Monday, December 12, 2011

Waste less this holiday season

Using these tips/tricks:

For me, the time of year when I buy the most "stuff" is, hands down, the holiday season. I'm sure most of you can probably relate. I remember when I first started really "getting into" waste reduction thinking to myself, "Yeah, but to purchase sustainably around the holiday season is going to be near impossible." Fast forward to this season and I can honestly say that every one of my gifts has some (or a lot of) green cred. Most of my wrapping will also sport that claim. In the spirit of giving, I want to share some tips/tricks that have been helpful to me. (And invite you to share your own in the comments section below.)

You've heard me talk about the waste reduction hierarchy before. We're going to use that hierarchy to look at our gift-giving choices. 

To reduce is to not buy stuff or make waste in the first place. 
A giraffe relaxes in the sun at Oregon Zoo

  • For the person who is impossible to buy for, instead of buying stuff, give money to their favorite charity in their name. Are they an animal lover? Perhaps the Humane Society would be a good choice. If they or a loved one have been affected by an illness, donating to research for a cure is a nice way to say you care about them. 
  • One of the best ways to reduce our consumption of "stuff" is to give experiences. Giving a membership to the zoo or OMSI not only eliminates material goods, but encourages families to spend more time together. Or, you could give babysitting for a night to a family with a new baby or offer to take your nephew to a football game. Whatever your family members enjoy, try to find a way to allow them to enjoy that experience.
  • If you're looking to reduce packaging or the environmental cost of buying something produced out of your area, Etsy can be a great option. Etsy is an online marketplace of handmade products. Often, these products are made with recycled or reused materials. They also allow vintage items, which fall into the category of reuse.
  • Buy durable: The better built a product in the first place, the less likely it will be to break down. If it doesn't break down, you eliminate the need to buy a new one. Often, spending more initially for quality will pay for itself down the line when you still have the product years later. (and you don't have to relearn how to use that new toaster!) When something does break, consider repairing instead of throwing away. For that matter, do you have someone in your life that loves shoes? (I think most of us do....) a gift idea for them would be to find a local cobbler and purchase a gift certificate. Keeping their favorite shoes walking another day will eliminate the resources associated with a new pair.
  • When wrapping presents, consider reusing comics or other paper. (and thus reducing the need for new wrapping paper.) With a little sewing skill, you can also create some reusable fabric bags. I'm very surprised by how well my family has taken to this idea. Now, the bags are usually considered a part of the present and they make an appearance the following year. 

When we purchase or gift a reused item, we're automatically cutting the environmental footprint of that item in half. (by eliminating a new item from being manufactured, transported, etc.) The more an item is reused, the lighter the load on our planet's limited resources.
  • Give the gift of thrift. Shopping at local thrift stores can be an adventure and can result in significant money savings. If you know someone who is a thrift store junkie, many stores have gift cards. 
  • Ebay: Lots of the items on Ebay are actually "new" and the site can also be a great place to find something like that scent that your mom loves but they stopped making or that last glass that completes the set your sister loves, but Uncle Stewart broke last season. 
  • Craigslist: What's better than reusing *and* keeping it local. If you're concerned about the safety of Craigslist, there are lots of common sense tips/tricks to avoid being taken advantage of
  • Swap sites: One of my favorite swap sites is Goozex. You send movies and video games that you're no longer using to other members and receive points based on the value of the sent items. Then, you're able to use those points to get used items from other members. Many swap sites work in this same way and there are lots of different sites out there (for things such as books, clothes, children's items, jewelry, etc.) I have a list (unfortunately, has not been updated in quite some time) of many swap sites. But, if you're wondering if something can be swapped, just do a simple search for an appropriate swap site. If it has value, chances are you'll find a site on which you can swap it.

Lastly, recycling is always important. We have two duties as consumers. The first (and most obvious) is to recycle everything that is acceptable in our recycling systems. The second, though, is to close the recycling loop by buying products with recycled content. If no one values recycled content, the market for those products dies and recycling (and all the associated savings in water, energy and pollution) die with them.
  • As mentioned earlier, many products on Etsy (or at a local bazaar or artists market) will have recycled content. This keeps these items (that may not have a strong traditional recycling market) out of the landfill. 
  • Purchasing recycled content can be tricky, but is not impossible. One company that I think has a strong environmental ethic and has many options for purchasing recycled fibers is Patagonia. They also have a fairly new (launched Black Friday, 2011) intiative in which they encourage all steps of the waste reduction hierarchy. 

So, what about you? What waste reduction ideas have you implemented that you're particularly proud of? What would you like to try next season? What are your concerns about waste reduction in gift giving? What are some barriers that you think have kept you or others from implementing waste reduction techniques around the holidays? 
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