Reducing the Christmas trash pile, or how to not wrap a gift

Who knew? Americans are reusing wrapping paper, and finding inventive ways not to use it at all

The norm during Christmas week has always been the brightly lighted and decorated trees, with brightly decorated boxes spilling beyond the perimeter of the lowest branches. The week after, the tree, if it wasn’t artificial, is out on the curb for pickup, and the trash bins are spilling over with ribbon, wrapping paper, plastic packaging and the like.

At least these days, many municipalities turn those trees into mulch. And now it seems that Americans are pushing back, in their individual ways, against some of the other trash.

According to a poll released by ecoATM, a company that recycles cellphones and other electronic devices, slightly more than half of Americans say they reuse at least some holiday wrapping. Probably much of that has to do with the introduction of the gift bag, which is easy to fold away for use another day; it also cuts down on waste by taking odd-shaped and soft packages, without the need for a gift box. Other people reuse their ribbon, according to the survey, and some manage to give the actual wrapping paper a second life.

Perhaps more surprising is the finding that a fifth of Americans say they don’t bother wrapping at all. That might be a reflection of Internet shopping; few people want to spend several extra dollars on wrapping for a gift they’ll never lay hands on because it’s being shipped to someone distant from a third location.

And of course the one all journalists like the best, 17% of those polled used the pages from newspapers, or otherwise reused non-gift-wrap paper. My personal favorite in this category is the full-color comics page. I know someone else who cuts apart brown paper bags for wrapping and decorates them with inkstamps. Very Martha Stewart.

Maybe this is done more for convenience or to save money than to help the environment, but it’s not a bad start. Now if we could only figure out ways to cut down the crazy amount of plastic packaging encasing the goods we buy -- especially the hard, sealed plastic that’s impossible to pull apart and kills any scissors put to it.

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