In the United States, 25% more trash is discarded between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than during any other time of the year. Of course, the best way to reduce holiday waste is to avoid producing it in the first place. How much can you reduce your and your family’s holiday waste this year while still enjoying all the holiday traditions?
One of the best parts about the holidays is the food – turkey, ham, stuffing, even fruitcake. But what can you do with all the leftovers of the leftovers?
You can compost them!
Organic waste – plant material and food scraps (fruit, vegetables, meat, bones, and cheese) – can be recycled through composting. Food-soiled paper, such as paper towels, napkins, pizza boxes, greasy paper bags, milk cartons (with the plastic removed), wax paper, and waxed cardboard, can also be composted—provided you use the right method.
In the composting process, the collected waste decays into a substance that can be added to soil to improve it. But organic waste cannot fully decompose in the anaerobic (very little oxygen) environment of a landfill. Also, decaying food waste releases methane, a gas. On Earth, methane commonly forms when plants decay in places where there is very little oxygen—as in landfills. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
Food waste will sit buried at a landfill practically unchanged forever. For example, guacamole found in a landfill 15 years after its sell-by date was still bright green! Instead of throwing food scraps into the garbage, let them decompose naturally into rich soil. This keeps landfills smaller, greenhouse gas emissions – including methane – lower, and gardens and farms healthier.
There are two “types” of composting: backyard and specialized closed-container. Not all food scraps can go into your backyard compost pile. Leftover fruits and vegetables, spoiled fruits and vegetables (just how long was that box of strawberries in the fridge?!), fruit and vegetable skins and cores are always O.K. Rice, stale or moldy bread, eggshells, used tea bags, and used coffee grounds in their paper filters are also backyard compostable. But, meat, fish, and cheese should not go into the backyard compost pile, nor any bones and oily or greasy materials. These should go into closed/sealed containers in what is called Bokashi composting. Bokashi is often referred to as a type of ‘composting’ but it is an anaerobic fermentation process that comes from Japanese farming practices. It results in a much different end product than that produced by backyard composting methods.
By the way, if you don’t have a yard where you can build a compost pile or place a container composter, check around for a “compost collective.” Some supermarkets and grocery stores have bins where people can dump their compostable materials. Your town or village may have a collection point for compostable stuff. Be sure to follow any posted guidelines for the compost collective. The compost goes to local farmers. Nothing like this in your neighborhood? Tell your local grocery store manager why it is good idea to sponsor one!
There is more to holiday waste than just the food we do not eat. What do you do with your natural Christmas tree or holiday greenery after the festivities are over? You can move it outside after all ornaments, tinsel, lights, and such are removed and turn it into a winter bird refuge and feeder by draping it with homemade garlands of stringed plain popcorn and cranberries. You can even feed the local animals by hiding chunks of suet (hard animal fat) throughout the tree. [Suet provides the extra food energy that many birds need during cold weather.]
No backyard? You can compost your tree and greenery. Take advantage of town- and city-sponsored pulping of Christmas trees and other organic trimmings to make mulch instead of sending the tree to a landfill.
Unfortunately, there are items that we use throughout the holiday season that cannot be composted, like shiny wrapping paper and glittery bows. But if you plan ahead, you can create less waste to end up in a landfill. Purchase only wrapping paper and ribbon that can go into the compost pile or be reused. Wrapping paper made without glossy or metallic coatings can be composted or recycled. You can even use the colorful comics section of newspapers as a fun replacement for store-bought wrapping paper. If you buy wrapping paper, choose paper that is made of recycled material.
Tissue paper can always be composted. It is usually made out of recycled paper. The fibers of tissue paper are already shortened to the point where it the sheets cannot be recycled again. Cardboard tubes and boxes are compostable or recyclable. Gift bags are an excellent choice for your gifts, because they can be saved and used again and again.
Decorating with evergreen trees and boughs for winter holidays is an ancient tradition. The evergreens represent life during the cold and dark of the “dead of winter.” Make your holidays doubly green by avoiding products that cannot be recycled or reused and by recycling and composting all that you can!
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Better Homes and Gardens:
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