According to Stanford University, Americans generate 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Years than at any other time of the year.
Between decorations, gifts and cards, sustainability experts like Lake County’s Merleanne Rampale share tips on how to cut down and reuse this season to make your Christmas that little bit greener.
Rampale, the education director for Lake County’s Solid Waste Agency, makes presentations to community and community organizations across the county about how to make the holidays greener – sharing tips on how to reduce waste, recycle various materials and give more eco-friendly gifts.
She begins each of her presentations with a quote from her heroine, Jane Goodall: “You can’t get through a single day without making an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what difference you want to make.”
Rampale likes to challenge people to make their holidays as plastic-free as possible, starting with wrapping paper.
According to DuPage County-based environmental education non-profit organization SCARCE, conventional wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. That’s because it contains a plastic laminate or non-paper additive that cannot be separated from the paper in recycling facilities.
For recyclable alternatives, you can buy paper packaging or use materials you already have around the house: construction paper, cards, calendars, newspapers, paper bags, and crossword puzzles.
Another option is reusable bags that can be gifted further, or even a reusable tote bag that can be part of the gift.
Environmentalists shared similar tips about Christmas cards. Cards aren’t recyclable unless they’re just paper—glitter, electronics, or ribbons will send your cards to landfill.
Instead of buying new decorations, you can brighten up your home yourself with eco-friendly and family-friendly Christmas crafts like popcorn tree garlands, dried citrus garlands, origami stars, and paper snowflakes.
Christmas lights used for decoration cause a huge amount of electricity consumption every Christmas season. By switching to LED lighting, you can use up to 80-90% less energy. Other helpful habits include reducing the size of your light display and making sure your tree and outdoor lights are off after bedtime.
As for that one string of lights that always breaks every year, instead of throwing them in the trash, you can drop them off at a local recycling center. SCARCE in Addison accepts working and non-working Christmas lights year-round.
When choosing your Christmas tree, environmentalists say that real, locally sourced trees are the most eco-friendly choice. For those who prefer artificial trees, experts recommend keeping them for as long as possible to offset their emissions.
Kay McKeen, founder and CEO of SCARCE, said families should think about gifts that can also help the environment, like rain barrels, compost bins, battery-powered garden tools, lead-free garden hoses and accessories like raised garden planters.
McKeen added that experiential gifts are great options that also reduce material waste: You can send your friends and family to restaurants, museums, concerts, sporting events, activities, or even classes to develop a new skill or hobby like a cooking or pottery class .
When shopping for children’s toys, Rampale said people should consider toys that don’t have batteries or plastic, like high-quality wooden toys that last a long time.
Other eco-friendly gifts include clothing, bags, notebooks and other gifts made from recycled materials. Local gifts such as wine from nearby wineries reduce transportation while supporting community businesses.
As we approach New Year’s Day, Rampale encouraged people to think about green resolutions, such as: B. Using reusable bags at the grocery store, going meatless one day a week, and starting composting.
“Even with just a little bit of thought, I think we can significantly reduce the amount of waste and toxins and impact on the planet. “More and more people are becoming aware of the different impacts we’re having and how real this planet is, it’s pretty small,” Rampale said going on in another part of the world.”
• Jenny Whidden is a corps member of Report For America, which reports on climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.