Monday, December 28, 2009

All Wrapped Up

Christmas is a wrap. Gifts have been given and received. The "thank you" notes/emails written. Family back to their homes and jobs. Life begins returning to normal with the exception of the upcoming New Year's festivity.
One of my Christmas Day "jobs" is to gather the trash/recycling for a run to the county dumpster the next day. Our family, like yours, is part of a huge infusion of trash, much of it packaging, into landfills. Folks who crunch the numbers, such as the stats reported in Aboxalypse Now, say that from Thanksgiving to the end of the year Americans produce an additional one million tons of trash each week. Nearly 1/3 is packaging - boxes, plastic clamshells, twist ties, cardboard, etc. - and that less than half of packaging gets recycled.
Now, we're not perfect, but we do try to recycle as much as we can. All bows, some wrapping paper and bubble wrap, and some boxes are saved for next year. Christmas cards are saved to use as tags on next year's gifts. Speaking of cards - we send and receive far fewer cards than just a few years ago. Most of our holiday greetings are sent by e-cards which saves us money and the planet trees.
We break down boxes so they will be easy to put in the recycling bins provided by the county. Some of the wrapping is readied for the paper recycling that we routinely do. Ditto for some of the plastic. But, much of the foil paper, plastic, and other packaging just isn't recyclable. As a consequence we take a couple extra trash bags (about the amount we'd generate in two weeks) to the dumpster. Despite yucky weather on the day after, the trash/recycling collection site was busy. Sadly, I saw lots of cardboard and other recyclables in the trash bin - some people just don't get it or can't be bothered. The attendant said the waste company would make four pickups that day - compared to one on a typical day.
Besides doing our best to recycle this packaging, I'm not sure what individuals can do to reduce this avalanche of packaging waste. But, it is in society's interest to do so - packaging adds up to 10% to the cost of the product. It gobbles up landfill space that costs tax dollars. It can be a challenge and a downright hassle to open that Barbie Doll - she is encased in over 900 square inches of cardboard, nearly 600 square inches of plastic, plus wire, tape, and rubber bands.
Shopping online and by mail order complicates the issue as the product is put in an additional box or bag usually with some sort of cushioning. So, buying local not only boosts the local economy/jobs, it probably saves a little on waste. When you have the opportunity, request minimal packaging and environmentally responsible products - popcorn or recycled cushioning products rather than bubble wrap; use paper rather than non-recyclable foil products for wrapping those gifts. Day-to-day shopping offers opportunities to cut back on waste too - those single-serve snack packs create more waste and cost 2x to 3x more per ounce than regular packages. Drink tap water. Save some green. Be green.

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