Creative Ways to Cut Your Holiday Waste

By Grace Doran and Jessica Kidwell

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, American household waste increases by more than 25 percent. Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.

As we celebrate the holidays, it pays to be mindful of sustainable consumption and materials management practices. They may help you focus even more on caring and celebration during this holiday season, and could even reduce the strain on our fiscal budgets and  the natural environment.

Giving

  • Less is more. Choose items of value, purpose, and meaning – not destined for a yard sale.
  • Give treasure. Pass on a favorite book, plant start, or antique. Check estate sales, flea markets, and resale shops for unique finds.
  • recycling, energy, power, environment and ecology concept - clos

    Consider rechargeable batteries

    Give “anti-matter.” Focus on the experience, rather than wrapping and shipping. Share event tickets, museum memberships, gift certificates, or even your time and talents.

  • Impart values, not wastefulness. Start a child’s savings account, or make a donation to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name.
  • DIY. Handmade food and gifts display your creativity and demonstrate your dedication.
  • Consider the source. Choose recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Shop local to support area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts.
  • Recharge. Consider rechargeable batteries (and chargers) with electronic gifts.
  • Blank linen shopping bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag for your purchases. Avoid bags altogether for small or oversized purchases.

  • Plan ahead. Consolidate your shopping trips to save time, fuel, and aggravation. You’ll have more time for careful gift choices.
  • Rethink the wrap. Reuse maps, comics, newsprint, kid art, or posters as gift wrap. Wrap gifts in recycled paper or a reusable bag. Or skip the gift wrap, hide the gifts, and leaves clues or trails for kids to follow.

Celebrating

  • Trim the tree. Consider a potted tree that can be replanted, or a red cedar slated for removal during habitat/farm maintenance.
  • Light right. Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years.
  • Choose LED lights

    Choose LED lights

    Make it last. Choose and reuse durable service items.

  • Keep it simple. For larger gatherings, choose recyclable or compostable service items. All food-soiled paper products are commercially compostable, unless plastic- or foil-coated.

Looking Ahead

  • Reduce. Donate outgrown clothes, old toys, and unwanted gifts.
  • Reuse packing and shipping materials. Save ribbons, bows, boxes, bags, and décor for the next holiday.
  • Recycle old electronics and batteries with an e-steward.
  • Replant, mulch, or compost your live tree. Compost food scraps.

About the Co-Author: Grace Doran is a student intern in EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, studying civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. Grace has a passion for environmental education, listening to podcasts, running and pizza (and those don’t contradict each other).

About the Co-Author: Jessica Kidwell is a hydrogeologist with EPA Region 7’s Environmental Data and Assessment staff. She’s provided technical expertise and worked with stakeholders to advance scientific, environmental, and sustainability objectives for nearly 20 years.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Green Cooking

By Nora Lopez

After a full day of work at EPA, I like to relax by experimenting with recipes and cooking all my favorite dishes.  One of my favorite dishes is from Puerto Rico and is called pasteles.  Once you mention this magical word to any person from Puerto Rico, you will see their face change. They open up, smile (more so than usual) and maybe start telling you who makes the best pastels.

Pasteles are made of the most natural ingredients ever. And they are wrapped in the most natural green wrapper that you have – plantain leaf.   Some people think a pastel is a tamal from Mexico, but I can tell you it isn’t. Tamales are made with corn flour which you buy in a store and then make a masa or dough and you then stuff with cheese, chicken, hot peppers and then you wrap in a corn husk or plantain leaf.

Pasteles go a little further than tamales on the greening; they are made with potatoes, green bananas, yautia (a tuber), pumpkin, and plantain, all of which you manually peel and grind (you can then compost all the remains). Some people make them out of yuca (cassava) which was what taino indians used to make bread with.  It is all natural healthy ingredients with lots of fiber!  Once you have all the ingredients peeled you need to grind them, and people fight over which way it should be done (manually grinding for the best texture or food processor for those who want to save time) This is called the masa and it has to have the right coloring, so we use another natural ingredient called achiote.  This red seed grows in a small tree, inside the fruit that is spiny. The achiote is simmered in olive oil and that is what is used to color the masa.

