Christmas Leftovers

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Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

The date is December 28, 2016. Christmas has come and gone with the sweetness of great grandmother’s chess pie, named for the cupboard or pie “chest” where she kept baked goods in order to protect them from ants, flies and sticky little fingers. The pie “safe,” another name for this old-timey pantry, had a latch at the top of the double doors only an adult could reach. No foil, plastic wrap, baggies or wax paper was available back then. Just pop the leftovers into a bowl with a plate covering them, then store them in a pie chest till they were eaten, grew mold or “went bad.”
The leftovers from two holiday meals fill my refrigerator, while gallon-size baggies are filled with cookies and uneaten rolls, and I am grateful that they will probably stay fresh until most are eaten or transformed into some different version of their original selves. Turkey and rice soup, ham quiche, potato patties, and sandwiches, of course, will be part of our menu for at least the next week. But what to do with the trash bins overflowing with wrapping paper, wads and wads of colored tissue, crushed boxes and decorative holiday bags that didn’t make it into the “reuse next year” pile? Even with recycling, the amount of garbage generated by today’s excessive Christmas gift-giving tradition is troublesome. Every year I vow to do better, like wrapping gifts in old t-shirts or using cereal boxes and brown paper bags with just recycled ribbons or twine to hold them together. Really I will.
Actually, the amount of trash the typical American family of 3.14 persons creates in just a regular week…not including holidays or birthdays…is around 94.5 pounds, (so what does point fourteen percent of a person look like, anyway). That’s 4914 pounds in a year. That is seriously troublesome. The approximately 101 million American families every year dump 496 trillion pounds of refuse into landfills, rivers, lakes, oceans, onto roadsides, behind their homes, under teenagers’ beds, in the floorboards of their cars, and in various and other sundry places. Wow. That’s a heap of garbage!
Do you remember when almost every new American home had a trash compactor? Not so, today. I don’t know anyone with a compacter and few of my neighbors have a compost bin. But in some cities (Portland, San Francisco) Americans have curbside compost pick- up. Eee-ewww. Well, of course, that’s a great idea and it’s wonderful that all that food we throw away can go on to another life, but folks whose garbage pickup has been reduced to twice a month are howling about flies and even rats, plus the big ole ugly bins (three per household) that line their streets. I see their point. When we moved to Senoia three years ago, Bill was thrilled that he could pile our yard debris on the street for weekly collection and not have to load it into our pick up and take it to the dump. After a while, though, I got tired of seeing great mounds of limbs and grass clippings lining our neighborhood streets. Ascetically, very hard on the eyes. And because folks mowed on different days of the week (some the day right after pickup), there were always piles of yard trash dotting the streetscape.
I remember when I was a kid and every home had a burn barrel at the back of its property. I still love the smell of burning leaves, (and grass, and newspapers, and gift wrap, etc.), not that I get to enjoy that pleasant, smoky aroma very often. Nope. We cram what amounts to about fourteen Empire State Buildings of garbage and yard trash into landfills each year. Disposable diapers probably account for about half the toxic greenhouse gas emissions on the planet…well, the North American continent, anyway. Africa, an obviously underdeveloped area, is responsible for only five percent of global waste.
I do sort of wonder why we hear so much about the dangers of global warming, which I do not doubt, (I also believe we probably can do nothing to stop it…sad face), but I also wonder why we don’t try to do more to limit the packaging waste (think cereal boxes, plastic cookie holders inside cellophane wrapping inside bags, and sturdy cardboard boxes for our cellophane and paper packaged popcorn, and…Well, you get it, right?).
When we lived in Germany many years ago, I brought my groceries home in a string bag, eggs in a small paper sack, the meat wrapped in one sheet of oiled brown paper, my milk in a little enamel jug with a tight-fitting lid, cokes in returnable glass bottles, and fresh fruit and veggies…no canned goods at all. Boxes and cans are wonderful, but I believe we could do a lot better job with restricting packaging here in America. The hundreds of thousands of plastic bags that leave Kroger and Walmart daily need to be available only for sale to customers who did not bring their carryall. We would soon learn to bring our own canvas totes…like we do at Aldi, the German grocery chain. And, yes, I am guilty, guilty, guilty of forgetting to take my own bags, and I do feel awfully bad when I accept those plastic things. Boo me.
I love Christmas, and birthdays, and all occasions where people bring me gifts in gaily wrapped packages, but…I do not like the job of cleanup after the party is over.  I do not like the fact that Bill and I haul a huge green container, always over half full, to the curb every week…usually just for the two of us…and one recycle bin brimming to the top with Coke Zero cans and newspapers and ads or solicitations and just Stuff! So, New Year’s Resolution. I will try my best to reduce my trash footprint. Will you help, too? Thank you so much.

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