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Celebrating a sustainable new year


Photo By: Town Crier file Photos
Photo Town Crier File Photos Support downtown businesses for a sustainable jump-start to 2012. An added bonus

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the U.S., there is an increase of more than 25 percent in waste, or approximately 1 million additional tons per week, according to use-less-stuff.com.

One of the biggest culprits is paper. Paper and cardboard make up 47 percent of the materials Los Altos contributes to the local landfill, according to a GreenTown Los Altos waste study.

The holiday season entices us to spend more on beautifully wrapped gifts, starting as early as Black Friday and continuing through post-Christmas sales. This past year, Americans spent a projected $875 billion from November through January on holiday gifts, or an average of $700 per person, according to Deloitte’s retail forecast.

Before getting lost in the consumer madness, think back on some of your happiest holiday memories. It’s likely these memories don’t involve wrapping paper, boxes or expensive gifts. Instead, they usually involve celebrations with family and friends.

Here’s a resolution for 2012: If we change our focus from the material to what really matters – time spent with family and friends – we can make our holidays more meaningful – and friendlier for the environment.

Following are tips from GreenTown Los Altos to help make the new year more sustainable.

• Buy green. Purchase fair-trade gifts, and help people in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. Buy green gifts made from recycled, organic and nontoxic materials, found online at sites such as ethicalocean.com. Or purchase gifts that give all year long, like a subscription to the community-supported agriculture program at Hidden Villa or theater tickets to Bus Barn.

• Buy happiness. According to a Stanford Graduate School of Business study, donating to charities and helping others leads to increased happiness and well-being in the giver. So buy yourself some happiness. Donate time to a local charity in a recipient’s name, make a contribution or give gift memberships to local non-profits and chapters that support sustainability, such as GreenTown Los Altos, Acterra, Slow Food South Bay and the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter.

• Buy local. Avoid the mall and the chain and big-box stores. Shop local businesses for unique gifts – and keep the money in your own community. Give gift certificates for spa services, restaurants, bakeries or even auto repair. Check out resale and consignment shops for designer clothes at a fraction of the cost. Bonus: Ride your bike to Main Street, and shed some holiday pounds as well.

• Reduce, reuse, recycle: Instead of buying expensive gift paper, schedule an afternoon for a family craft project and create your own. Children can stamp, stencil or draw holiday designs on rolls of recycled brown or white paper. Wrap your gifts in maps, magazine pages or newspaper comics. Reuse and repurpose wrapping paper and cards. Trim last month’s holiday cards to make unique gift tags. Send your holiday greetings online.

• Buy less. Next December start a new holiday tradition of family “Secret Santas” – everyone selects a name out of a hat and buys one gift only for that person. Share personal gifts of time and love – give gift certificates of your services, such as babysitting, gardening, cleaning, cooking or teaching. Or make something special – a knitted scarf, baked goods or homemade preserves.

If you buy new, choose sustainable cards and wrapping paper. Look for 100 percent recycled chlorine-free paper printed with soy inks – standard petroleum-based inks emit volatile compounds such as dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals known. Check out www.oftheearth.com for handmade paper with embedded wildflower seeds or www.fishlipspaperdesigns.com for a contemporary look. Or take a workshop to learn how to make “eco wrap” using repurposed fabric, discarded books, magazines and junk mail at FabMo (www.fabmo.org), in Mountain View.

Peg Champion is a member of GreenTown Los Altos and principal of Champion Organic Communications. Her work focuses on communication and education strategies to encourage sustainable behavior. For more information, visit www.ChampionOrganic.com.

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