Maggie Gainer: ’Tis the season to be incredibly wasteful, but here’s how to change that

This is the time of year that Americans gather to enjoy family and friends, to feast, exchange gifts, and to generate a shameful amount of waste. 

We throw away 25 percent more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve — about a million extra tons of garbage each week. 

Humboldt’s holiday waste generation is consistent with this national average.

Materials are discarded from several sources during the holidays:

• Gift-giving: Switching from gifts of stuff to gifts of experiences, tickets to events, gift certificates, and handmade gifts will reduce waste. Travel opportunities and assistance with gardening, car repairs, and work around the house are often valued by both giver and receiver. Make it a friendly competition to see how many years you can exchange gift wrapping paper. Reuse cloth ribbons, bags and baskets for gifts.

• Decorations: The fashions of decorating for holiday seasons come and go. Plastics are out now and the clever use of natural objects has become a popular way of reducing waste. Plastic glitter and particles are being replaced with small leaves and red, green, and yellow dots are created with a hole-punch and leaves. Wreath and bough-making parties are back. Sweet-smelling tree prunings and gnarly twigs are beautiful and easy to compost after the holidays.

• Packaging:   Shop locally. The unintended consequence of the convenience of eCommerce is that it is terrible for the environment. After the delivery truck drops off the boxes from on-line purchases, we find that many companies have thoughtlessly put a small gift in a huge box with stuffing. Consumer preferences for Zero Waste and new legislation is having an effect on wasteful manufacturers and distributors. In the meantime, make sure all that excess transport packing is reused and recycled.

• Events and Parties: There’s nothing like careful advance planning to avoid food waste. Make sure you’ve identified the local organizations that will accept food. Food for People at (707) 445-3166 is information central if you have food, need food, or want to volunteer. Have containers ready for guests to take home leftovers. Use large beverage urns for hot and cold drinks, growlers, kegs, and buy brands with returnable bottles to reduce single use beverage containers.

• Holiday Travel: It takes advance planning to reduce waste during trips. When you are planning where you will stay, scheduling your road trip routes, and reserving plane flights, plan for how you will reduce single use food and beverage containers along the way.

Notify everyone you plan to spend the holiday season with that you intend to reduce excess and thoughtless waste this year. By sharing this goal with others, you invite them to join you in the spirit and satisfaction of celebrating without waste.

Zero Waste Humboldt invites the public to visit its office during Arcata Main Street’s Arts! Arcata on Friday, Dec. 13. 

We’ll have music, wine, snacks, and an exhibit of Patricia Sennott’s art at the Hunt Building at 839 Ninth St., between H Street on the Plaza and the Campground restaurant.

Waste reduction leader Maggie Gainer is the vice president of Zero Waste Humboldt.



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