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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: Make less waste this holiday season
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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: Make less waste this holiday season

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Americans produce 25% more waste during the holidays — weighing in at 25 million tons! The mounds of trash vary from food waste to packaging, from clothing to last year’s “must-have” toys. In Florence and Darlington, litter is one of our main pollutants of concern. Aside from looking bad on roadsides and affecting real estate values, it can reach our water sources, pollute our drinking water, damage wildlife habitat, and clog storm drains.

Each year it seems our focus becomes about the hot new toys and clothes without much thought given to what is deemed old, used up, or broken. You can make a difference this year by making choices that lead to less waste. If you don’t know where to start, use this list as a beginner’s guide to a low-waste holiday.

Reduce wrapping waste: Reuse paper grocery bags as wrapping paper. You can use a stencil or freehand designs onto the paper, creating a timeless look and making an Instagram-worthy picture. If you prefer more flashy wrapping paper, look for recyclable wrapping paper. Paper with foil, sparkles, or plastic coating is non-recyclable, but regular wrapping paper and even plain glossy paper are recyclable. Check the labels!

Use less energy at home: Believe it or not, the lights you use are more important than what kind of tree you have. LED lights use significantly less energy than incandescent and are less of a fire risk. Using light timers also save on your power bill. Set your timer to turn lights on just before you wake up, and to turn off when you leave for the day, then turn back on when you get home and off just after you go to bed. A $5-$10 investment can save hundreds in the long run.

Buy less and buy local: While toys and clothes can quickly become forgotten after the holidays, experiences can last a lifetime. Consider getting your loved ones a state park pass, a zoo membership, or a similar experience instead of the “must-have” fad items this year. When shopping for items, look at local shops. Buying local saves on shipping costs and energy and supports a local family or business. When you clean out toy boxes or closets, donate the items to shelters, secondhand shops, or non-profits to give them a second life.

Think about the dinner table: One of the largest sources of waste is the dinner table. Some estimates show we waste up to 40% of the food we buy. Create less waste overall by planning your meals and using a list (including quantities) when you shop. Further reduce your waste by composting fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea. You can then use the compost in your yard or garden for free fertilizer.

Make the holidays more about love and less about things. Some of the best gifts you can give this year are clean air, land, and water.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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