ECO Iowa City aims to reduce waste, but not the holiday spirit


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As carved pumpkins are being replaced with thoughts of Christmas, a local Iowa City organization is aiming to keep sustainability a part of residents’ holiday spirit.

ECO Iowa City, a local nonprofit, will help people think about what is important to them and their family traditions while reducing waste. 

“Research — and my heart confirms — that what matters most to us are our relationships and such things as leisure time to pursue our interests,” said Susan Salterberg, program manager at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education. “Yet, the holidays are a time when we often get stressed out and spend a lot of money on material goods that don’t really make us happy.  This stuff also has significant environmental impacts.”

ECO Iowa City has partnered with Reclaim Your Holidays, a program of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education.  The East Side Recycling Center, 2401 Scott Blvd. SE, will be hosting three events throughout the month of November to help people think critically while focusing on traditions.

Reclaim Your Holidays is an initiative to help Americans have more fun, meaningful celebrations while being kinder to the environment.  Salterberg said these programs have been happening all throughout Iowa since 2010 with the help of numerous volunteers and professionals. 

The program is supported with grant funds from the Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program. 

The first event held on Wednesday night launched the program with two more events to follow on Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. 

Jennifer Jordan, the recycling coordinator for Iowa City, is also helping to bring the program into the homes of residents.  The goal is to encourage people to think about the holidays differently, said Jordan. 

Instead of thinking of holiday time as stressful and full of consumption, she said she hopes people will create a meaningful, less wasteful holiday season through creative gift ideas, servicing the community, and holiday waste reduction.

“It gets people think about what’s important about the holidays, why do I think food is so important, or why do I think service is so important,” Jordan said.  “So it really gets down to the true meaning behind those things.”

Salterberg said she wants people to rethink their purchasing habits.  She suggests alternative ideas, such as tickets to a movie or a night at a bed and breakfast. These gifts don’t require purchasing an item therefore cutting down on waste production — a major issue during the holiday season.

Liz Christiansen, the director at the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, said the holidays cause one of the largest jumps in waste throughout the year.  The volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons.

She maintained there are different options for gifts — ones that can be utilized more than once.

“A really meaningful gift comes from the heart,” Christiansen said. “So much of what is given throughout this time of the year is unfortunately being a single-use item and many times, [it] goes to waste.”

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