Watch your waste this holiday

Oops. In 2015, Oregonians generated slightly more waste and recycled slightly less than in years past, according to DEQ. We created 2,553 pounds of waste per person, or about 7 pounds a day—and we recovered slightly less than half of that for recycling, energy or compost.

That’s not good news for our state’s goal, also adopted in 2015, to recover 55% of our waste.

But holiday season is a great time to make a real difference. Americans spend $228 billion every year on Christmas gifts and celebrations, and half of the paper we consume each year goes to wrapping and decorating consumer products. By sticking to a tight budget for trash, we can begin to turn the trend around in Oregon.

One good practice is to reduce the amount of new things you buy, and to buy locally. About 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from making and moving goods.

  • Bring reusable bags on shopping trips: Disposable plastic bags require petroleum to make, can be difficult to recycle, and add up to a lot of waste.
  • Smarter stocking-stuffers: Plastic, electronic and battery-operated items can leach toxic materials into our waterways when they end up in the trash. Instead, consider giving homemade (and economical) edibles or “experience” gifts like gift certificates and concert tickets.
  • Buy locally made and sustainable goods: Cut down on the carbon burden of shipping goods and boost your local economy with home-grown and home-made goodies.
  • If you need to power up: Be sure to choose rechargeable batteries if your gifts require juice.
  • Donate quality used goods:  In addition to the national second hand stores, look for local organizations that give back to your community.

Americans spend $8 billion annually on Christmas decorations, many of which end up in the trash shortly after the tree is taken out.

  • Check second-hand stores: Thrift stores have charming holiday decorations at discount prices, many still in the original package.
  • Skip the tinsel: Tinsel, foil and glitter frequently end up as waste and make tree and paper recycling a chore. Durable or recyclable materials are better choices, or you can make your own gingerbread ornaments or garlands of popcorn and cranberries.
  • Choose efficient lights with the “ROHS” label: Many Christmas lights—even energy-saving LEDs—can contain harmful lead in the cords and bulbs. ROHS labeled lights are lead-free. Be sure to wash your hands after handling non-ROHS designated lights.

Half of all the paper America consumes goes to wrapping and decorating consumer products. Instead of adding to the problem, consider these alternatives.

  • Choose recyclable: Paper with heavy dyes, plastic coating, tape, glitter and foil can’t be recycled. Instead, choose plain paper for your gift-wrapping, or re-use colorful paper from other sources.
  • Re-usable ribbons: Every year, we throw away enough ribbon to tie a bow around the Earth. Choose durable ribbons made from cloth or yarn that can be saved and reused year after year.
  • Cards: Holiday cards can quickly fill your mailbox—and your trashcan. Every year, the total amount of Christmas cards sold could fill a football field 10 stories high! Try making cards out of calendars, paper bags or other reusable materials around your home. If you must buy new, make sure the card is from “post-consumer recycled content” that didn’t require a tree to be cut or new materials. Or better yet, send an electronic card: they’re waste-free and won’t put a dent in your wallet.
  • After the holidays: For general questions on how to handle holiday waste like packaging peanuts, electronics, batteries and more, the Metro recycling hotline (503.234.3000) is a great resource. In some Oregon locations, you can recycle Christmas trees, gift wrap and greeting cards right at the curb.

PS: Don’t feel too bad about the 2015 bump in trash; it’s still about 12% less than Oregonians generated in 2006. But it’s still worth striving for less trash well into the future; by recycling in 2015, Oregon saved energy comparable to about 222 million gallons of gas!

Also, you consider a gift membership to OEC as an eco-friendly way to celebrate the holidays!


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