A stew is made with meat (pork or chicken) with the lots of natural herbs like recao, oregano, onions, garlic and many other ingredients.  Once this is made you are ready to make the pastel. Usually people gather in the kitchen and form an assembly line.  You take your plantain leaf (which has been cut to an appropriate size), you add some of the achiote and then the masa and meat.  This is folded, tied and boiled for one hour.  And then, voila!  You have your pasteles.  And after eating them you can even compost the plantain leaf.

About the Author: Nora works out of EPA’s Edison, New Jersey facility, where she manages the Region’s Toxics Release Inventory Program.  After work she can often be found channeling her inner chef.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Thinking Outside the (Polystyrene) Box

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck presents Ecovative Design co-founder Eben Bayer with EPA's Environmental Quality Award at the company's Green Island, NY facility on April 19.

By Larisa Romanowski

What better time than Earth Week to recognize the innovators among us – the companies and the employees that are truly making a difference.

We all know that our petroleum-based packaging materials, like polystyrene, have serious environmental consequences. So what if there was a practical and environmentally-friendly alternative? Now there is. And believe it or not, it’s made from mushrooms.

The completely compostable polystyrene substitute was the brain child of Ecovative Design co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre who developed the technology during their senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The packaging product called EcoCradle, is made from the mushrooms “roots”, called mycelium. To make the biodegradable packaging, the mushrooms are given agricultural wastes (like seed husks) which they digest to transform into a white material that is placed into molds. There, the shape forms and dries within five days, by which point the mushroom is no longer a live material.

And business is booming. Since opening the company in 2007, they’ve already expanded their facilities and now employ more than 40 workers. The Environmental Protection Agency was an early supporter of the company’s research, awarding them two Small Business Innovation and Research Grants in 2009 and 2010 totaling $295,000. Today, with contracts in place with companies like Dell and Crate and Barrel, the future looks bright for the young eco-entrepreneurs.

One of the things that the EPA can do to support green businesses is to recognize their important work. So, last week EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck visited Ecovative Design in Green Island, NY to present them with EPA’s Environmental Quality Award and tour their expanding facilities.

So often we’re forced to focus on our environmental problems, so it’s refreshing when we can take time to celebrate the solutions. Kudos to Ecovative Design for thinking outside the (polystyrene) box.

About the Author: Larisa Romanowski is a Community Involvement Coordinator stationed at the EPA Region 2 Hudson River Field Office in Hudson Falls, NY. When she’s not discussing the cleanup of the Hudson River, she enjoys exploring the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Innovative Packaging

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one of my green resolutions for the year has been to strive for “waste free lunches.” So far, I have not used any plastic sandwich bags and I have been using reusable containers regularly both for my daughter’s and my lunches. So, as I was grocery shopping last week looking for greener options, I came across a bag of chips that was made of “100% compostable packaging.” I was completely surprised by their green claim. Nonetheless, I read the label on the bag and visited their website for additional information. According to the company, the package is plant-based which makes it completely compostable. The company claims that the bag will disappear in less than four months after placing in a composter. Incredible! The only drawback that I found was that the bag was very noisy. Frankly, that’s a small price to pay when you consider how the bag can help reduce waste.

There are numerous environmental benefits to composting. While certain food scraps and yard trimmings are usually what you think of when adding contents to a composter, these packages add a whole different dimension.

Increasingly, more companies are developing new technologies to green their products. Another innovative green effort to replace Styrofoam in packaging and construction also uses biodegradable material developed from the mycelium of benign fungus.

Every day we see how more companies are using technology to go green. Not only are some of these companies trying to be good corporate citizens, they are realizing that green contents and marketing definitely sell. Hopefully, we’ll find innovative solutions to many of our environmental challenges.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.