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Levin: On Wrapping Paper

01/10/11 7:55AM By Ted Levin
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(HOST)  Now that the holidays are over for another year, commentator Ted Levin is reevaluating his yuletide habits.
(LEVIN)  I've never been a big fan of electronic greeting cards, but because more than two-and-a-half billion holiday cards are purchased in the US each year, enough to fill a football field ten stories high, electronic cards may be in my future - as well as some alternative to commercial wrapping paper.
Between November and December, Annie, the boys and I wrap presents for two birthdays, eight nights of Hanukkah, and Christmas.
Annie makes every effort to recycle even the most worn wrapping paper, but she's still stunned at the amount of waste that accompanies the holidays. Because she coordinates Thetford's transfer station, she sees the town's waste metastasize in late December, generated by residents, who, by and large, are very conservation-minded.
According to the Clean Air Council, Americans use more than 40 million tons of paper products for packaging, wrapping, and decorating gifts. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for four million tons each December. Hallmark founded the gift-wrapping industry in 1917. Today, wrapping paper is a 2.6 billion dollar-a-year business, and the main stay of elementary schools fundraisers.
The problem is that most wrapping paper doesn't recycle. It is often dyed and laminated, laced with non-paper additives like gold and silver coloring, glitter, and plastics, and is very thin, with few good quality fibers. And, if you wrap like me, the end result is a partially mummified present, more tape than paper, which is an additional detriment to recycling.
So, what's a conscientious person to do when the next gift-giving event comes around? My family is moving toward wrapping with newspaper and old calendar pictures: sports pages for the boys, landscapes for me, thoroughbreds for Annie - maybe even old highway maps. If every American family wrapped just three presents in recycled material and reused two-feet of holiday ribbon, we would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields and enough ribbon to tie a bow around the entire planet.

And if each family sent just one electronic card we would save an additional 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
And where does all this holiday waste wind up? The landfill.
Having grown up on Long Island, I've had the opportunity to see monster landfills... and they aren't attractive. The Freeport Landfill rises from the edge of a salt marsh, a monadnock of refuse visible from miles offshore in the gray Atlantic chop. And then, there's the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, once the world's largest, which covers 2,200-acres and rises 225 feet into the firmament, seventy-five feet taller than the nearby Stature of Liberty. In fact, the Fresh Kills Landfill is one of only two man-made structures visible from outer space - and the other is the Great Wall of China.
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