Miles of Ribbon

When driving the roads in my neighborhood over the past few weeks, I have noted how much trash my neighbors, and really, all Americans, generate. It is downright obscene how much stuff we consume and throw away. During the holidays, the problem is exacerbated by the huge amount of paper and plastic waste produced by gift giving. The packaging and gift wrapping industries have little incentive to eliminate their lucrative multi-billion dollar markets, so the amount of single use items continues to proliferate. Sure, recycled materials have found their way into packaging, but how much of a difference is that really making? The real issue is consumption.

A November article in the Washington Post said that, “If every family in the United States saved and reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of the trimming saved could tie a bow around the planet.” That is sick. When I read that, and then drove by a neighbor who was lugging four times his normal garbage load to the curb, I thought about an International Herald Tribune article that I read when in Geneva last summer. The article described how the tony Long Island town of East Hampton, New York has “pay as you throw” trash disposal. The article goes on to say that, “…that you become intensely aware of how much garbage you generate, and intensely motivated to generate less.” What an unique concept! This proves that most things in life are about incentives, or the lack of incentives. Read the book, Freakonomics and you will become blissfully aware of how incentives work. You can even keep up with the authors’ fresh ideas on their New York Times blog.

The same argument about incentives can be made for gasoline consumption as trash consumption. Unless people are given a strong reason to reduce consumption (often through higher prices), then patterns of use and abuse will not change. Our family wishes that everyone else would care as deeply about how much household waste they generate, as we do. At the most, we throw out three small bags of garbage a month. We reuse much of the packaging that we consume. We compost our food waste. We recycle all our plastic, metal, paper, and cardboard. When you take these steps, your true net garbage is next to nothing.

1 Response to “Miles of Ribbon”

  1. 1 pcale 16 January 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! We reuse and reuse and reuse ribbon so much that right after Christmas, we iron it so that it’s not crumpled or wrinkled for next year – and it looks just like new!! And, I reuse tissue paper, boxes and gift bags – sometimes for 4 or 5 years until they get grungy looking. It’s not about being “cheap” – it’s about being smart and responsible. It’s very simple if people just took the time and effort – and it’s not even noticable.

    Great job on your blog, Scott! (Now, I’ve got to get back to work)…


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