As a former landfill superintendent, I now feel that if I had paid attention, the waste arriving would have been more colorful after specific dates on the calendar. In November there would be orange and black decorations, plastic pumpkins that did not make the night, and unusable costumes from all superhero stories of the day.
In December and January, the proportion of sparkle would increase after the hundreds of holiday parties and gatherings that just about everyone in our small county would attend. In February comes red heart boxes that were once filled with candy followed in March by green shamrocks and all the party favors that go with these celebrations. The list goes on to Easter, Fourth of July and every birthday and anniversary.
Retail stores will not let us forget the next reason to celebrate. As one holiday passes, decorations for the next fills that space. In fact, there is a dedicated area of any large big box store just for this throw away merchandise.
According to the National Retail Federation, in 2018 we spent an average of $215 per person on decorations for the winter holidays, followed by $136 per person for Valentine’s Day, and $90 per person on Halloween. Good for the stores, bad for our environment.
You will notice a common message that I share in my writing is to consider the life cycle of any product before you purchase. What is the carbon footprint of that item? Where will it end up? It may be thrown away, but it is not going “away” any time soon.
Most of those decorations are made from plastic and paper, both of which heavily contribute to our carbon footprint. Should we really cut down trees to make those colorful paper napkins and plates, which are also printed with toxic dyes that end up in our waterways? They spend the afternoon with you and then end up decorating the landfill.
Gatherings of family and friends are a wonderful thing. But how about we consider some important steps when planning the next celebration so that it does not harm our future generations?
Make it a game to see how little waste you produce.
As you are planning your next celebration you may want to ask yourself some simple questions.
1. What is this item made from? What is the footprint?
2. Will it last for several years and then be donated for reuse?
3. Is it made from renewable resources?
4. Will it just end up in the landfill after the party?
5. Is it biodegradable if put into a compost bin?
Luckily, there are small changes we can make that have huge impacts to reducing our carbon footprint AND save you tons of money over the year.
Tableware – Create a “party kit” with reusable plates, utensils, cloth napkins, cloth tablecloths, mugs and cups. You can get a mix of colorful items at a secondhand store and keep them in a tub for each celebration. Don’t forget the reusable straws as well.
Goody bags – Just say no to those junky plastic toys that rarely last to the end of the child’s party. One idea might be to have them decorate their own reusable water bottle or t-shirt to take home.
Wrapping Paper – We tend to give presents to the same people each holiday, so starting a cloth bag exchange program may work. Wrap presents in a colorful cloth bag that can be used again by the recipient, and eventually getting back to you. To make a bigger impact, give a set to your family members so they can use them as well. And no taping! Or better yet, give an “experience” instead of stuff.
Balloons – Just say no to balloons. They end up where they should not be. How about colorful rice paper lanterns?
Cut Flowers – How about a live plant instead? That way it is supplying oxygen and will last a lot longer than cut flowers. You can even include a note that you will help plant in their yard if it is that kind of plant. And make sure it is native to your area.
Lights – when your holiday lights go out, get LED replacements. They last a lot longer and saves valuable resources over the years. While the cheap ones are – cheap – they still have a big footprint before they reach the shelf. Plus, there are so many things you can do with the lights, like put them into your empty glass jars.
Gifts – It is a common theme in this series to give an experience instead of stuff. You can also include art pieces and consumables to this category. But be thoughtful as to the container of the consumables.
Act now by creating your party box for your home celebrations. You might also suggest to your local groups that they make some reusable cloth wrapping bags and sell as a fundraiser.
Having an eco-friendly celebration can be easy when you have your reusables at the ready, while also saving you money and keeping disposables out of the landfill.