Merry, Bright and Waste Free Holidays

Merry, Bright and Waste Free Holidays
Submitted by Julie DesChamps, founder of Waste Free Greenwich [email protected]

‘Tis the season for joy, traditions, celebration… and waste! Every year, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate one million extra tons of trash than the rest of the year. Bah humbug! Follow these top 10 tips to reduce waste for holiday meals and decking the halls for a merry, bright and waste free holiday season.

1) Plan mindfully. Check your pantry and refrigerator before shopping to avoid unnecessary purchases for holiday meals. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Opt for foods with no or little packaging. Use Save the Food’s Guest-imator tool to effectively calculate how much food to prepare to fill bellies and avoid excess.

2) Make sustainable food choices. Meat products have a heavy environmental footprint, since they consume significant resources, especially water. Wasting a pound of beef is the equivalent of taking a six hour shower! Consider going easy on beef, lamb and poultry and instead offering more grains and produce.

3) Use leftovers wisely. Ask family and friends to bring their own reusable containers or have extra on hand and pack them with leftovers to take home.  Drop off surplus to neighbors or call a homeless shelter or other agencies to see if they have a need for cooked food or spare ingredients. Search the web for “holiday leftover recipes” to reinvent extras in creative and delicious ways.

4) Compost the scraps. Once you’ve prevented food waste and donated or gifted extras, compost the rest. In Greenwich, there are several options for diverting uneaten food: participating in the Town’s food scrap drop-off program at Holly Hill; contracting with a hauler for curbside pickup; or setting up a backyard composting system of your own.

5) Think reusable. Use durable plates, utensils and cups for your holiday meals rather than single-use food ware, like paper or “compostable” options that must be trashed. The holidays are the time to break out your china for a smaller environmental impact and a beautiful waste free solution.

6) Go green. Decorate with items you’ve stored away or visit thrift and antique stores for vintage or contemporary finds, like ornaments and menorahs. Ask friends or family for unused decor to adopt some meaningful heirlooms. Be crafty to create paper snowflakes and origami trees, or scour nature for evergreen branches and pinecones or your kitchen for cinnamon sticks and strands of popped corn.

7) Choose natural. Made from non-renewable, petroleum-based plastic, artificial trees will end up incinerated or landfilled. If you already own a fake tree, use it as long as possible, or if you can’t resist, then buy one second hand. Alternatively, natural Christmas trees provide clean air, watersheds, wildlife habitat and local jobs. If replanted or composted, they are the best waste free option, according to the Omni Christmas tree footprint calculator.

8) Recycle the tannenbaum. Drop off your Christmas tree from December 26-January 31 at Byram Park, Bruce Park, Greenwich Point or Holly Hill to be chipped into mulch for town properties. Be sure to remove lights, stands and decorations! Or you can leave them on your property to decompose, providing wildlife habitat and enriching soil.

9) Light it up with LEDs. LEDs cost more upfront, but they’ll last season after season – for up to 40 years.  These bulbs use significantly less energy than incandescents and are much cooler, reducing the risk of fire and burnt fingers. Recycle string lights at the designated electronics area at Holly Hill transfer station. Or send your old Christmas lights to companies, like Holiday LEDS and Christmas Light Source for recycling and a discount coupon.

10) Recycle right. Only wrapping paper that’s actually 100% paper can go in your blue bin; decorative papers with plastic or metallic additives like glitter or foil are not recyclable. Tissue paper, ribbon and bows are also not accepted recyclables and should be reused or trashed. It’s best to give gift and cardboard boxes a second life; otherwise, they can be broken down and stripped of labels and tape to be recycled. Styrofoam packaging, including blocks and peanuts, is definitely on the naughty list and must be trashed. Other packing materials, like air pockets and bubble wrap, can be recycled at the plastic bag container next to the Holly Hill office trailer or at grocery stores but are not accepted curbside.