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Posted December 22, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Clearing the holiday clutter

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 percent during the holidays. To keep all of that extra trash from filling up our landfills, we need to think twice before tossing it into the garbage can. So as you are clearing the holiday clutter this year, try some of these tips for reducing your family's contribution to the mountain of trash.

When opening gifts, have a box or bag handy to collect gift bags, bows, and even paper to be reused the next year. Don't throw these items away until they are well-worn and no longer useful. You can also shred used wrapping paper to make decorative gift packing material for next year. It looks better than peanuts and is recyclable. If you have received gifts in sturdy boxes with tops, wrap the top and bottom of those boxes separately and add a bow to the top. Each box will become a beautiful gift package that can be reused for years to come.

During the cold winter months when you are stuck inside looking for something to do, make your old Christmas cards into gift tags to use the next year. Just cut out the prettiest pictures, words, or phrases, punch a hole in the tag, and tie a narrow ribbon through the hole. Next year, you can write your "to" and "from" on the back for unique, inexpensive gift label. Another option to recycle cards is the St. Jude's Ranch for Children recycled card program.

For items that cannot be repurposed, be sure to recycle them appropriately. But before you do, think about ways to turn that trash into treasure - for yourself or someone else. You might try selling your items on Ebay or at a local consignment shop or garage sale. Look for opportunities such as the Indoor Community Yard Sale that Central High School After Prom is having at the school in Woodstock on Jan. 14, where you can rent a table for a nominal amount.

You might also consider giving your items to a local charitable organization. This will reduce the amount you are putting in the landfill and give you a tax deduction as well. Most organizations have a website or a listing of items they are looking for. And there are many options you might not think about. For example, animal shelters often accept used blankets and towels no matter what their condition for use in caring for the animals. Women's shelters often accept household items, including glassware, dishes, cooking utensils, and more to help residents get started when they leave the shelter. Pregnancy centers accept clothing and toys, not only for expectant moms and infants, but often for older siblings up to a certain age or size. Why not ask your favorite charities if they have a list of needed items, so you can be on the lookout for things you might have to donate?

Gifts of electronics will create lots of waste this year, as only 12 percent of consumers recycle large electronics and only 17 percent recycle small electronics. Because of toxic materials in electronics, this is an especially important category to find some other home for other than the landfill. Give them away, sell them (perhaps for cash) or recycle them. There are on-line "cash back" stores, such as Gazelle, that will pay for newer items. They may even pay for shipping on items that are too old for them to purchase. Some stores, such as Best Buy, will allow you to bring in old electronics that they will then recycle responsibly for you. Sometimes there is a fee for larger items, but in many cases it is free. There are also recycling kiosks at some wireless carrier stores for you to recycle your old phone. Cell Phones for Soldiers (cellphonesforsoldiers.com) will allow you to print a pre-paid mailing label to send in your old phones.

With so many ways to choose from, I'm sure you and your family can find some great possibilities for clearing your holiday clutter!

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