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Waste Not, Want Not

Disposing of holiday detritus responsibly

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12.24.08


As the parties and gift-giving wind down, we can findourselves surrounded by piles of holiday debris. Not surprisingly,Americans generate an additional 25 million tons of waste betweenThanksgiving and New Year's. But that volume means that it's also agreat time to make a difference by disposing of our wastewisely.

The first step in a post-holiday sort is to look for what can bereused. For instance, we can save ribbons, bows and wrapping paperfor future years. I've read that if we all reused just two feet ofribbon, we could tie a bow around the planet. Yeah, it's corny, butit demonstrates how small actions do add up. Artistic folks canalso save pretty pictures from holiday cards to paste onto blankcards next year, perhaps with creative embellishments.

Along with the season's gifts of new clothes, toys and morecomes the inevitable disposal of the old ones. By donating theseunwanted items, we can brighten someone's day while making betteruse of the resources they represent. Higher quality discards can goto a consignment store, perhaps even netting a little cash.Unneeded paper and plastic bags can also be dropped at a thriftstore for reuse, and shipping "peanuts" and foam packaging at aprivate mail center.

To explore more ideas and resources for repairing and reusingunwanted items, check out Choose to Reuse by Nikki and DavidGoldbeck.

Next is the question of what can be recycled. Garbage serviceshave different rules, often posted on their websites. (Many Sonomaand Marin County folks are served by North Bay Corporation, whichis at www.unicycler.com; Napa is served by Napa Recycling and WasteServices, www.naparecycling.com.) Generally, we can put glass,cans, cardboard, paper and plastic in the blue single-stream can;this includes holiday cards and wrapping paper, except those withmetallics.

Much of our holiday waste is food. After we offer appropriateleftovers to a friend or food bank, what remains can often go inthe green yard waste container for composting. By this simple act,landfill waste is magically transformed into a useful resource. Myservice accepts vegetables and dry foods like bread and pasta;meat, bones, cheese and oil are not allowed. Christmas trees canalso go in the green can, if cut to fully fit within.

With many folks getting new techno-toys (including phones,computers, TVs and other gadgets), it's important to keep oldelectronic items out of the trash. That's because this high-teche-waste contains toxics such as lead, cadmium, copper and mercury,which can leach from landfills to poison humans, wildlife andecosystems. For example, a TV or computer monitor contains up toeight pounds of lead, which can cause brain damage andhyperactivity, especially in children. Of the lead in U.S.landfills, 40 percent is from electronics.

Nonprofits such as the Computer Recycling Center (www.crc.org;707.570.1600) accept donated e-waste, which they refurbish, reselland responsibly recycle. Donators even get a tax write-off. Somecurbside services and household toxics centers also take smallelectronic devices.

Which brings me to household toxics. Since these also don't goin the trash, I gather mine in a designated spot in my house, thenperiodically drop them at the Sonoma County Household ToxicsFacility, community toxics collections days or appropriate stores.Household toxics include batteries, fluorescent bulbs, glues,paints, solvents, treated wood, car fluids and fuel, householdcleaners, pesticides, medications, even nail polish andremover.

To discover all the nitty-gritty of local recycling and disposaloptions, I love the Sonoma County Eco-Desk (www.recyclenow.org;707.565.3375). Both their website and handy recycling section(under "R" in the AT&T Yellow Pages) list places to dropunwanted appliances, bikes, books, building materials, cars,eyeglasses, hangers, medical supplies, scrap metal, gardeningsupplies, cooking oil, car tires, video tapes and more. Theirwebsite's "Recycling" page also lists free Christmas tree drop-offspots.

Another vital way for us to help this process is by purchasingrecycled products, making use of these rescued resources andencouraging the market. The economy's slump makes this even moreimportant, as drastically lower materials prices have created anexcess of recyclables and discouraged some recycling.

 

We can also look at our current waste patterns for ideas toreduce future flow, an essential part of lowering our planetaryimpact. Thus, we might decide to buy a battery charger, keepelectronics longer, or even start our very own compost pile thatallows us to turn everyday food scraps into gardening gold.

 The Computer Recycling Center accepts drop-offsMonday–Friday, 9am to 5pm. and Saturday, 9am to 2pm. 3227Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. If you have more than 15 largecomputer items, please contact them in advance.707.570.1600.


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