Environmental Protection

Tips for Greening Your Holidays, From Presents to Parties

Amid the holly and jolly, don't forget to be nice and not naughty when it comes to recycling during the holiday season.

Amid the holly and jolly, don't forget to be nice and not naughty when it comes to recycling during the holiday season.

Presents, decorations and party supplies can make for a not-so-Earth-friendly holiday season. But Ben Champion, Kansas State University’s director of sustainability, says it's possible to celebrate and still be mindful of the environment.

If you're going to consume, then do so conscientiously," Champion said. "Know what you are buying." She offers several tips for an eco-friendly, yet still merry, holiday season:

While many companies are trying to go green by reducing packaging – a good thing to be sure – what a gift is made of matters just as much. Paying attention to recyclability, energy-use, and materials that didn't cause environmental damage in their production is important. Look for trusted environmental certifications, and be sure to check your local recycler to see which materials they do recycle. "It doesn't matter if you are buying it or giving it away, whatever material a gift is made of, it comes from someplace, and it's going someplace," Champion said. "It shouldn't degrade the place that it is coming from."

Paper products are the easiest to recycle, as long as they don't have chemical coatings. Glossy paper decorations and wrapping paper are often not easily recycled because their coloring and designs are made of complicated chemicals. Some decorations or wrapping papers do use soy inks or other natural dyes, making them more recyclable. Buy wrapping paper and packaging that can be recycled, and then make sure to recycle them when finished.

Plain, corrugated cardboard is best for containing presents because it's also easy to recycle. Plastics No. 1 and No. 2 are the easiest plastics to recycle.

Some alternatives to presents include a gift certificate or a donation to an organization in the name of the receiver. "The best way to save waste is to not buy presents that make waste," Champion said. "You can always just buy something that is going to last a long time so that it won't have to be thrown away."

Products such as fair-trade, organic or locally made products can make one-of-a kind presents that may not require as much packaging for shipping.

If mailing presents, try using biodegradable packing peanuts or newspapers, instead of non-recyclable packing materials.

Disposable plates, cups and utensils can easily accumulate at holiday parties. Instead of using foam or plastic dishware, try either reusable or biodegradable, disposable dishware and utensils. While biodegradable dishes can't be recycled when they have food particles or food stains, many biodegradable dishes can be composted along with a lot of food scraps. Exploring how to compost is another way to green your living.

Buying local food products, though they can be more expensive, provides a more eco-friendly option because smaller local farms tend to offer more-customized products and can be less chemical-intensive. "If it's a special occasion, you may be willing to pay that extra amount," Champion said. "You'll have something that everyone can appreciate together. It's often better quality, and I like the taste of organic and heritage foods better."

But perhaps most important is to focus more on the season and less on material goods. "I would recommend spending our time and money not necessarily on buying stuff, but on enjoying each other's company," Champion said.

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