Christmas
Americans are 25% more wasteful during the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As a result, 1 million extra tons of trash is produced per week.  I found that if you are mindful of packaging and gift wrap, however, you can reduce that extra waste to zero.

The Trash-Free Tree

The first trash-free challenge was the Christmas tree.  We bought our tree from Helemano Farms in Wahiawa last year.  It is the only place on Oahu where you can get a freshly cut tree that hasn’t been shipped in from thousands of miles away – and the netting they use to bail your tree is biodegradable. We went back this year to get another one, however, after we picked our tree and it was sent through the baler, I noticed that the netting was not biodegradable this year – it was made out of plastic.

Taking home the Christmas tree

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Plastic Christmas tree netting

I did not throw the netting away or put it into my trash bag.  Instead I set it aside for a future art or garden project.  I am hoping to use my compost and try my hand at growing some vegetables in the New Year and the netting could be used as a trellise for peas or other climbing veggies.  I also thought it might make good stuffing for a chair pillow.  If anyone has other ideas of how I could reuse Christmas tree netting I would love to hear about them!

Another trash-free challenge arose when we started decorating the tree.  The Christmas lights I borrowed from my parent’s stash finally died.  We spent an hour trying to find the magic bulb that, if replaced, would bring the string back to life – but failed.  We drove to Longs and bought boxes of new lights which luckily came with minimal packaging that we can use again to store the lights after the holidays.  After the new, healthy lights were on the tree, a big question remained – what do I do with the old lights?

Dead Christmas lights

Technically, since I already had the lights prior to the start of my trash-free year experiment, I could have just thrown them in the trash.  This was definitely the easiest option.  Letting all the bulbs, wires and plastic go to waste, however, did not make any sense.  After looking around on the web, I discovered a few recycling options.  Home Depot has a Christmas Tree Light Recycling Drive each year.  Unfortunately for my situation the drive happened weeks earlier in November.  I also found two programs on the mainland that also take broken Christmas lights:  HolidayLEDs and the Christmas Light Source.  To minimize my carbon footprint I will hold on to the lights for one more year and look for the Home Depot tree light recycling campaign in 2012.

Trash-Free Gifts
This year I turned some of my would-be-trash into the following Christmas gift “treasures” and reusable wrapping:

  •  With the help of a drill, some glue, marine debris, and old (washed) dental floss, I turned Knudsen juice jar caps into gift tag/ornaments.
Juice cap gift tag/ornament

Juice cap gift tag/ornament

  • I decorated some of the empty juice jars with old fabric and filled them with homemade granola and other treats.  I made the gift tags out of a Starbucks gift bag I received at a party.
Decorated Knudsens Juice Jar

Decorated Knudsen juice jar with homemade granola

  • I also decorated the lids of old spaghetti jars and filled them with homemade granola or popcorn.  I found directions for these decorative lids on a Martha Stewart webpage.
Gift jars with decorative lids

Gift jars with decorative lids

How To Make Fabric Lids:
Materials:
– fabric or paper
– scissors
– a round object to draw a circle sightly larger than the lid (so that it will adhere to the outside and inside of the cap lip)
– glue

Materials to make a decorative lid

Materials to make a decorative lid

First cut out your fabric circle and spread glue on the entire outside of the jar lid.  Place the lid in the center of the fabric circle.  Martha’s directions call for using spray adhesive to do this, but a thin layer of Tacky Glue worked great.  Once the lid is glued into place, snip a slit every inch around the fabric.

Spread glue on the remaining fabric

Spread glue on the remaining fabric

Spread a thin layer of glue on the outside edge of the circle so it will adhere to the inside of the jar lid.

Fold fabric onto lid

Fold fabric onto lid

Take a fabric slice and press it to the outside of the lid.

Secure the fabric to the inside of the lid

Secure the fabric to the inside of the lid

Fold the slice over the lip and attach it to the inside of the lid.

Continue to fold fabric slices over the lid

Continue to fold fabric slices over the lid

Repeat this with the other fabric slices.  The slices will layer nicely over each other.

Completed decorative jar lid

Completed decorative jar lid

After the jar lid is completely dry you can put it on your jar to use at home or give away as a trash-free gift.

Trash-Free, Reusable Gift Wrap
Rather than wrapping gifts in newspaper and old magazines as I have done in previous years, I decided to try my hand at making reusable cloth gift bags.  I don’t have much sewing experience but I discovered that there is a way to make cloth drawstring bags with minimal sewing skills by using old t-shirts.

Gift bags made out of old t-shirts

T-shirt gift bags

I got the idea for the t-shirt gift bags from a video of Ame Guzman, who sits at a farmers market booth in Alameda California and makes grocery bags out of t-shirts as a part of the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association Zero Waste Project.  Her video has great step-by-step instructions for making the t-shirt bags.  It inspired me to sift through my old t-shirts that I never wear and make a few of my own bags.  The left-over t-shirt pieces can be made into great gift bags.

Gift bag made out of bottom half of t-shirt

Gift bag made out of bottom half of t-shirt

I made two larger gift bags out of the bottom half of a  t-shirt (only one bag is show in the picture above).  It was extremely easy!

T-shirt bag inside-out

T-shirt bag inside-out

After I cut the shirt, I folded it inside out and sewed along the open part of the material with my sewing machine.

T-shirt bag drawstring

T-shirt bag drawstring

Then I used a safety-pin to thread a fabric ribbon through the t-shirt hem that was already there.  I turned the resulting pouch right side out and had a simple, yet attractive, reusable cloth gift bag!

T-shirt sleeve gift bag

T-shirt sleeve gift bag

I made a smaller bag from the left-over sleeve of a t-shirt that I had already turned into a cloth bag.

T-shirt sleeve bag inside out

T-shirt sleeve bag inside out

I sewed  the open part of the material and cut open the sleeve hem for the drawstring.

Completed t-shirt sleeve gift bag

Completed t-shirt sleeve gift bag

The bag didn’t close completely, but the dark material made it difficult to see anything inside.  Next year I hope to sew or glue on simple Christmas shapes, like trees and stars, to make the bags a little more festive.

Making the cloth bags did take more time than using wrapping paper, but it was a really fun and fulfilling project.  My hope is that each bag will take on a life and journey of its own as they are reused and passed on to others.

Basket of trash-free gifts and gift wrapping

Basket of trash-free gifts and gift wrapping