Eco Etiquette: More Tips For A Zero Waste Holiday Season

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

Are you currently in the throes of Christmastime consumerism? Don't fret: This week's Eco Etiquette features Part II of my interview with Bea Johnson, author of The Zero Waste Home blog. (For Part I, click here.)

Bea is helping us trim our trash along with the tree, as well we should: Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, Americans will produce an astonishing 25 percent more waste. That's 1 million tons of garbage a year to stuff our stockings.

But if you think a Zero Waste holiday means turning into a green grinch, think again: Bea and her family may throw out less trash a year than you probably will at lunch today, but they have some pretty luxurious plans for this Christmas, as she divulged last week. Here, Bea shares more of her fabulous tips.

Jennifer Grayson: I personally love the "experience" gift -- a massage or concert tickets, for instance -- which you suggest as a way to minimize waste. But what about for people who are more into "things"?

Bea Johnson: You can give consumables in a reusable jar. Something that you or the kids make is especially good for teachers. I don't know if postal workers accept food, though...

JG: I'm pretty sure they take tips.

BJ: There you go -- money -- that's totally reusable [laughs]! You can also buy a used gift.

JG: I like to call that vintage.

BJ: Last Christmas, when my son asked me for a chess board, I bought it used. I actually looked at my local thrift shop and couldn't find one, so I bought it on eBay.

JG: I read on your blog, though, that you once accidentally bought a new item on eBay, thinking it was secondhand.

BJ: eBay has so many new items. When searching, you have to check that little box on the side that says "used."

JG: Good to remember.

BJ: Also important: When you pay for the item, you can add a message to the seller. Ask for no plastic shipping materials -- request recyclable materials -- because then when you get all the plastic, it's up to you to discard it.

JG: Ugh, I hate those foam peanuts! How do you feel about regifting?

BJ: There is nothing wrong with regifting! If you have something you were going to give to Salvation Army, why not put it aside instead for someone you know is going to enjoy it? Although: You really have to know the person is going to enjoy it.

JG: Right. It's not Zero Waste if you're just passing off your junk to someone else. What about other holiday tips? Decorations, for instance--

BJ: For the tree, we use a potted topiary from our deck. The tradition started when my husband had just quit his job to start a company; it was killing me to buy a $50 tree to be up for one week and then put on the curb. The first year was a little odd because we were so used to having a Christmas tree, but now we love it! The decorations look great on it.

JG: I'll bet your kids have an emotional attachment to the tree, now, too -- it's like they get to dress it up every year.

BJ: Yeah! Also: Instead of buying a garland, a string of popcorn looks fantastic. Then after the holidays, you can hang it outside for the birds.

JG: Or even cranberries -- I've seen that before. It looks very pretty.

BJ: I also love making a gingerbread house. The kids always look forward to that. We make it from scratch, and they get all excited that we use bulk candy to decorate it.

JG: You even buy gingerbread house candy in bulk?

BJ: Candy stores usually sell different types of candy in bulk -- just pack it in a reusable bag. Speaking of reusable bags... you can find reusable cloth gift bags now, too. Then there's furoshiki, which I think more people should know about.

JG:
I know about it from your blog! What's so interesting is that all of these tips are so old-fashioned. It's what people used to do before we could go to Target and buy bobblehead Santas.

BJ: I used to shop there in my previous life. We would go, like, every week and I would spend hundreds of dollars...on what? I have no idea. Disposable Christmas décor can get really out of hand. You use it once and throw it in the garbage can. That's essentially what you're doing with your dollars.

JG: Speaking of dollars, how much less do you think you're spending than the average American over the holidays?

BJ: I can't say for the holidays, but my husband has run the numbers from five years ago [before Zero Waste] compared with last year and found we're saving 40 percent overall.

JG: Wow, talk about motivation for a Zero Waste lifestyle... I think I just found my New Year's resolution! Happy holidays, Bea!

And happy holidays, HuffPost Green readers. Miss Eco Etiquette will see you all in 2012!