Down to Business: Going green for the holiday season

Decorating my first Christmas tree ages ago as a young adult, I hung holiday cards by red and gold ribbon as ornaments and snapped together plastic-bead necklaces collected from a college excursion to Mardi Gras to create a colorful garland rope. The topper was a hand-drawn star cut from cardboard and wrapped in aluminum foil.

Turns out I was being “green,” as well as frugal and creative.

We’re in the throes of the holidays now, when all of our decorating, wrapping and unwrapping will have an environmental impact, the folks at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission noted in an email last week, offering tips on seasonal sustainability.

Besides encouraging a switch to LED bulbs to save energy and increase the longevity of holiday lights, the mailing included a link to a Stanford University resources web page with a frequently-asked-questions section on reducing holiday waste.

According to the section, trash production increases in the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s holiday period, growing by some 25%.

Indeed, a quick look at the numbers for municipal solid waste – household garbage – at the Colonie landfill show a pop in monthly tonnage for both December 2019 and 2020, as detailed in annual reports to the state. The landfill, owned by the town but operated by an arm of giant Waste Connections of Texas, is the end point for garbage from community transfer stations in some local counties.

I’m unsure now whether my holiday-ribbon hangers would have passed muster with Stanford, since I can’t remember whether I recycled them from previously received gifts.

But Stanford says that if every American family reused two feet of holiday ribbon, we’d save enough — 38,000 miles worth — to “tie a bow around the entire planet.” (I confess to not asking for a show of proof on that calculation.)

Here are other calculations from Stanford: If every family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, we’d save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. If we each sent one less holiday card, that’s another 50,000 cubic yards of paper, putting a dent in the 2.65 billion cards sold each year (which could fill a football field 10 stories high).

Practical tips are there, too, such as using old posters, colorful magazine pages or the Sunday comics for wrapping. If you’re more traditional and want the holiday themes, look for wrapping paper made from recycled material, and remember that glittery, shiny paper and cards cannot be recycled. But unwrapping carefully can save paper for use again.

Stanford also suggests that gifts of time and experiences — offering to babysit or arranging a trip to a museum — can help reduce holiday waste. Bake up a storm of gifts, or give ornaments made from family photos.

And since New Year’s is just around the corner, Stanford also provides some green resolutions in the form of the three Rs — recycle, reduce and reuse — to lessen waste year-round.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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