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Ask Eartha: Easy tips to reduce your waste this holiday season

Rachel Zerowin
Ask Eartha
To avoid holiday waste consider some of these more environmentally friendly gift wrapping ideas: paint newspaper, repurpose children’s artwork, decorate brown paper shopping bags, tie on some small twigs for a natural look or even wrap the gift in a tea towel.
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Dear Eartha, I love the holidays. I love baking a ton of cookies, decorating my home and wrapping gifts fit for a photo shoot. I realize it’s wasteful, but I’m not ready to give up my holiday traditions. Do you have any advice for me?

There’s no shame in celebrating the holidays and sharing your giving spirit. I applaud you for considering the impact that your holiday traditions have. After all, the waste adds up quickly. In fact, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season, adding up to 1 million tons of extra garbage each week. Instead of scrapping your favorite traditions, try making small, easy adjustments that reduce waste and spread the holiday spirit.

Cooking for a crowd

For the folks who love holiday baking and cooking but don’t have a big family to feed, you can put your talents to good use: donating dishes of food to the Father Dyer weekly community dinner in Breckenridge. Whip up a few pans of your favorite side dishes or bake cookies to your heart’s content without fear of the goods going to waste. To sign up, visit FatherDyer.com and click on “volunteer.” You don’t have to stop cooking when the holidays end. The team serves up community meals every Sunday and welcomes donated food all year long.



Smart styling

For many, the holidays are synonymous with festive lights displays. Back in 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration found that holiday lights accounted for 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity consumption each year. That’s enough energy to power 800,000 homes for a year, and it’s more than the annual consumption of some entire countries!

I’d like to think that now, 13 years later, most of us have switched to LED string lights. But if you haven’t, now’s the time to upgrade. Not only do LEDs last longer, they use roughly 80% less energy than conventional string lights. That means the few extra dollars you spend on LED string lights will likely pay for itself in one season through a cheaper electric bill — even inside a small condo. If you go big with outdoor lighting displays, you could save $100 or more each season. There are numerous online calculators to help you find out just how much.



As you think about styling out your space, avoid the plastic junk that gets thrown out every season. I know, those cheap dollar-section “steals” are tempting, but instead of the so-called reusable gel window clings that get covered in lint (and cat hair), opt instead for more natural elements. A potted poinsettia is easy to care for, and the festive red foliage comes back each holiday season. Or pop some floating soy candles into a bowl of water with fresh cranberries and presto: an elegant centerpiece. (You can even compost the cranberries once the centerpiece has lived its fullest life.)

Getting crafty with gift wrap

Even I’m a sucker for an expertly wrapped gift. But presents don’t need to be wrapped with brand-new paper and metallic ribbons. Paint newspaper, repurpose children’s artwork, decorate brown paper shopping bags, tie on some small twigs for a natural look or even wrap the gift in a tea towel. For the crafters of the world, the possibilities are endless.

Not into gift wrapping? Save and reuse old gift bags. Seriously, if nothing else, save yourself some cash and repurpose what you’ve got in your recycling bin. Once the gifts are opened, save all those fabulous ribbons, bows and useable wrapping paper. And find out whether the rest is recyclable. HighCountryConservation.org offers a “holiday recycling tips” page for details on how to dispose of wrapping paper, string lights, old electronics and much more.

Whether you’re celebrating or working throughout the holidays, or perhaps a little of both, consider how your traditions can give back to the planet and the community.

Rachel Zerowin

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