Shopping, gift wrapping, entertaining, decorating … the holidays are filled with fun activities and time with family and friends. Unfortunately they are also filled with lots of garbage. Literally. Paper plates and disposable utensils, paper napkins, plastic shopping bags, wrapping paper you can’t recycle, cardboard boxes, packing peanuts or plastic air pillows from packages in the mail … while garbage isn’t something we usually think much about during the holidays, it is a time of the year that we produce a lot more waste than we usually do. Reducing our waste helps reduce the need to landfill or incinerate our garbage, and it also helps to conserve natural resources.
The population of the U.S. is about 329 million people – and we each produce an average of 4.6 pounds of garbage each day, making us the most wasteful population on the planet. And what’s worse, during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we produce about 25% more garbage than usual! While we do want to keep it festive and spend time with friends and family, we can do it without trashing the planet.
When you are shopping, use reusable bags whenever possible, and recycle plastic bags at your local grocery store. Look for items in recyclable packaging, or with minimal packaging. Avoid single-serving packaging, as it creates a lot more garbage than full size items that can be packaged into servings in reusable containers at home.
If you are entertaining, provide a recycling bin so your guests can recycle their bottles and cans from holiday beverages. Use reusable plates, cups and utensils instead of disposable ones. If you have a dishwasher at home, running an extra load after a holiday gathering is easy and is definitely better than a whole extra bag of garbage from single-use serving items. Use festive cloth napkins instead of paper napkins for extra waste savings! Food waste is also an issue during the holidays, so make this the year you get creative with leftovers and start a backyard composting bin – see how at pca.state.mn.us/start-composting-your-backyard. To learn more about food waste and sign up for our 2020 food waste challenge with our GreenCorps member Brittney Kakac, visit ottertailcountymn.us/foodwaste.
When you are shopping for gifts, remember that stuff doesn't make us happy – but spending time with people we care about does! Consider gifts that won’t lead to more waste, such as edible gifts, fun activities or memberships, or gifts that will help the recipient reduce their own waste such as reusable lunch kits or travel mugs. Find great gifts that reduce waste in our “Green Gift Guide,” available on the Otter Tail County website at ottertailcountymn.us/solid-waste. The guide also includes ideas for waste-free gift wrapping.
When you are decorating for the holidays, try to avoid cheap plastic decorations that will be discarded quickly. Instead choose decorations you can use year after year, or natural decorations like branches and fresh garlands that can be composted with yard waste at the end of the season. Holiday string lights that don’t work don’t belong in your recycling bin but can be recycled separately at the recycling center in Fergus Falls year-round, or at participating locations around the county through Jan. 15. For locations visit ottertailcountymn.us/recycling.
Have a great holiday season, and help the planet while you do it!
Cedar Walters is a public information and education officer for Otter Tail County.