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Creating New Holiday Traditions with Zero Waste In Mind

Green tips for creating new family traditions while reducing landfill waste.

The holidays are upon us and it is a good time to start new family traditions. Our waste is said to increase by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. What can we do differently?

When I was teenager, during the early years of the recycling movement, my family received a set of plates and silverware from a relative. This gift included napkin rings. My mum decided to use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Our first set of cloth napkins were red bandanas. We each had our own unique ring to hold our napkin until it was ready for the wash.

A cloth napkin may be re-used for several days, depending on you, of course, and what you had for dinner. You can create your own napkin rings from any number of things. Most of my extended family still uses cloth napkins. I wonder how many trees we’ve saved? In addition to trees we saved landfill space. According to the EPA almost thirty percent of landfill waste comes from paper products. What about the energy, and chemicals from the production of paper napkins? Water too, despite the theories that washing uses more water, as napkins take up little room and are simply added to the laundry we already do.

More Tips For Reducing Paper Use:

  • Use cloth towels instead of paper ones. Linen towels are well known for drying glassware to a sparkling shine. A friend has a cloth towel hanging by the sink for hand drying and one by the stove for dishes. I still use paper towels, however a roll may last me a year. How long can you make one last? Please remember to put your food soiled paper towels in your green waste bin. Food scraps go in the green bin too!
  • Old t-shirts, bed sheets, and towels make great rags. Tear them to your preferred size and stash them under your kitchen and bathroom sinks and in the garage. They are absorbent and re-usable plus they won’t end up in the landfill. Turn less the worn sections of flannel sheets into dish towels.
  • Buy responsibly manufactured toilet paper (and other paper products). When I was little, my mother told us that we only needed 4 sheets of TP. Now this seems a bit Spartan, yet it still provides me with a baseline for using less.
  • Then there are plates and silverware. Use real ones and practice good dishwashing techniques. Some of the sweetest moments after a holiday meal are being part of the clean-up crew. Use this as another opportunity to connect with your relatives and help out. Or be a kitchen angel and sneak away for a break from the festivities.

In writing this I discovered my own weak spot, Kleenex tissues! Now my challenge is to buy or make cloth handkerchiefs. In the meantime I will buy responsibly manufactured tissues. Alas, this will be a small hardship─the greener products are not as soft as Kleenex.

Good luck with forming new traditions and keep us posted on your progress and creative solutions. Let’s re-think gift wrapping too! What do you do?

I look forward to this journey together on the Road to Zero Waste!

Rachel McKay

Sustainable Fairfax Zero Waste Committee Liaison

PS:  Jennifer Hammond’s blog from last year about sustainable gift giving is still relevant except for the date of the Sustainable Fairfax Craft Faire this coming Saturday, December 8, 2012.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jane Doe December 04, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Great article! Thank you so much for the new tips and for the reminders about things we sometimes forget.
Susan Efros December 04, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I am proud to say my partner and I have been using cloth napkins for 26 years. I've never felt as good about it as when I read your inspiring article. Keep it up! Isa
Stacy December 04, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Yes, great article, thank you!
Rachel McKay December 05, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Thanks, it is good to have reminders, isn't it?
Rachel McKay December 05, 2012 at 03:20 AM
That's great Isa, you two are among the many unsung heroes!
Claire Noble December 07, 2012 at 05:07 AM
My grand daughter has been making cloth napkins since she was eight - they are all sorts of sizes and materials, and people love them. She has a back order for them! I will show her your article, as she loves to find ways to help the Earth.
Rachel McKay December 07, 2012 at 05:48 AM
How lovely to have hand made napkins! Thanks for your story.
Jennifer Hammond December 07, 2012 at 06:48 AM
Thank you Rachel, for the great (and simple!) ideas to lessen our impact. Another idea for old towels- take them to your local veterinarian!
Laurel December 11, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Rachel, I know from firsthand experience that you are the BEST kitchen angel. I order a lot of things online, especially during the holidays -- any thoughts about what to do with excess bubble pack and the dreaded foam popcorn? Laurel
Rachel McKay December 11, 2012 at 05:58 AM
Hey Laurel, I thought I'd been slacking in the angel category these days, I must be resting on my laurels. I've taken bubble wrap and popcorn to stores that provide shipping and mailing services. They are usually happy to re-use them.
Rachel McKay December 11, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Or use them to cover your car windshield for easy frost protection on early winter mornings.

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