for National Geographic News
With the holiday season in full swing, conservation groups on both sides of the Atlantic are increasing the decibel level as they chant their mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
And with good cause. In the United Kingdom, the "Do Your Bit" campaign estimates that holiday merrymaking is likely to create more than 3 million tons of festive rubbish. In the United States, the numbers are equally staggering. Americans will throw away an additional 25 million tons of garbageabout 1 million extra tons a week, estimates Use Less Stuff, a U.S.-based environmental group.
What's in the trash? The Do Your Bit campaign, sponsored by the U.K. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), estimates that British rubbish bins at the end of the festive season could contain as much as 1 billion Christmas cards (17 for every man, woman, and child); 6 million Christmas trees; 4,200 tons of aluminum foil; and 125,000 tons of plastic packaging. The mountains of trash will also include 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) of wrapping paper, enough to bury St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands.
The extra 25 million tons of trash discarded by Americans is similar in composition; just multiply by eight.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Environmental groups in both countries offer plenty of suggestions for how we can all do our bit and trim our holiday "wastelines."
There are the standard recommendations; reduce the number of automobile trips you take to shop, wrap your gifts in comic papers, use your local community programs to recycle cans, bottles, paper, and glass. Carefully unwrap presents so the paper can be reused next Christmas. Save your ribbons and bows.
And then there are the not so obvious. Use Less Stuff has a 42-item "Trim your Holiday Wasteline" list. The recommendations range from reducing the heat before your guests arrive for a holiday partyall those extra bodies will heat the room on their ownto bringing your own shopping bags on Christmas buying sprees, and shopping at antique stores or fleamarkets, a fun way to acquire recycled goods.
In the gift giving category, instead of giving a plastic toy that will still be contributing PCBs to the environment when your great-great-great-great grandchildren are around, consider gift certificates, donations to charitypreferably environmentalor, for your kids, stocks and savings bonds.
For the creative, the possibilities are endless. Take your empty wine bottles and transform them into colorful candleholders or vases, transform discarded floppy disks into tree ornaments, put this year's Christmas cards away to cut up and use as gift tags for next year's gifts or use them to make tree ornaments. There are lots of how-to's online.
Sending electronic Christmas cards this year was a big favorite in the suggestion arena. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the United States could fill a football field 10 stories high or circle the planet 10 times. Another 1 billion Christmas cards are purchased in the United Kingdom.
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