your used electronics. Just be absolutely sure that all of your personal information has been removed first! Many schools and community organizations collect small electronics as a fundraiser. You can use envelopes picked up at your local post office to send in ink cartridges, cell phones, PDAs, and small digital cameras. Some retail stores, such as Staples and Home Depot, are collecting certain items for recycling. You can even generate some funds for yourself by taking advantage of electronics trade-in programs offered through Costco and Sears--trade in your electronics and get a cash card back. If you need more ideas, try searching the Internet for "holiday recycling" or "recycle ________" listing the name of the item you want to recycle. If you put your zip code into a sites search feature and do not get a "hit," try the zip code of a nearby larger town or city. Let's all do our part this Christmas to have a "greener" holiday!
http://www.thedailygreen.com (general tips)
http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm (donate electronics)
http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/ecoeasy/index.html (recycle electronics)
http://costco.gazelle.com/ (electronics trade-in)
http://sears.gazelle.com/ (electronics trade-in)
http://www.loosefillpackaging.com/ (recycle plastic peanuts)
http://CarpetRecovery.org (used carpet)
http://www.dressforsuccess.org/ (used ladies suits)
http://www.donatemydress.org/ (prom dresses)
http://www.gamesforheroes.com/ (electronic games)
http://www.iloveschools.com/ (sports equipment)
http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/ (cell phones)
http://www.greenerchoices.org (find places to recycle)