As usual when a holiday rolls around, thank you for being patient with me as I skip an update and combine two weeks into one.
The last two weeks have been holiday-centered for me with the build up to Christmas occupying most of my time. I am currently in the midst of my winter break, so school’s out for another week, then it’s back to work for me. It’s been nice to spend time with family and friends, many of whom I don’t get to see on a regular basis.
Christmas was, of course, one of the most anticipated times of the year as far as the Green Garbage Project goes. We approached this season with trepidation, and even back in July we considered how we would get around all the holiday garbage. The concerns were many: would someone who finds our project a waste of time (there are a few of those in the extended family) deliberately give us unrecyclable packaging? What would we do about wrapping paper, tape, ribbon, gift tags, and all the packaging that goes along with the presents? How about packaging/would-be garbage associated with baking or decorating?
Well, the big day has come and gone and honestly, we only added two things to the garbage shoebox – everything else could be recycled or, better yet, reused.
The biggest surprise of the season was how mightily members of our families rose to the occasion, making sure to give presents that were garbage-free and, even better, wrapping these gifts in extremely creative ways. Unfortunately, we forgot our camera for our holiday party, but thanks to my aunt and uncle, we were able to borrow a camera and take pictures of the neat ways our presents were presented to us. As soon as I have those pictures, I’ll post them here. For now, a list of ways our presents came packaged: In gift bags (reusable many times, though these will ultimately be garbage, if not this year), in baskets, wrapped in towels, wrapped in fabric, placed in pretty boxes without ribbon or tape, and in tissue paper.
We never expected our families to go so far out of their way to support our project, but we owe them many thanks and truly, their efforts demonstrate what just a little extra effort will accomplish. One family – virtually zero garbage at Christmastime. Clearly it’s time we start rethinking packaging and wrapping as a culture. It’s not impossible to have an eco-friendly Christmas, just unpopular.
Here are ways we handled various holiday dilemmas:
- Giving presents: I made cloth drawstring bags using Christmas fabric for each of the presents we gave by following this tutorial. They turned out great, and the hope is that recipients will reuse the bags for future gifts or to store holiday decorations in.
- Wrapping paper: Actually, most all wrapping paper is recyclable as long as ribbons are removed from it. The wrapping paper must be made from paper, not plastic or foil. Most communities allow some tape to be left on the paper, so as long as the wrapper wasn’t overzealous about tape, you should be fine to put this in your comingled recycle bin.
- Ribbon: Most of our gifts came wrapped without ribbon, but when we encountered it, we carefully cut or untied the material and saved it away in a bag for future use. I set aside all ribbons/raffia/yarn to be untied after the unwrapping frenzy was complete, then worked the knots apart while watching TV. A little extra effort, but worthwhile because I now have a stash of pretty ribbons and bows to use in the future.
- Styrofoam packaging: None of our presents came with this, but if they had, we are lucky enough to have a recycling facility in the nearby town of Salem, Ore.
- Plastic packaging: This gets trickier. Plastic tags (the kind that hold clothing tags to the clothing) are garbage, no way around this. Plastic packaging that is stretchy, like plastic wrap or plastic grocery sacks, can be put into our grocery store plastic bag recycling container. Even plastic packaging backed with cardboard (think about the containers batteries come in) is recyclable at Far West Fibers. The only packaging issue we regularly encounter is non-stretchy plastic film. We had to add a couple pieces of this to the box after unwrapping movies we were given.
- Gift tags: Generally made from paper so easily recycled.
One of the major things we’ve learned while undergoing our project is simply how to correctly direct the items in our waste stream. When I look at the list above, I realize that really all I’m doing differently this year is sorting things more carefully. Last year, things like ribbon and virtually all plastic packaging would have ended up in the trash. Now, I’ve learned of alternative ways to deal with these items, and they are saved from winding up in a landfill.
In closing, I have to say how this holiday season, combined with this project, has changed my entire mindset on gifts. I’m looking carefully at my life, at my choices, at the way Adam and I choose to spend our money, and I realize how fortunate we are, how much power we have as consumers, and how unfortunate others are. At the risk of editorializing, Christmastime has gotten out of whack and the point of the holiday celebration has been lost under an utter landslide of consumer culture. We buy, buy, buy to the point that oftentimes, the gift itself doesn’t even matter. The presents I value most are homemade items like the marmalade Adam’s parents gave us, or experiences like a weekend stay at the coast given to us by my parents, or money donated in my name to a charity. What I value is being surrounded by family, friends, and good food, and what I don’t need is someone to buy me more “stuff.” This point was driven home when we went shopping at Whole Foods tonight. We bought more than $100 worth of groceries to feed ourselves for what, two weeks? We also bought a Whole Foods bag for $10, the proceeds from which go to feed 100 children in Africa. What if, instead of buying stuff for each other for Christmas, we each bought 10 bags and fed 1,000 people? The power of the individual is an amazing thing, and once we start harnessing it, we will change the world.
Happy holidays to each of you, and may the New Year be a happy and prosperous one.