On Friday, after attending a zero-waste conference, Teton County Waste Diversion and Outreach Coordinator Carrie Bell had a lot to think about regarding buying habits and how important consumer choices are when it comes to reducing our waste stream.

“Is it worth it to purchase, you know, something excessively packaged over something locally produced that is not packaged at all?” she asked.

The average human being generates an additional 25% of trash between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bell said. But mindful decisions to support businesses that make sustainable choices can put the responsibility back on the producers.

But shopping for the holidays isn’t the only practice to keep in mind. Bell had many ideas for making this the greenest Christmas ever.

Start with the tree. Bell recommends a real, live one for the season, unless people are planning to purchase a fake tree that will last them more than 12 years. Bell cited an article in BBC Science Focus Magazine that said a 6 1/2-foot tree that winds up going through the wood chipper or stacked on the bonfire emits about 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide. A n artificial tree the same size emits about 40 kg of carbon dioxide.

Even better, here in Teton County families can bring their used, undressed, all-natural seasonal conifers to the rodeo grounds, where the waste department will scoop them all up and send them all off to be turned into “evergreen” energy.

“Reuse” is one of the cornerstones of sustainable, so Bell recommends, “Invest in things that are going to be with you for a long time, like ornaments, decorations, etc.”

And lights. Bell recommends LED lights instead of the old incandescents. They may cost more up front, but they are just as, if not more, shiny bright, can last up to 50 times longer and use 80% less energy than the old kinds.

And for the stuff going under your tree, Bell reminds area Santas that their Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling Department is unable to recycle most wrapping paper.

“We don’t accept [it] for recycling because the fiber quality is very short and very weak,” she said, which means it isn’t very good for making post-consumer products. “Add that in with metallic glitter and decoration, and it’s really a recycling disaster.”

She suggests getting creative with brown paper bags, scarves, old T-shirts and other reusable and recyclable materials. Even newspaper — either the colorful pages of your everyday periodical or festive, 100% recyclable, holiday wrapping paper the News&Guide printed on the back of this article.

Kelly French, owner of Jackson Curbside Recycling, backs up Bell’s appraisal. She said she has seen a huge increase in packaging because of so many more online orders. For that reason along, she encourages people to support local businesses.

“Bring your own bag, shop locally and then wrap it in the News&Guide wrapping paper,” she said.

French admits it’s difficult to avoid online shopping, especially this year. But she reminded how companies like Amazon and most every other tend to ship products in individual packaging, leading to piles of boxes, filled with packing material, stacked outside homes.

“That’s just bringing an enormous amount of excess into the town,” she said.

Such trends multiply the effects across the county.

“We see wildly increased volumes,” Bells said, “not only in our waste stream, of course, but also in our recycling stream.”

As people gear up for their winter cleaning, holiday shopping and a possible increase in beverage consumption, Bell reminds them that they can bring a lot of recyclable material to the big blue recycling bins all around the town and county or to the recycling center at Adams Canyon.

Folks apparently are doing just that: Her data shows an “extreme increase” in aluminum cans since the onset of the pandemic.

Out of consideration for the recycling center team, Bell asked community members to refrain from leaving recyclables on the sides of bins when they are full — it’s not only dangerous for workers who may have to deal with broken glass, but it can also attract wildlife.

Even more important that recycling, Bell said, reducing waste comes down to mindful purchasing — especially with food. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing more people to keep gatherings more intimate, she recommends thinking about how much food they will need and what their plans are for leftovers. For those who are unsure, she recommended going to SaveTheFood.com, a website that helps people calculate how much food to buy for the number and type of eaters they’re expecting.

So — a hard-core decorator, hearty eater, unslakable drinker or all of the above — there are many ways to make this holiday season one for the planet.

Contact Lauren Teruya via lteruya@jhnewsandguide.com

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