This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Most of us love the holidays. We love the giving, receiving and the look on friends and family's faces when they tear open the gift-wrap and open the box. If they are kids, they ask us to undo the twist ties, cut open the plastic, and take their dolls or action figures out of the plastic shipping mold and out of the secondary plastic packaging.
Before you know it, you have several bags of holiday debris. Many of us shop online now, which adds an additional aspect of packaging. Shipping requires more cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, Styrofoam "popcorn" or "peanuts," more paper, not to mention the tape.
My question is, what are Utahns doing about their unwanted holiday decorating material and packaging? Are they aware of the impact it has on our landfills and recycling centers? Thinking about our methods of packaging items within packages and packaging for shipment has put a damper on my holiday spirit. By wasting so much material just for packaging and decorating gifts, we are teaching our kids that it is OK to generate unnecessary trash.
Some of us may unknowingly show them how to use unnecessary materials that are not guaranteed to be recycled. On gift-giving holidays, where mountains of packaging pile high, the unwanted material gives kids the feeling that they got a lot of stuff. The notion of how much strain we put on our environment by generating all this packaging material is absent in most cases.
It is hard to quantify how much gift-decorating material actually makes it to the recycling center. The Environmental Protection Agency declares that the volume of household waste generally increases up to 25 percent, or about one million extra tons of waste, during the holiday season. We can recycle half of that, according to utahrecycles.org.
Though our recycling efforts in Utah have been growing, it concerns me that not all of what we try to recycle will actually be recycled. It also occurred to me that perhaps not all of us know what can be recycled. There are plenty of online resources to find out what holiday waste can be recycled or reused. For instance, I found that if your wrapping paper has glitter or a metallic gleam, you shouldn't put it in the recycling can. Those packaging peanuts? Just like Styrofoam package molds, they are not suitable for the recycling bin.
When I was growing up, my aunts would always reuse their wrapping bows, ribbons, and gift boxes. It was fun to find a ribbon that we recognized from the previous year, or guess who got each memorable gift box. It added a special flair to our Christmas days and has continued through the generations. If we are to teach our kids that reusing material can be fun, the next generation will continue the more sustainable tradition.
My grandmother always saved the wrapping paper to reuse it later. As kids, we thought this was funny and just an old lady's way of saving pennies. However, my grandma came from a generation where not everything was simply thrown away or disposable. Our disposable society has over-contributed to the landfills in the past century. It is up to us and our children to find out ways to stop throwing so much away.
Our convenience isn't the only thing that matters. If you save your newspaper, you can wrap something else with it. You can also use wrapping paper to clean windows before you toss it in the recycling bin. You can reuse paper to make cards for the next year or gift tags (something my mother is fond of doing). Unlike used wrapping paper, gift bags aren't damaged as easily and are easy to reuse. Remember to be aware of how much packaging a gift has, and if you're able, choose gifts with minimal packaging.
I would urge readers to please research recyclable packaging materials and techniques to reuse decorations. I would also tell companies to rethink some of their packaging methods. Packages can still be fun, though; our materialistic society adores packages and gifts. By all means give, package and rejoice. Just please be mindful of the materials you are tossing into which bin, and how much.
Ashley Timmerman is a University of Utah student in metallurgical engineering.