For some people, the holiday season is the happiest time of the year, and for others they bring up other emotions. But one thing's for sure: it's the trashiest time of the year.
All the holiday wrappings, boxes, shopping bags, food waste from big gatherings, old stuff tossed out to make way for the new — it adds up. The firm Waste Management estimates we Americans increase our trash production by one-quarter between Thanksgiving and New Year's, a hike that adds up to an astounding million tons a week.
You can fight the tide of trash.
The Center for a New American Dream (www.newdream.org) argues for simplifying our holidays. Think before falling into old habits that generate lots of garbage, and when you do feel the need to generate stuff that will be tossed, think of recycling. The New Dream folks suggest that for holiday shopping, you consider Web sites that may be a bit greener than average, such as www.ecomall.com, www.greenhotels.com and www.realgoods.com.
Waste Management suggests gifts that don't produce much waste: A ticket to a concert, sports lessons, a gym membership, an offer to baby-sit for an evening. Potted plants as gifts benefit the recipient and the environment, particularly if they can be planted in the garden or yard.
When you're entertaining, make a commitment to recycling, with containers for the various recyclable products of your party. You could start a one-upmanship trend among your friends, and you could teach youngsters about conservation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/specials/funfacts/winter.htm, has ideas on producing less waste during the holidays.
One EPA suggestion: If you have children and a lot of gifts require batteries, you might consider rechargeable batteries. At least when the kid tires of the toy, you can use the batteries for something else.
The EPA also suggests recycling packing material. Did you have to go to a store to pick up bubble wrap and packing peanuts last year? If you'd saved them, you wouldn't need to go back to the store this year. The boxes in which you buy things, and in which you get gifts, may be perfectly appropriate for boxing items again for the next birthday or other gift-giving event.
At some level, the holidays are about excess. But the excess should be about time with family and friends. It doesn't have to be about the amount of trash we produce.
If you have a question or concern about the Hawaiian environment, drop a note to Jan TenBruggencate at P.O. Box 524, Lihu'e, HI 96766 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call him at (808) 245-3074.