Christmas -- What a Waste

December 18, 1998

By Michael Jessen

If there's one way I don't want to describe the Christmas season, the phrase "What a waste" comes readily to mind.

Yet the Center for a New American Dream says 5 million extra tons of garbage are produced between Thanksgiving and New Years Day in the United States each year.

Tis the season to be jolly in the Kootenays, but that doesn't mean we have to create a heap of holiday trash. The trick is to learn new ways to reduce disposable waste.

Let's start with the biggest problem -- gift wrapping paper. It's recyclable, so don't burn it or throw it in the garbage can. Recycle it with other mixed paper from the holidays life gift boxes, paper backing on gifts, and envelopes and cards. Don't worry about tape, but do reuse ribbons and bows.

As alternatives to wrapping paper, why not reuse baskets, boxes, cloth bags and jars. Old newspapers, coloured comics, posters, calendars, old maps, leftover wallpaper, or fabric remnants also make great gift wrap. Another idea is to make the wrapping part of the present -- tea towels, bath towels and facecloths, pillowcases, scarves, fancy wooden boxes, cloth napkins, tablecloths, straw baskets all make wonderful reusable packaging.

When giving gifts, we can help to save resources by thinking about "green" presents. Some green gift ideas are: a picnic basket with reusable cutlery and dishes; a cloth lunch bag with reusable containers to take to school or work; a reusable mug, to take wherever you go; cloth shopping bags to cut down on the use of plastic or paper; cloth napkins and napkin rings that you can reuse again and again; energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs; a yoghurt maker to eliminate purchasing plastic containers; a flashlight with rechargeable batteries; a battery charger.

Asking for books is always a good idea. You can read them first, then give them to someone as a gift, telling them that reusing is good for the planet and for your purse. A subscription to an environmental or nature magazine keeps the gift coming all year. And for those with particular tastes, a gift certificate to a movie theatre, sporting event, book or music store.

Yuletide gifts can be creative too. Give a gift of your time or an experience. Some examples might be a romantic evening at home; a day of skiing; a gift certificate for baby-sitting, a massage, a car wash, snow shovelling, a house cleaning, or leaf raking; a Capitol Theatre or a Nelson Museum membership. You could also offer to cook dinner, make a special painting, walk the dog, or sew an outfit. The gift of time tells someone you have really thought about want you can do for them and the planet.

Think about putting your Christmas presents under a living, potted tree which can be later planted in the garden or consider buying an artificial tree -- it can be reused over and over again.

Decorate the tree by recycling old Christmas cards into ornaments. Dried flowers, old pieces of cloth, magazines, and leftover wrapping from gifts also make imaginative decorations. Make your own "tinsel" decorations by stringing cranberries or popcorn.

If you buy a Christmas tree from the local Boy Scout troop or local service club, don't forget to take the tree to your local landfill or waste transfer station for chipping. Christmas tree bonfires are a thing of the past. If you live in Nelson, the Nelson Lions Club is picking up Christmas trees for chipping on Saturday, January 9th. Put your tree near the curb and a club member will come to your door for a suggested $2 donation.

And this year, as part of your Boxing Day, sort through all that wrapping and packaging, and store whatever can be reused. Bows, boxes, colourful bags and wrapping will come in handy for your next gift-giving occasion.

Reduce, reuse and rejoice! Remember to take the trash out of your Yuletide holiday.

TRASH TIP - Before you venture too far on your shopping expedition, consider a visit to local second-hand or thrift stores. This is a wonderful way to reduce and reuse. When giving gifts, think about supporting local artisans and craftspeople by purchasing pottery, handknitted woollen sweaters, wooden toys and furniture, clothing, paintings, and ornaments.

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