Take Climate Action: Reduce and Recycle Holiday Waste | South Carolina Aquarium

Take Climate Action: Reduce and Recycle Holiday Waste

Dec 08

Take Climate Action: Reduce and Recycle Holiday Waste

We don’t have to wait to make a New Year’s resolution to minimize our climate impact! Let’s get a jump start by evaluating changes to our holiday decorating, meals and gifts this year. With a little bit of research, we can lessen our impact on the climate with just a few easy changes! 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!
There is just something about the smell of a real evergreen tree that engulfs you in the nostalgia and merriment of the holiday season. When it comes to climate impact, opting for real over fake is a move to make!

Did you know that an estimated 10 million artificial trees are purchased each year? As you can imagine, production and shipping methods create quite the carbon footprint. Since most are made from nonrecyclable materials, these can end up bogging down landfills. Their breakdown in a landfill is a slow process that also produces greenhouse gases, contributing to a warming climate.

From a fresh perspective (quite literally), Christmas tree farms typically plant one to three additional trees for each one they sell. This equates to more habitats for wildlife and fewer carbon emissions. Plus, picking the “perfectly imperfect tree” is a great family tradition to continue year after year! When the season ends, these trees can essentially live a third life by being recycled or composted locally, or even donated to local organizations that use them to build habitats for conservation projects.

Phoenix with her recycled Christmas tree enrichment.

Gather ‘Round
Whether it be a glazed holiday ham, sugar-packed treats or a savory side dish, food is the main event for holiday festivities with family and friends. However, 96 billion pounds of food ends up in the landfill annually. This year, consider the climate as you’re planning your holiday menus: 

  • Plan Ahead: Meal plan ahead of time and organize a shopping list so you are only buying what you need. This not only saves you money, but you’ll minimize the potential of unused or wasted ingredients! 
  • Set the Table: Avoid using single-use cutlery, plates and cups for your meals. If you don’t have enough for your group, consider purchasing these items from a local thrift store. Secondhand purchases don’t have the carbon footprint from production and shipping as new items do. Plus, you’ll have unique items that you can keep for future special occasions or gift to your guests as they leave!  
  • Eat Leftovers: Freeze leftovers to use as an easy-to-make dinner option for another day or send guests home with leftovers in reusable containers that they can keep. Turn your traditional dishes into new recipes, like making homemade soup broth from the ham bone or combining flavors for a festive spin on a sandwich!  
  • Compost: Look up in your area if there is a public compost program or research ways to compost in your own home. Composting produces rich soil that can be used in a garden, potted plants, or mulch beds around your home! Not all food waste is recommended for personal composting, so make sure to read up on the rules.  

Breaking Down Gift Recycling
Gift giving is one of the most exciting parts of the season, but it can create a lot of unwanted waste! Sure, in the festive frenzy, it’s easy to just pass around the trash bag and dispose of discarded wrapping paper and packaging inside. However, did you know that a lot of that gift waste can actually be recycled or reused?

Liberty breaking down her gift-themed enrichment!

Some plastic packaging and the paper labels inside can be recycled, as long as you separate it out before dropping it in the bin. Gift bags and decorative boxes can be reused numerous times before needing to be discarded or recycled. Cardboard boxes have dozens of uses beyond their original intention, like materials for building a fort for kids or pets! Let’s chat about that wrapping paper, too; As long as it doesn’t have additives, such as metallic flakes or glitter, it can also be recycled as normal. Taking the time to go through packaging can make a huge impact in the amount of waste headed to the landfill this holiday season!

There’s a good chance you’ve been the unfortunate recipient of an unwanted gift or two. Though these may be your “trash”, they could be another’s treasure! Give gifts a new life by donating needed items to nonprofit organizations, saving them for a future gift exchange or finding another creative way to repurpose them… just stop them from spending time in the landfill!

Create Conversation
Climate change can be a daunting topic; studies show that most Americans believe it’s happening and are worried about it, but rarely discuss it with friends or family. Some of that silence may come from lack of understanding, and that’s okay! As Baba Dioum once said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” A great way to garner support and understanding is leading by example. Changing up our own habits this holiday season can spark conversation with our loved ones about the changing world and the role we all play within it, and even inspire them to make changes as well… what’s a better gift to the world than that? 

We can all do our part this holiday season in minimizing and properly disposing of our holiday-related waste to lessen our climate impact. Get a head start on holiday waste disposal by learning what can and can’t be recycled in Charleston County! 

Published December 8, 2022

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