During the holidays Americans produce excess amounts of trash, much of which comes from holiday entertaining. In 2012, Americans generated around 251 million tons of trash. That’s 4.38 pounds per person per day! According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) we are recycling 34.5 percent of what we throw away, which is much higher than the less than 10% recycling rate in 1980. We have a distance to go, but we are improving each year. I think it would be wonderful if everyone reading this blog made a commitment (or New Year’s resolution) to increase your recycling rate. Go for double! Or at least a 50% increase. When I was visiting the University of Melbourne a few years ago, they encouraged employees to recycle by giving them a tiny container for non-recyclable waste. Could you go for one week without overflowing that container?
Many of the items we throw away after a party are made of plastic or polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam, which is a trademark of DOW Chemical Company). In 1960 plastics accounted for less than 1% of municipal solid waste, whereas now they comprise about 13% of solid waste. We are the plastics generation. Most of the plastic is found in containers and packaging, but it is also found in durable (e.g., furniture, appliances) and nondurable goods (e.g., trash bags, cups, diapers). In 2012 we recycled about 9% of our plastic products and a large percentage were bottles.
This year, let’s all plan holiday parties that reduce waste.
The best way to start is by purchasing less. Reducing consumption is the best way to reduce your trash. Look around your house for things you can use, like cloth napkins, tablecloths, fabric, metal cutlery, china, assorted coffee mugs, mason jars, pottery, vases, etc. If you need to buy items for your party, go to second-hand stores, thrift stores, or garage sales. Buy mismatched plates, cups, glasses and cutlery to add an eclectic feel to your party. Be creative and use a vase for a serving container or a decorative teacup as part of your decorations. When possible, don’t use single serving beverage containers. Clean up after your party with microfiber cloths or tea towels instead of paper towels, and store leftovers in reusable containers.
If you decide to purchase items for your holiday events, make a conscious effort to not purchase products made from polystyrene foam, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. Opt for paper plates, paper cups, and utensils made from recycled materials or compostable substances like bagasse (sugarcane fiber) or vegetable starch. Compostable products should not be placed in recycling bin. According to Federal Trade Commission standards, if a product is labeled “compostable” then all the materials in it should safely turn into usable compost in a home compost pile. If the product can only be composted at a commercial facility, then the advertising should state that. Compostable products could confuse your guests, so it may be easier to use paper and plastics that can be recycled. Avoid using plastic tablecloths and don’t forget to provide a recycling bin.
Start your party right by sending the invitations electronically, or as was common in the small town where I grew up – post it on the bulletin board in the grocery store.
For additional resources visit the UGA Extension website for the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (www.gafamilies.org/home).