According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American throws away 1,600 pounds of garbage annually. That means that a typical household of four discards the weight of two average cars each year. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce the amount of garbage your family creates, and to pass down a cleaner, greener planet to your children and grandchildren.
The holidays may seem like a daunting time to start living greener, but there are actually many opportunities to make simple choices that are healthier for your family and the environment.
Are you preparing for guests to visit your home? This is a great time to switch to less toxic cleaning supplies. Bleach and ammonia products can be irritating to people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. Plus, they contaminate the ground water. Instead, use vinegar- or orange oil-based cleaning products. In addition, commercial air fresheners can be irritating for people with respiratory conditions, and they pollute the air. But you can naturally scent the air by heating a pot of apple cider with cloves and cinnamon.
Holiday ornaments can be both expensive and fragile, too often ending up in the trash. Why not engage your children to make paper chains and strings of popcorn or beads? You can also display your holiday cards taped to the door or hanging on a string on a wall.
How many new toys do your children really need? Is it necessary to buy gifts for everyone in your office? If presents are breaking your budget and making you feel guilty about the adverse environmental impact, try something new this year:
If you have a large family, a group of friends or colleagues, draw names so that everyone gets one gift.
Make an agreement with adult relatives that gifts will be only for the children.
If you like to bake, make cookies or pies to give. Inexpensive, festive cookie tins or pie plates are available at secondhand stores.
Look in thrift shops for gifts for children who love sparkly jewelry. You can find gently used or almost new items at a fraction of the retail cost.
For older friends and relatives: a nicely made certificate promising a homemade meal, a day together or housecleaning might be much more welcome than one more glass figurine or kitchen gadget. For college students: a grocery store gift card. For a family in a new city: a museum membership or a movie pass. For a “tween” who seems to have everything: a donation to save an endangered animal. For the friend who always says, “Oh, don’t buy me anything”: a donation to a local charity in his honor.
Encourage children to make gifts. Old cans can be made into pencil holders with colored paper, glue, and glitter. Grandparents might love a photo of their grandchild in a homemade colorful frame.
Have a “gift swap” day, where you clear out closets and shelves and trade no-longer-wanted clothes, books and toys. This can be especially fun to do with a group of children, such as cousins.
Every year in the United States, tons of paper is produced and used to painstakingly wrap gifts, only to be torn off in a moment and thrown in the garbage after the holidays. Rather than buying new wrapping paper, reuse paper and boxes from last year’s gifts or save newspaper comics to use.
We all love getting holiday cards, but are they worth chopping down a forest? Consider trimming your card list by eliminating people you see every day. Save the holiday cards that you receive for a fun activity for your children, like cutting them up for collages or homemade cards.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.