The holiday season is upon us. It is a wonderful time of sharing meals, giving gifts and decorating our homes. It is a time when we think less of ourselves and more of others. It is a generous and giving time of year.
With all this merriment, also comes a whole lot of trash; food scraps, packaging and, dare I say, unwanted gifts.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate 30% more trash than the rest of the year. Nearly 25% of this increase is wasted food. I am sure we could do better.
Recently, in an attempt to stem the tide of this increased trash, Marc Morgan from the City of Lebanon, NH and Lindsay Smith from the Hanover (NH) Consumer Cooperative (the Coop) offered a free class focused on reducing waste as you shop — from the beginning, and before we purchase items. This educational class was attended by 10 people from communities throughout the Upper Valley. The class was held at the Culinary Learning Center at the Lebanon Coop store and was called “Reduced Waste Shopping”. Many of the attendees were pleased this was not a “zero waste” training; they expressed anxiety over not being able to get to zero.
During the workshop, attendees were given some basic information about waste generation during the holiday season. The group was given recipes to shop for in the Lebanon Coop Food Store. Half of the attendees were told to shop as they usually do, and the other half were instructed to shop in a manner to reduce waste. No further instructions were given.
Once the task was completed, shopping bags were presented. The group looked at the “typical shopping” bags and compared them to the “reduced waste” shopping bags. It was interesting to see how the groups shopped. Some already employed waste reduction techniques like buying in bulk, only getting what is needed and buying items in recyclable packaging.
After the experience, the discussion about shopping was open and encouraging. One item that surprised many in the class was the idea of purchasing liquid ingredients like chicken broth. Chicken broth can be made at home, it comes in bouillon (concentrate) and in a paste or a powder can be found in the bulk isle at most coop food stores. Water is heavy and shipping it around adds to transportation impacts. Using concentrates like powered detergents, bouillon and juices can have a positive impact on our waste generation and transportation footprint.
It was clear that some attendees were not aware of some basic waste reduction strategies. That was what the class was for. The group discussed basic techniques for food shopping such as:
- Make a shopping list
- Be sure to give yourself enough time. Don’t rush.
- Bring refillable bags and containers
- Buy in bulk
- Purchase items in returnable containers
- Purchase items in recyclable containers
There was a great deal of confusion around recycling and what packing was or was not recyclable. Some items like Tetra-Paks (chicken broth comes in these cartons) are not recyclable in this region.1 The package says “Please Recycle” but it might not be recyclable in your local program. Film plastic from bread bags and some bags of fruit was also an area of confusion. Many local grocery stores will take clean film plastic, along with grocery bags right at the store.
As a thank-you for attending this workshop, the Coop provided reusable grocery bags to all attendees. The bags are made from surgical wrap from the DHMC Medical Center. It was a wonderful example of how we can reuse our waste.
It was a great night and we all left encouraged having learned something. Too often people feel discouraged about their waste habits. The idea of zero waste is wonderful, but many feel they can’t achieve that and opt to do nothing. This session showed the participants that it is important to start somewhere and do something. The most important lesson learned at this workshop was that all of our purchases have consequences and that with a little preparation, we can minimize those impacts.
This holiday season, we encourage everyone to do something to reduce your waste. Maybe you will compost your food scraps; or better yet, reduce the portion sizes and eliminate some of your waste. You could buy tickets to a local concert or museum; giving “experiences” reduces a whole lot of waste. Use a new reusable grocery bag as “wrapping paper” to give a gift in. Think through your gift giving and other purchases this season and make it a Greener Holiday.
Marc Morgan has been working in the waste and recycling industry for nearly 25 years. He is passionate about waste reduction. Currently, Marc works as the Solid Waste Manager for the City of Lebanon, NH where he manages the City’s landfill and solid waste/recycling programs.
1 Tetra-Paks are recyclable in many places. For more information visit https://www.recyclecartons.com/.