Tips for a Simple and Green Holiday Season

Did you know the holiday season is the most wasteful time of the year? From Thanksgiving to the New Year, we generate 25 percent more waste than average. We can easily change that. One step at a time.

Share Experiences

Instead of buying something, think about an experience that you can give instead. Dinner for two? A theater show? A day at a museum? A movie? A spa treatment? The options are infinite. That way you can grow memories, not trash.

 Give Homemade

If you prefer to give someone a physical gift, try a homemade one. Use your talents. Do you like to cook? Are you artistic? Do you like to write?

 Shop Sustainably

If your choice is to buy something, stay local:

  • Shop second hand in a nearby consignment or antique store.
  • Shop locally from a small business. It’s good for your community and it benefits the local economy.
  • Visit an open studio in your neighborhood and buy directly from an artist.

Zero Waste Wrapping

Unfortunately wrapping paper, scotch tape and ribbons cannot be recycled due to coatings and dyes. Try these instead:

  • Wrap with fabric. In Japan, fabric wrapping is so prevalent, it’s become an art form called “furoshiki”.
  • Use newspapers and paper bags and decorate with raffia and plants, vines or pinecones.
  • Choose reusable paper or cloth gift bags for simplicity.
  • Cut last year holiday cards and use them as gift tags.
  • And finally, send only fully recyclable holiday cards to family and friends. Remember that photo based cards and cards with glitter, foil or charms cannot be recycled.

Reducing our Trash – A Visual Guide

One of the most daunting issues facing the world today is the mounting waste problem. Because we’re not seeing it, we think it’s not a problem, but it is. In Massachusetts we create so much trash that much of our waste is transported out-of-state sometimes as far as Ohio, at great cost to us, the rest is sent to landfills or incinerators in the State.

This visual guide shows alternatives I have implemented in my household to reduce the amount of stuff we send to the landfill.

Update Oct 2017: I am no longer using Preserve products due to the low quality/design of their products. Instead I am using regular toothbrushes and re-usable razors with disposable blades.

Ban the Plastic Bag! But What Do I Do with my Pet Poop?

Cats

I have one cat. This is what I have been doing for years: I cut a paper bag in half, (I recycle the top part) and place the bottom part next to the litter box and scoop daily. Every 3 days or so I fold the top and dump it directly inside my outdoor trash container. That way I am only trashing 1 paper bag a week. I know this is not the perfect solution, but this is the one that works for me using the least amount of waste and zero plastic. The paper bags I use are made with post consumer recycled content.

Dogs

I don’t have a dog but this is what some of my friends with dogs are doing: Bring a large piece of folded newspaper every time you walk your dog,  scoop your dog’s waste with a large piece of newspaper, make a little “tamale” and then throw it in the garbage. If you prefer plastic, take a look at my plastic bag drawer. I keep all the clean bags from newspapers, bread, pasta, nuts, produce, etc. You can start collecting them too; simply grab one of those bags when you head out to walk your dog. Scoop your dog’s waste and toss it in the garbage.

What about biodegradable bags?

Those are not a good idea if they are headed for the landfill. There’s no oxygen in landfills, so nothing biodegrades there. It is best not to buy something new; just reuse some paper or plastic bags as mentioned above.

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

I was always a tea person until I met my husband, who taught me to love coffee. Now my morning routine is not complete without a large mug of steamy coffee. Recently, I started to wonder, what kind of coffee is the most environmentally sustainable and healthy. This question should be very easy to answer, but it isn’t. We all have our favorite brands and ways to drink our coffee. In the last years we have seen an explosion of choices mostly focused on “convenience”.

Personally, my favorite cup of coffee is the one I make at home, using certified organic, fair trade, dark coffee beans and fresh filtered water, and brewed in a French Press. That way I can totally control the temperature of the water and the time it is in contact with the beans and and I know for sure my coffee hasn’t been in contact with plastic. This is also a zero-waste process.

There are also other coffee makers that don’t contain plastic and they are mostly waste free: The Chemex, the Stovetop Espresso Maker, the Percolator, the Turkish coffee pot, among others. Personally, I have only have tried the Turkish pot, that makes a delicious strong coffee but I haven’t tried any of the other methods because they all look harder than my French Press Coffee Maker.

K-Cups taking large shelf space at a local grocery store

The worst way to make your coffee for your health and the environment is to use a K-Cup pod. The pods contain an undisclosed blend of plastics and an aluminum cover. Not only they create unnecessary trash, but you are heating plastic and aluminum which leaks into your coffee and probably messes up your health. K-Cups are not recyclable, and even if they say so, most municipalities don’t accept them.

What about compostable K-Cups? Unfortunately, these are not better. Each K-Cup comes individually wrapped in foil, creating more unnecessary trash, and they need to go to an industrial composting facility in order to break down.

What about traditional electric coffee makers? Environmentally speaking, these are better than K-Cups. After making your coffee, simply add the coffee grounds with the filter to your compost pile. Because they are wet, they will decompose fairly quickly.

Plastic and Film Packaging

Did you know that in addition to plastic shopping bags, you can also recycle plastics bags like cereal box liners, dry cleaning bags, bread bags and paper towel wrap? Please note that we cannot put plastic bags or film in our curbside recycling containers. You have to find a store drop-off center. I have done the research for you. In the Metrowest area these are the places where you can bring your plastic bags and film: Target, Whole Foods, Lowe’s, Staples, Market Basket, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Roche Bros. and Best Buy.

