Holidays are the time to reduce, reuse and recycle

by Richard L. Hays and Terri Steele
he holidays are upon us, and the spirit of the season is everywhere: the food ... the fun ... the parties ... the packages. But there are costs associated with all this fun and folly, and the costs are not just those you see on a price tag. A whopping 70 percent of consumer discretionary purchases are made during the fall and winter holidays. With those packages come a great deal of waste.
Overpackaged foods and gifts, disposable party supplies and other holiday trimmings all lend themselves to San Diego's garbage glut. Their use has distinct environmental costs - costs that can be easily avoided by following the "Three R's" of the modern conservation ethic: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.


Think twice about the amount of waste you're generating during the holidays and try to reduce it. Purchase reusable canvas bags that can be used to replace plastic or paper shopping bags at the grocer. Or pick up a set of handkerchiefs or cloth napkins to use in place of disposable paper goods. Pen and pencil sets are preferable to disposable writing utensils. Composting bins are unique, environmentally-friendly gifts that make positive sense for San Diego's waste environment, while producing a valuable fertilizer for house plants and backyard gardens.
With the holidays come an influx of holiday catalogues, many of them unsolicited. Although the majority of this paper is recyclable, junk mail, categorized as mixed waste paper, is of the lowest grade of paper - and the most difficult to market.
Citizens can limit the loads of unsolicited junk mail they receive (and ensure that material is kept out of San Diego's waste stream) by writing and Mail Preference Service of the National Direct Marketing Association. Simply indicate that you no longer want your name and address released to mailing list companies and mail your name, variations of your name, your address, city, state and zip code to the Mail Preferences Service, National Direct Mail Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.


The second area of emphases in the modern Conservation ethic asks that citizens reuse as many items as many times as possible. In its first major recycling partnership in San Diego, the Building Industry Association of San Diego County is teaming up with the Sierra Club and Home Depot to support a new services for diverting surplus demolition and construction debris from San Diego's landfills.
This nonprofit San Diego Building Materials and Recycling Services, Inc., reuses discarded construction and demolition debris for use in local community services projects.
Nearly one-fifth of the waste entering San Diego's landfills is demolition and construction debris. In addition to saving valuable landfill space, this new services has the potential to provide the basic material for underfunded community services projects that otherwise might not happen.
San Diego Building Materials Recycling will accept a wide array of surplus building material and discarded remodel items like toilets, sinks, tubs, lumber, cabinets, doors and windows. The firm is working with agencies like Habitat for Humanity to ensure these materials are put to the best and highest reuse possible. For further details, phone president Dan Cannon at (619) 661-8155.
A new way to more efficiently manage San Diego's resources this season is to purchase living trees that can be replanted after the holidays or to take advantage of a new services that allows families to rent live Christmas trees.
Live trees and plants other than the standard pine and cedar can decorate your home and be suitable for planting outdoors after the holidays. Try something new this holiday season and select a less traditional species that will add to the landscape of your yard.
This season, services are available in San Diego County where citizens can "rent" trees for the holidays. Growers nurture and care for potted living trees and rent them to families from year to year. Customers can order their trees over the phone or select them as a family. If desired, a family can rent the same tree year after year. For more information, phone the city and county of San Diego's hotline at (619) 467-0903 (city) and (800) 237-2583 (county).


The final, but by no means least important, component of the modern conservation ethic is recycle, and there are plenty of opportunities to recycle during the holidays.
The city and county of San Diego have produced a regional recycling guild that lists the location, hours of operation and materials accepted at more than 100 recycling centers county-wide. The free guide makes a great stocking stuffer and is available by phoning (619) 467-0903 (city of San Diego) or (800) 237-2583 (other areas of the county).
There's no disputing for many families the holidays aren't complete without a cheerily decorated holiday tree. This season marks the 22nd anniversary of San Diego's Christmas Tree Recycling Program. The program, part of a regional effort to divert tens of thousands of holiday trees from burial at crowded landfills, is the oldest and one of the most successful in the nation.
Between December 27, 1993 and January 17, 1994, trees will be collected at dozens of drop-off sites throughout San Diego County and taken to landfills, where they will be ground into mulch that helps keep area parks green. Some trees are ground at the drop-off sites, where the mulch is available to the public.
The regional program's goals are threefold::
  1. To provide an environmentally-sensitive alternative to people's habits of tossing discarded trees into the general waste stream (or illegally dumping trees in alleys, canyons and other open space).
  2. To provide alternatives for holiday tree disposal, diverting thousands of trees from burial at landfills.
  3. To use discarded trees in a productive way by grinding them into mulch for use in city and county parks, schoolyards and along freeways.
Complete program information and FREE recycling guides in both English and Spanish are available by calling the Recycling Hotline at (619) 467-0903 (city) or (800) 237-2583 (county) or by stopping by Lucky Stores county-wide or any City of San Diego Ralph's Supermarkets, Home Depot or Target Store.
This holiday season, give yourself - and the earth - a gift by taking a little time to follow the "3 R's" philosophy. It's a little something that benefits San Diego's environment in a big way.

Richard Hays is the director and Teri Steele the public information officer of the Wsaste Management Depasrtment of the city of San Diego.