Holiday generosity generates enormous waste


It's the holidays. The post office gets very busy. We all spend too much money and eat too much. Some of us have a great time. Some of us have a lousy time. And then we throw away hundreds of millions of tons of trash.

It's the decorations. It's the packaging the decorations come in. It's the packaging the presents you buy come in. The packaging you buy to send presents in. The wrapping paper. The season's greetings cards. The tree. The gimmicky presents you buy that get tossed within the first two weeks.

It certainly adds up in a hurry.

Solid waste experts don't know exactly how much extra trash is generated over the holidays, but they do know it's a lot -- a "significant blip in the numbers," as a cautious statistician put it. Trash haulers earn their Christmas tips, and so do postal carriers, who deliver an estimated 3.3 billion extra pieces of holiday mail (though I think you're not supposed to tip them with anything more substantial than fruitcake).

This holiday season, try something new: Factor a little trash awareness into your decision-making formula. Find creative ways to make do with less. Keep your household's contribution to that "significant blip' at a minimum.

You don't have to aspire to Betty Crocker or subscribe to Highlights for Children. In your own style -- whether that's more Los Lobos than Trapp Family Singers, more Frank Stella than Norman Rockwell -- you can be creative about Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year's.

Here are some suggestions for the '90s:

* Buy well-made presents that will last a long time.

* Buy things people need.

* Take your own reusable bags with you when you shop.

* Save and reuse old wrapping paper and ribbons.

* Use the comic pages as wrapping paper, or use old brown-paper bags and decorate them.

* Buy recycled wrapping paper.

* Call your trash utility to find out whether your community has established a Christmas tree mulching program. (Vermont calls its product "Merry Mulch.")

* Clip the boughs from your tree and use them to mulch your azaleas and rhododendrons.

* Buy a living Christmas tree you can replant after the holidays.

* Make your own decorations.

* Save and reuse Styrofoam peanuts that come in packages.

* Collect a bagful of Styrofoam peanuts and drop them off at a packaging store.

* Use shredded newspaper or real popcorn to cushion your packages.

* Give "green" presents: a bird feeder and a bag of birdseed; a set of reusable bags; a compost bin; some compact fluorescent light bulbs; some "green" books; a membership in a non-profit organization; a bat house; a set of rechargeable batteries and a recharger; a gizmo to light charcoal without lighter fluid; some gardening tools; a window herb garden.

* Give of your time: piano lessons; training on software use; a tune-up; preserves; lawn-mowing; baby-sitting; sewing; homemade something-or-other. You can draw or write coupons (This Coupon Good For One . . .) to have something to wrap up.

* Give gift certificates: a massage; music lessons; dance lessons; theater tickets; a membership in your local zoo or aquarium.

I'm sure you can think of some better ideas, but this is a start on the new, green holiday season. By next year, there's bound to be a spate of books on the subject.

Perhaps the books will include tips on how to polish up your comic delivery. After all, what exactly are you going to say to your mother-in-law when she opens her present and finds a tire gauge and a gift certificate for one free balancing at Joe and Shmoe's Tire Shop?

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