If it looks like there is more cardboard and wrapping paper spilling out of your neighbors’ recycling bins next week, this isn’t just a bias to confirm our assumptions about the excess vacation. .
It’s scientific. About 23%.
Household waste increases by nearly a quarter nationwide between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to studies cited by Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency.
This year’s edition of the holiday waste tradition comes on top of nearly two years of uninterrupted growth in door-to-door deliveries to deal with the pandemic, and all the resulting empty boxes.
“The increase in cardboard is huge,” said Charlotte Pitt, head of the Denver office of climate action.
Talking to a sustainability and resilience manager around Christmas is a bit like talking to a dentist after Halloween. Their job security is tinged with a palpable sense of futility.
Aside from the boxes, it’s the wrapping paper, Pitt explained. Most are so thin and trimmed that they cannot be recycled.
And home and office parties – visions of barely used paper plates, devil’s curdling eggs and lightly battered Solo cups dance through her head.
“People always overestimate the amount of food to cook for large gatherings,” Pitt lamented.
Fort Collins recycling officials have posted cheerful, anti-glitter flyers that further point to the giveaway season trash. This includes 2.6 billion greeting cards sold each year across the country. Over 4 million tonnes of gift wrap and bags. Try not to think about the 30 million living trees cut down for home decoration – at least they will be planting replacement trees in 10 years.
Denver’s Pitt has more good / bad news regarding waste seasonality. As in most cities in temperate climates, the actual weight – not the volume – of all waste is reduced by the lack of yard waste in December. The leaves have been raked, the branches have been pruned, that rock garden you wanted to finish has become next year’s dream.
About half of what Denver throws away is organic material, much of it yard waste, the rest of the coffee grounds and eggshells, and kale that has been shown to be immune to tenderizing.
The bad news? We are terrible to compost all of this. Denver’s overall recycling rate of about 20% of the waste stream is well below the national average for major cities. Much of this deficit comes from compost failures. While 96% of Denver residences have a purple recycling cart, Pitt said, only 29,000 residences pay the monthly fee of $ 9.75 for a green compost bin.
Demand for composting has grown in recent years, but clearly not enough, Pitt said. “It is by far the heavyweight if we are to really have a big impact in waste diversion,” she said.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pitt’s recommended gift list is rounded out with 1) a kitchen counter container to collect organics for compost; 2) Ecogro compost from local Ace Hardware stores, which is City of Denver compost that comes full circle for the conscientious; and 3) enrolling a family member in a Denver-sponsored Spring Class in Home Composting, taught by Denver Urban Gardens.
Denver and Fort Collins have other tips to help you avoid a vacation waste freeze.
- Use reusable plates and cups for the holiday season. Use regular plates for food and let them stack near the sink. Try Colorado camping chic – pewter mugs for wine glasses.
- At parties, place a labeled recycling bin next to your trash can. Customers are ready to recycle, Pitt thinks, but you have to make it easy for them.
- Find or make packaging materials that can be recycled. Pitt and his daughter bought regular kraft paper last year and made their own designs on the gifts. Fort Collins recommends pine cone decorations instead of ribbons. Remember: glitter, foil, glitter = no ho-ho-ho.
- Use the Guestimator. Denver is linked with this party planner tool that asks you to enter the volume of guests and the expected volume of their appetite. He then spits out the buying needs down to the pounds of meat and the number of cookies.
Pitt will strive to maintain optimism this holiday season. But she doesn’t claim to be a miracle worker. The teenager who helped her decorate wrapping paper isn’t very keen on the durability of the dishes.
“This,” Pitt said, “is the biggest challenge that I haven’t figured out yet.”