Please recycle only clean, dry plastic bags and film. Remove receipts or any other items from bags.

37 Resolutions for 2017

This is the list of my top “Green Resolutions” for the New Year. Remember, it’s all about taking baby steps. Any action you take will benefit your health and the health of this planet we call home.

Everyday Actions

  • Reduce the amount of meat and dairy you eat, especially red meat. Adopt Meatless Mondays or even better, become a WEEKDAY VEGETARIAN.
  • Start collecting your food scraps at home and compost them or bring them to a Community Composting Facility near you.
  • Reduce the amount of disposable plastics you use. Replace plastic plates, cups and utensils with reusable ones like ceramic plates, cups and silverware. HAVE MINIMAL WASTE PARTIES.
  • Reduce your junk mail by going to any of these websites and following instructions: https://dmachoice.thedma.org or www.catalogchoice.org.
  • Recycle right and when in doubt throw it out. Go to your town website and get updated information, print it and put it next to your recycling bin.
  • Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping. Keep them in your handbag and in your car. If you forget, ask for a cardboard box or skip the bag and carry your own item to the car. AVOID PLASTIC BAGS.
  • Choose local and organic foods whenever possible and try to buy food with less packaging. For example: choose loose corn instead of corn wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic. AND BUY JUST THE FOOD YOU’LL EAT.
  • Use full loads of dishes and clothes on a short cycle if possible and use half the amount of detergent as recommended.
  • Bring Your Own Mug to the coffee shop or ask for a ceramic mug and sit down and enjoy your coffee. AND SKIP THE STRAW.
  • Use kitchen cloths in the kitchen instead of paper towels. Try the Super Amazing Reusable Kitchen Cloth from Trader Joe’s.
  • Use newspaper and paper bags to wrap presents, decorate with dried plants and raffia and re-use gift bags. Gift wrapping paper is not recyclable.
  • Bring your own containers for take out and avoid toxic Styrofoam and extra trash.
  • Filter your own water and home and carry a reusable water bottle. AVOID PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES.
  • Replace paper napkins with beautiful and colorful cloth ones.
  • Think before you print and always print double sided.
  • When you buy paper goods: toilet paper, paper towels and print paper, choose paper with high post consumer recycled content. That way, you are helping to maintain market demand for recyclables.
  • Buy only good quality clothing so it lasts a long time. Ideally buy in consignment stores. Avoid cheap clothing that will soon break apart and will end up in landfills.

At Home Actions

  • Install a clothesline in your yard to dry your clothes in the summer and one in your basement to dry your clothes in the winter. OR GET A STAND UP RACK.
  • When something breaks try fixing it first. If you need to buy a new item consider buying it second hand. Check www.boston.craiglist.org.
  • Watch a video on sustainability: “Bag It”, “Before the Flood”, “Food Inc”, “Cowspiracy”, “Time to Choose”, “The True Cost”, “Forks Over Knives”.
  • Turn off the lights. If you’re not using a room, there’s no need for the light to be on.
  • Consider installing solar panels on your home or purchasing renewable electricity from a reliable supplier. Contact Mass Energy: www.massenergy.org.
  • Replace your conventional bulbs with LED bulbs when they break.
  • Turn off electronic devices when not in use.
  • Contact Mass Save: www.masssave.com for a home energy assessment to save money and energy in your home.
  • Adjust your water heater to 120 degrees.
  • Next time you buy a new appliance, choose one with the Energy Star label.
  • Turn your thermostat down and put on an extra layer. Or get a programmable thermostat.
  • Use re-chargeable batteries only and when they die, recycle them properly.
  • Next time you need to buy a new car, consider a hybrid, electric or super fuel-efficient car: https://www.massenergy.org/drivegreen
  • Maximize fuel efficiency of your car, no matter what model you drive: Keep tires inflated, avoid speeding, and keep your trunk free of excess weight.

Actions In Your Community

  • Support locally owned businesses, shop in farmer’s markets and consider becoming a member of a local CSA farm.
  • Carpool whenever possible – especially if you have a long drive to work or for kids’ sports games.
  • Support safe biking in your community and be careful and respectful with bikers.
  • Do not idle, it wastes fuel and pollutes the air.
  • Learn more about climate change and share what you learn with others, especially with your children.
  • Support local climate action organizations.

Almond Milk Made at Home

Almonds are one of humankind’s most beloved nuts. Compared to all other nuts, they are the most packed with nutrients and beneficial components. They are high in protein and filled with B vitamins, magnesium, copper and vitamin E. This milk is my son’s favorite. He insists I make it for him every week!

Ingredients:

2 cups of raw almonds

8 cups of filtered water

4 teaspoons vanilla essence

4 tablespoons of agave, maple syrup, honey or stevia to taste

4 pitted dates (optional)

Supplies:

Blender

Nut-Milk Bag

Large bowl

Pitcher to store your milk


Preparation
:

First, soak your almonds overnight for at least 12 hours. The next day, discard the water, rinse your almonds and place them in the blender with the water, vanilla essence, agave and pitted dates. Blend for about 3  minutes. If you have a small blender, you will need to do it in two batches. Then, add the mixture into the nut-milk bag and squeeze the milk directly into your bowl. Transfer to your pitcher and refrigerate. You can either compost the remaining almond pulp or add it to your oatmeal, smoothies, and muffins. From personal experience, my milk keeps fresh in the fridge for at least 1 week.