Green Holiday Cleanup

The holidays are a busy and exciting time, but all that fun can make a big mess. Parties and family dinners create leftovers and a sink full of dirty plates while all those presents leave behind a pile of wrapping paper and bags. Follow the steps below to help minimize  the environmental impact of your holiday festivities and keep you, your friends, and family safe, happy, and healthy.

1. Reuse and recycle

Four million tons of wrapping paper and gift bags are discarded every year in the U.S. Unfortunately, most commercially available wrapping paper is non-recyclable because it is dyed, laminated, or treated with glitter and plastics. So this year, after all the presents are open, take the time to sort out the gift wrapping, boxes, and bags your receive in order to recycle as much as you can, then put the rest away to reuse next year.

Cards are another big source of holiday waste – Americans buy an average of 1.5 billion cards a year. Most of these end up in landfills because, like wrapping paper, cards are frequently treated with plastics and dyes that make them difficult to recycle. Many hospitals and charities run holiday card recycling programs, so look for one in your community.

2. Don’t throw that tree away

There are all sorts of uses for an old Christmas tree once the holidays are over and the decorations have been packed away. So instead of tossing your tree in the garbage, look for places that recycle trees. They can be shredded into mulch for gardens and parks or used whole to provide animal habitats or prevent erosion in wetland areas. Many cities offer curb-side pickup or you can look for local charities that accept trees for recycling. Don’t plan to burn your tree unless you have a large, safe area: evergreens burn quickly and release dangerous creosote and sparks.

3. Use eco-friendly cleaners

Common household cleaning products contain a variety of toxic and dangerous chemicals. These include phosphates, which are damaging to the environment, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which cause a range of ailments from asthma to cancer. So this holiday, get your house ready for friends and family using eco-friendly cleaners. For general cleaning, use vegetable-based soap flakes or citrus-based cleaners; keep your bathroom tidy with Greenhome.com’s biodegradable bathroom cleaning kit; wash holiday tablecloths and napkins in phosphate-free detergent; and do the dishes with eco-friendly dish soap.

4. What to do with leftovers

Big family dinners are bound to leave you with a kitchen full of leftovers. This year, instead of tossing them in the garbage can, take advantage of the opportunity to start a compost pile. Throw together half-eaten pie slices, untouched cranberry sauce, and dried out stuffing in a kitchen compost bin and you’ll have fertilizer in time to plant your spring garden.

Any leftovers you’re planning to keep should be stored in safe, non-toxic containers. Options include biodegradable PLA or bagasseglassstainless steel, or recycled plastic.

5. Plates, bowl, forks, and knives

For parties and family dinners, try to rely on reusable dishes and cutlery: the reduction in waste will be worth the extra round of dishes. If you have to go disposable, stay away from styrofoam and non-biodegradable, plastic-coated paper. Instead, use cupsdinner napkins, and plates made from recycled plastics or compostable material like PLA or bagasse.

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