A green Christmas: Create less waste during the holidays

December 20, 2016
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Celeste Van Kirk
Rachel Radke of McMurray, owner of Naturally Clean.
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An evergreen sprig and recyclable paper are great green ways to adorn your gifts this holiday season.
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Using ceramic dishware might mean a little more time cleaning up after your holiday meal, but the environment will certainly thank you.

Christmas is a joyous time to celebrate with family and friends, decorate trees and exchange presents.

But the holiday can be tough on Mother Nature.

The amount of household trash in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons of waste end up in landfills – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There are many simple ways to minimize our impact on the environment and “green” the holiday season by reducing, recycling and reusing.

Rachel Radke of McMurray, owner of Naturally Clean, an eco-friendly house-cleaning service and cleaning product manufacturer that uses only natural, organic ingredients, and the EPA offer advice on enjoying the Christmas season and protecting the environment.

Buy a real tree, and then replant, compost or mulch your tree

“There’s no great, super eco-friendly way to do it – either you’re buying an artificial tree from China, most likely, or you’re cutting one down,” Radke says. “But you’re better off buying a real one, and that’s what we always do. We support the local economy.”

Approximately 25 million to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year. If you celebrate with a cut tree, after the holidays, look for ways to compost your tree instead of sending it to a landfill. Visit the Earth 911 website and enter your zip code to find the nearest location that will accept old trees (there are more than 3,800 spots).

Or, consider buying a live tree with a ball that can be replanted later.

Reuse wrapping paper, or consider alternatives

“Wrapping paper gets used for 30 seconds and goes into the garbage,” Radke says. According to the EPA, half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products.

Certain wrapping papers – think shiny or waxy papers – contain chemical compounds and metals that are particularly unkind to the environment.

“Use something else besides wrapping paper,” Radke says. She suggests using other materials to wrap gifts, including newspapers, brown paper bags or old maps.

And, consider wrapping gifts without using a box. Instead of using ribbons or bows, adorn gifts with a sprig of evergreen. If you do use ribbons, bows and bags, reuse them next year.

Send e-Christmas cards

“In this day and age, it’s not a faux pas to send a Christmas card via the internet,” Radke says.

The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold in the U.S. each year could fill a football field 10 stories high, or circle the planet 10 times.

Give gifts creatively

Give gifts that require little or no packaging, such as the gift of your time (cooking, babysitting or shopping), a charitable donation or tickets to an event. Or, purchase gifts from local vendors and craftsmen.

“We try to buy a lot from local vendors in order to support our community with our dollars, and, in general, supporting local businesses with your dollars is more eco-friendly,” Radke says.

Also, consider purchasing gifts from the small businesses on Etsy.

Use energy-efficient lighting, and use natural elements for decorating

When decorating, use energy-efficient lighting such as LED holiday lights. LED lights are 90 percent more efficient than conventional Christmas lights, and they last for decades.

Avoid inflatables. “They’re made of plastic. They’re so popular, but they’re here to stay – literally, for hundreds of years they’ll be in our environment,” Radke says.

She also advises using nature when decorating – pine cones, branches, evergreens and acorns, for example. “Be creative and use resources that are renewable and that you can find around here.”

And instead of burning scented candles, many of which are filled with environmental pollutants, Radke suggests boiling a pot of water on the stove and add cinnamon sticks, anise, peppermint, orange rinds or cloves.

Use reusable or recyclable dishware

Avoid using disposable dishes and utensils when hosting and entertaining friends and family. But if you must use them, Radke says, buy them made from recycled or recyclable material. Avoid plastic and Styrofoam dishes and cups. Also, remember to place easily identifiable recycling or compost containers at your celebration so guests can recycle pop cans, bottles and paper products, and compost food scraps. “If we can replace with compostable or biodegradable paper plates, it’s worth it,” Radke says. “It can make a real impact.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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