9 ways to trim holiday waste

Recycling Reindeer

For most of us, the winter holidays are an exciting time. We’re lured by bright lights, cheerful music, and “sale” signs into spending more than we probably should. We’re celebrated for being generous and giving, with our money and our time.

But the holidays also make us generous with other things, too – like holiday waste. Our gifts are secured in boxes, cardboard, plastic, and ties – which we festively cocoon in wrapping paper, ribbon, or gift bags. We exchange holiday cards, sometimes with just a perfunctory signature at the bottom.

Let’s think of ways we can save money and help the environment too. Here are some things we can do to minimize waste during the holidays – and maximize our wallets.

For the holidays…
* Send e-cards and e-gift certificates. It may seem a little impersonal, but I think it is perfectly okay to send e-cards or e-gift certificates to out-of-state family and friends. You’ll save on postage and envelopes, and you won’t have to worry about lost or delayed mail. Recipients can immediately print or redeem certificates from their computer.

If you must give that gift…
* Bring your own shopping bag. Leave that plastic bag at the checkout line by bringing your own reusable shopping bag. Econesting.com has links to helpful patterns for do-it-yourself crocheted, linen fabric, felt, and knitted bags. However, let me confess that I save all the plastic bags I get from stores and restaurants, to use on walks with my dog.
* Give eco-friendly gifts. Reduce.org has some clever ideas for giving eco-friendly gifts, with minimum packaging and gift wrapping optional – like park permits, fishing licenses, bus passes, compost bins, and plants. Or think about a rain barrel, a gym membership, or University of Hawaii sports tickets.
* Use eco-friendly gift-wrapping. Rethink Recycling suggests scarves, handkerchiefs, and bandannas; old posters and maps; newspapers; re-usable containers; childrens’ artwork; magazines and catalogs; and re-used gift bags.

Around the house and office…
* Host a Christmas ornament-making party. Instead of buying new ornaments, make your own ornaments – to decorate your Christmas tree or for guests to take home. It’s more fun and less expensive than inviting everyone out to a holiday lunch or dinner! HGTV has a plan for an elegant do-it-yourself decorating party: 1) take old ornaments and Styrofoam balls; 2) add embellishments like sequins, beads, stamps, pins, glitter, bells, fabric scraps, paper, and ribbons; 3) be ready with glue, pens, and scissors; 4) set your creativity free. You can also get ornament ideas from the annual Honolulu City Lights festivities, starting in December.
* Recycle that tree! If you have resisted the attraction of a potted plant or the convenience of an artificial tree, make sure that you recycle your Christmas tree. In Honolulu, you can put your Christmas tree (without flocking, ornaments, or tinsel) in your green bin or drop it off at a City Convenience Center. On the Big Island, you can drop it off at designated transfer stations. On Kauai, you can recycle unflocked Christmas trees at transfer stations in Hanalei, Kapa’a, Lihue, and Hanapepe, and at Kekaha Landfill. On Maui, you can cut Christmas trees into 3’ sections and place them in your green recycling cart or take them to composting facilities (in 2013, drop off locations were the Central Maui Landfill, Pacific Green Waste and Compost in Kihei, and the Olowalu Convenience Center).

For kids…
* Learn about needs vs. wants. The holidays are a great time to teach kids about the differences between the things they really need and the things they want today (but maybe not tomorrow). The Squawkfox website has a helpful “Needs & Wants List” that can help kids spend your money wisely.
* Write a concise Christmas wish list. The Somewhat Simple blog has an excellent “Christmas Wish List” for kids that helps them narrow down their choices. Kids can write down what they want, what they need, what they’ll wear, what they’ll read, and something they’d really like to have.
* Meet the Spirits of Recycling. The Hawaii Department of Environmental Services has a free printable activity book called “The Spirits of Recycling” about a boy who is visited by Green, Gray, and Blue on Christmas Eve.

Has your holiday shopping changed in recent years? Does a product with less packaging make you more willing to buy it? What are your favorite tips for eco-friendly holidays?

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