Commentary: Recycle Christmas

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For many years now, those who celebrate Christmas have been encouraged to recycle their Christmas trees for the benefit of wildlife in area lakes.

In addition, some trees are chipped and repackaged as mulch while others are used in waste-to-energy furnaces.

I remember growing up and seeing the forlorn sight of Christmas trees (with a few strands of tinsel) laying on the side of the road ready for refuse pickup. That sight was the exclamation point that the Christmas holiday was over.

In more recent years, growing concern about the climate, refuse and recycling has given us a new understanding of the need to take care of our planet. Nature does its part. Sometimes, our lack of understanding means that we throw a lot of curve balls to nature.

Thankfully, we are learning more and more that we are partners with Mother Nature in not only preserving planet Earth – but in enhancing this wonderful part of the universe.

My 95-year-old mother lives in a 40-unit apartment complex that encourages its residents to recycle. If it’s plastic, aluminum, cardboard or paper, you won’t find it in Mom’s trashcan. The designated space in Mom’s complex for recycling is a constant reminder of how much we can do together.

I vividly remember an early autumn parish meeting one year when I was pastor of St. Patrick Church on the south side of Youngstown. Someone commented about recycling Christmas decorations. He shared with the group that a friend from another church (and denomination) gathered good but unused decorations from that congregation, placed them on tables in the social hall and offered them to those who came in during its food distribution/outreach program. Whatever was left went to local community thrift stores.

Guess what? There was nothing left!                                                  

That discussion prompted us to advertise in the parish bulletin that we would do something similar with decorations, including decorations we did not use anymore at church. We decided to place them on tables during our early-December monthly spaghetti dinner and offer them to patrons.

Well, guess what? The tables were picked clean. A far cry from cleaning up after Christmas and just pitching what we don’t want anymore.

Whatever religious observances we participate in for holy days or days of remembrance, somewhere in our prayers and rituals we acknowledge the blessings that have come from the Almighty, the universe and our planet.

Good citizenship and good stewardship lift up the attitude of gratitude. That includes us taking care of our sisters and brothers and the places we call home.

For all the gifts we receive on occasion, it would be good to think about the gifts we can give back to the earth when we recycle. These gifts don’t need coupons. We don’t have to get up at midnight so we can stand in line for early bird specials. The gifts we give back through recycling take little more than some of our time.

The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that 75% of our trash can be recycled. But we recycle only about 30% of our trash. Nice start but far from an attainable goal.

We have learned that contaminated property and rivers can be cleansed and repurposed to become a benefit to all. We laud those who champion these causes and show us it can be done. Legislation, grants and bequests often provide the impetus and we are happy to experience their work.

We can play our part by raising the recycling percentage above 30%. We have the capacity to go well above that percentage. It is an accomplishment that we now think about recycling. It’s more an accomplishment, however, to take the time to realize what we can do personally.

We just traveled so we could gather for Thanksgiving. Now various religious holidays will take us to the end of the year. Even New Year’s Day will see gatherings.

As we gather, it would be good to purposely gather those items that can be reused as parts of our future. The recycle symbol is everywhere and it is a vivid reminder each time we see it.

We can be proud that Youngstown State University is once again ranked first among universities in Ohio in the national Race to Eliminate Campus Waste. In fact, YSU has ranked first among universities in Ohio 14 out of the last 16 years. This year, YSU collected nearly 87 tons of recyclable material in the eight-week competition.

Holidays usually have tag lines and banner slogans. Christmas is no different. We often hear that the spirit of Christmas should not be for just one day. Recycling assuredly fits in the same category.