Bay Area agencies are wishing residents a very green holiday season, and they're offering some helpful tips.
Sure it's fun to sing carols and decorate the tree with tinsel. Getting all the tinsel off the tree after the holiday can be difficult, though. Tinsel and flocking can impact water and air quality when trees are put out for recycling, explains Geoff Brosseau, executive director of the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association. Rain and wind carry tinsel and fake snow into storm drains. From there they travel untreated to our local creeks and the Bay where they are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
So, when it comes to tree trimming, bring out the heirloom ornaments and candy canes, but forget the fake snow and tinsel.
Wrapping paper creates tons of waste every year. When burned, it produces toxic smoke and fumes, which pollute the air and water and are unhealthy for people. The smoke may also contain heavy metals, such as lead and chromium. That's why BASMAA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, have joined forces in an effort to reduce the impact to people and aquatic life.
"While holiday gift wrap may not readily jump to mind as a water pollutant, it can create serious environmental impacts when burned," says Brosseau. "When wrapping paper is burned, soot and other harmful pollutants are emitted. These toxins collect in clouds, on roadways, and other surfaces. Rain then flushes them into waterways, causing stormwater pollution, so we're asking residents to not burn gift wrap.
"We're also asking Bay Area consumers to avoid buying foil gift wrap. Foil-based wrapping paper is among the worst to burn and it isn't even recyclable," he added.
Wood burning is prohibited during Winter Spare the Air Alerts. This includes use of fireplaces, wood stoves, chimneys and outdoor fire pits. It is also illegal to burn trash anytime -- and used wrapping paper, ribbons, bows and glitter decorated gift tags are all considered trash under the provisions of the Air District's wood burning rule.
"Burning wrapping paper, boxes and other wrapping materials is illegal anytime, not just when the Air District calls a Winter Spare the Air Alert," said Jack Broadbent, executive office of the Air District. "Wrapping paper and boxes are often coated with toxic materials that are hazardous when burned. Burning these items causes additional smoke polluting our homes and communities."
So, cross fancy wrapping paper off your shopping list without guilt. Go green by using gift wrap alternatives. They're creative and fun, and good for the environment. Better yet: give the gift of an experience, such as theater tickets. No gift wrap required.
Both agencies affirm that the very best thing to reduce waste and landfill build-up is to use less wrapping paper overall and rely more on creative wrapping and reusable options. It you must use wrapping paper, use non-foil based paper and recycle rather than burn.
Tips for a green holiday season:
- Use reusable ornaments and natural items like popcorn and pinecones to trim your tree. Avoid fake snow and tinsel.
- If purchasing a live tree, make sure it's free of ornaments when you recycle it.
- Get creative with gift wrap alternatives. Place a gift within a gift by using a holiday tin or reusable shopping or tote bag instead of paper. Or, go old school and use newspaper comics to make gifts more "fun."
- If you must use gift wrap, avoid foil-based papers. Make sure to recycle used gift wrap — don't burn it!
- Check before you burn wood! Call 1-877-4-NO-BURN to find out if a Spare the Air is in effect.
For more tips about preventing water pollution, visit www.BayWise.org.
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