Eco Talk: Minimizing waste in the holiday season | Lifestyles

We generate a lot of trash, especially this time of year. Between home, work and school, over 4.5 pounds of trash is generated per person each day in New York state, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s website. Many of the items thrown away can be reused, recycled or composted.

New York has approximately 30 landfills accepting approximately 6 million tons per year of waste from across the entire state. An additional 2.5 million tons is sent to waste-to-energy facilities and 6.1 million tons is exported to neighboring states.

Using the three R’s, which are reduce, reuse, and recycle, will benefit all of us, our communities and the environment. Some of the benefits include saving energy, reducing pollution, reducing the volume of waste requiring disposal in landfills, fostering an environmental ethic among citizens, increasing carbon sequestration and conserving natural resources.

Every community in New York is now required to have a recycling program in place. To ensure the materials that are separated for recycling actually are recycled, and to help pay for the recycling process, we must find ways to create demand for products made with recycled materials. The easiest way to sustain demand is to buy recycled products whenever possible.

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Products and packaging are increasingly being produced with recycled content. Examples of commonly available products are:

  • Paper napkins, paper towels, and toilet tissue.
  • Writing paper, greeting cards and envelopes.
  • Paperboard packaging (used in cereal, cake and cracker boxes).
  • Plastic and paper bags.
  • Glass containers.
  • Aluminum and steel cans.

Many products list information about the percentages of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content. Pre-consumer content are materials and by-products or scrap from industry that have not yet reached a consumer or business for use. These materials are reused within the same manufacturing process. Post-consumer content includes the materials from products that are purchased, used and then separated for and recycled.

To make the most of your community’s recycling efforts, look for products with a high post-consumer recycled content.

The amount of waste generated can also be reduced by considering a few simple actions when making a purchase, such as:

  • Buy products with reduced packaging.
  • Consider reusable, durable alternatives to single-use products.
  • Choose recyclable packaging.
  • Purchase family or large size packages, these can save both packaging and money.
  • Use concentrates to save waste by not packaging water.

Repair broken or worn items, when possible, and also try to reupholster furniture, patch clothing and repair shoes. Remember, if you can’t use it, there’s probably someone who can. Donate items to nursing homes, day care facilities, schools, churches or the Salvation Army.

Paper is the largest component of our waste stream. Reduce the amount of paper you use by:

  • Cutting one-sided flyers for notepaper.
  • Writing shopping lists on envelopes and carry coupons inside the envelope.
  • Wrapping postal packages in saved brown paper bags.
  • Reusing gift wrap for gifts or to line shelves and drawers.

Plastic is water-resistant, durable, lightweight and temperature tolerant. It can be very “re-useful.” Here are some ideas

  • Fill empty plastic bottles with water and freeze to use in coolers for picnics and camping.
  • Use yogurt, dip, or similar containers for individual portions of gelatin or pudding in the refrigerator or in a lunch pack. Also, use them to pack cookies and chips so they won’t get crushed.
  • Reuse “microwavable” dishes for picnics, bake sales or as pet dishes.

Glass can be very practical for in-home storage of many things:

  • Decorate a large pickle jar and reuse as a cookie jar or give as a gift- full of cookies, of course.
  • Keep odds and ends, such as screws or nails, in jars and know at a glance what’s inside.

Metals are another candidate for reuse:

  • Use a tuna can with the top and bottom removed to cook a perfectly round egg, pancake or use the same can as a cookie cutter.
  • Clean aluminum foil can always be reused before being recycled.

Below are some tips to help implement the three R’s.

  • Keep a sponge and towel near the paper towels as a reminder to use paper towels only when necessary.
  • Reuse small boxes to organize desk and dresser drawers.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • Use old toothbrushes to scrub hard to reach places.
  • Use egg cartons to grow seedlings this spring.
  • Use dish or bath water to water the garden, especially during a drought.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn as a mulch and fertilizer.

A little thoughtfulness and creativity will help lessen the amount of trash we create, especially this time of year.

Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.

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