Ask Eartha: Holidays bring tidings of great joy, junk | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: Holidays bring tidings of great joy, junk

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

Kite Festival 09

Dear Eartha,

The holidays are upon us, and I'm once again overwhelmed by the amount of stuff! I love the tradition of gift giving, but sometimes the amount of packaging is just ridiculous. How can I have a more sustainable holiday experience? — Audrey, Dillon

Happy holidays, Audrey! I'm glad you asked because you're not the only one. This time of year is busy in the High Country, and that means the local economy has a little surge of adrenaline. For businesses, this time of year means a healthy income and long hours. For residents, late December means hunkering down for some family time and avoiding busy roadways. For visitors, it means a mountain experience they'll never forget.

Regardless of how you spend your time over the next two weeks, one thing is for certain: Your family will generate nearly 25-percent more waste than you do any other time of the year! Wow. Much of that waste is in the form of packaging and the wrapping of gifts. Consider this: In the U.S. alone, the annual trash from gift wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons! In fact, Americans discard 38,000 miles of ribbon annually, which is enough to wrap a bow around the entire Earth!

Gift wrapping is one area where you can reduce the amount of waste generated. Using old crossword puzzles, maps and newspapers as wrapping paper is one way to avoid having to buy new material. Another idea is to reuse old gift bags and tissue paper from years previous. If you must buy new wrapping materials, search the labels for 100-percent recycled content. Most wrapping paper is recyclable, as well. Gift wrap paper with a foil backing, tissue paper and ribbons are NOT recyclable, so reuse them!

I bought my first strand of LED holiday lights this year, and I love them! For holiday lighting, consider using strands that have LED bulbs or are solar powered to be as energy efficient as possible. Artificial trees and ornaments are typically made in China and shipped overseas, resulting in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, consider holiday decorations made from what you have available in your household. Tree ornaments and garlands can be made simply by using dried apple and orange slices, popcorn and re-purposed wine corks. Wreaths can be made out of recycled cardboard and cinnamon sticks or twigs and pinecones from your yard. Pinterest has some great DIY ideas!

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For the tree itself, try going with a live tree in a pot or a pre-cut tree, as these can either be planted or made into mulch or compost. In Summit County, the municipalities provide a location to recycle your Christmas trees through January. For town locations and details on proper tree disposal, visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org. Ornaments, lights and tinsel MUST be removed from the tree before drop-off.

If "stuff" is really what's overwhelming you in the end, consider gifts that are more impactful on behalf of the recipient. For example, consider buying them a gift experience instead. Some examples include a nice dinner, theater or concert tickets or an activity pass. Another gift giving option is giving a charitable gift to an organization in your loved one's name. This form of giving is hugely impactful and is growing in popularity. If shopping online, consider using companies like AmazonSmile that gives back a portion of their proceeds to organizations of the buyer's choice.

The holidays are about spending time with family and celebrating community, but it's easy to get caught up in the economic machine at the same time. Slow down, and be conscious about your actions this holiday season. Consider the full impact of what you're doing, and make choices that deliberately conserve resources, reuse material, contribute to social well-being and improve your community, and you will have succeeded in achieving a more sustainable holiday experience.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at eartha@highcountryconservation.org.