Garbage cans crammed full of gift wrap and plastic packing materials are recurring reminders of the waste tied to holidays.

Garbage cans crammed full of gift wrap and plastic packing materials are recurring reminders of the waste tied to holidays.

Recycling takes a bite out of all that trash but isn't the ultimate solution, says Rhianna Simes, coordinator of the Jackson County Master Recycler Program.

"In order to reduce waste, it really needs to start at the point of purchase," Simes says.

Simes and Master Recycler program volunteers on Dec. 8 will demonstrate ways to reduce waste through more careful holiday buying, decorating and entertaining while demonstrating a few hands-on craft projects that are easy on the environment and the pocketbook. The first-time class builds on local participation in this month's Plastic Round-up and a tighter economy, Simes says.

"I think it's going to happen anyway because of the economic times," she says.

While lessons in frugality are fresh for many families and older generations, in particular, the season has a way of making consumers forget those values, Simes says.

"This time of year comes, and it just all goes out the window," she says. "It's like they get so afraid that they won't have something to give that they don't realize what they're giving."

Simes urges people to visualize the life cycle of a gift, including how it will be used, for how long and whether it can be repaired if broken. Simes and other waste-reduction experts advocate spending a little bit more to buy a higher-quality item that will last longer. Technology fads and things that run on electricity should be avoided, Simes says.

"Is this something that's going to be thrown away?," she asks. "Is it going to be obsolete?"

Better choices are gifts that can be used up, like food and beverages, and gift cards for goods, services and activities, such as restaurant meals, spa treatments or movie passes, Simes says. Certificates for food and gas certainly are appreciated during a time of year when many families overextend themselves, she adds.

"People feel like gift cards are so impersonal, but I kind of think gift cards should make a comeback," Simes says, adding that the giver is "providing real-life assistance instead of clutter."

Because gift cards require little to no wrapping, they combat paper waste. Using magazine pages, kids' artwork and paper bags as wrapping paper saves money and room in the recycling bin. But givers who think outside the box look to tea towels, scarves and other durable items for adornment.

"It becomes a gift, as well," says Lara Knackstedt, a master recycler and Jacksonville resident.

This year, Knackstedt plans to use thin, compact, reusable shopping bags for wrapping presents, prompting recipients to be more environmentally conscious at the store. Reusable water bottles, travel mugs, cloth napkins, compost bins, even stocking stuffers of compact fluorescent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries, are ideal gifts for friends and family who yearn to be more eco-friendly, local experts say.

"No matter what you're purchasing, there's probably a 'greener' option," says Paige Prewett, program coordinator for the Jackson County Smart Business Program.

Don't be afraid to promote a "greener" holiday, either. Remind guests to bring potluck dishes in reusable containers and choose durable plates and cutlery instead of disposable ones. The class will incorporate more ideas from an earlier workshop on hosting "zero-waste" events.

"As people get stressed, they tend to go with what's easiest "¦ and there's a lot of paper plates," Knackstedt says.

Decorations fashioned from natural materials that can be composted are ideal, Simes says. And instead of cutting a live Christmas tree, start a new tradition by planting one in a large pot, keeping it outside all year and then bringing it inside for the holiday, Prewett says.

"It grows with your family."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.