There is a running joke at work and in my personal life that I cannot just turn off my recycling and composting brain. Everywhere I go, I watch people as they dispose of their materials – from friends to strangers to staff behind the counter. I am always wondering: are they going to put it into the right bin?

I recently was sitting in a training and my facial reactions as someone disposed of the items incorrectly had the strangers on the other side of the room laughing at me.

I know: I am a riot at parties (Note: I have dug through the trash, recycling, and compost bins at one or two parties before to ensure the proper disposal of materials).

But it is hard not be invested (many call it “passionate”) about my line of work when we are faced with statistics like:

— 40 percent of food in the United States of America goes uneaten and is discarded.

— Only 1 out of 4 plastic bottles are recycled (three-quarters end up in the landfill).

— 1 in 5 children in Napa County does not know where the next meal will come from.

— Every year across the world, we dump a massive 2.12 billion tons of waste (with the U.S.A as the No. 1 trash generator).

Shocking statistics and self-ribbing done, this article is more to discuss the upcoming holiday season in which we make jokes about eating so much you need to nap or to loosen your belt and that you will have leftovers for weeks.

Before you go buy that 24-pound turkey or ham and make that 10 pounds of sweet potatoes, think about how much food you really need to feed everyone (and maybe reduce the excessive piece just a bit). Not sure how much is really enough? There’s a tool for that.

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Save the Food and the Natural Resources Defense Council just released an awesome new calculator called “The Guest-imator,” which estimates how much food you need to keep your guests full and happy. And don’t worry – they even qualify the questions with the knowledge that some people eat more than others and if you actually want some leftovers. For vegetarians – they have a special option as well.

Don’t forget to compost as you cook all that delicious food. All of those veggies scraps (or you can save them for a stock), parchment/wax paper, and soiled napkins can head directly into your brown compost cart. And if you tried your best but still have a bunch of leftovers that go uneaten, remember even that turkey carcass or that piece of meat can be composted.

If you are hosting a large party and are dreading using reusables (I always advocate for a real plate – “tastes best on a plate”) because you are having 20-plus guests, purchase paper plates versus the rigid plastic “fancy” plates. Paper plates (even if they have a wax or plastic coating) can be composted – with the food – while those plastic plates are typically landfill just like plastic silverware. Whenever possible, try to use reusables, even if that means there is 20 minutes of dishwashing afterwards.

Additionally, remember to pair your landfill bin with a recycling and compost bin out for guests to use, especially if you are serving bottled or canned drinks (or bottles of wine) and meatballs on toothpicks.

Still hesitant about composting? I know some are fearful about composting due to smell or rodent issues. Just remember that same material was heading into your landfill bin! You are not generating any new additional materials – it’s the same stuff, same smells, same decomposition—just in a different bin!

To collect your compost, you can use an old Tupperware container, the kitchen compost pail given out by Napa Recycling & Waste Services (NRWS) (if you need one, please stop by the NRWS office at 592 Lincoln Ave), or a paper bag inside a plastic bag – just remove the plastic bag before composting. Check out NapaRecycling.com for some more tips and tricks.

Small changes make large impacts. I know more and more of us are seeing reports of the shocking facts of trash islands throughout the oceans, whales washing ashore and dying with car engines inside of them, and kids not knowing where the next meal is coming from plaguing even the most affluent communities.

Your purchasing power and small actions at home and while out can make a difference. You make that difference.

This monthly column is written by Kendra Bruno, aka Compost Girl, who is the waste prevention specialist for the city of Napa. To submit questions, email kbruno@cityofnapa.org.

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