Hark Upon the Green

Sustainability at The College of William and Mary

Meet the Greens Fall 2014: A Success Story

~By Calandra Waters Lake, Director of Sustainability

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The first Meet the Greens was a huge hit this freshman orientation! We had over 15 tables of sustainability groups, classes, and projects set up on the Crim Dell Meadow with lots of opportunities to sign up for organizations, volunteer for activities, and learn about the sustainability initiatives on the W&M campus. Campus Outdoor Recreation had an awesome set up with a slack line, tent, scooter, and kayak gear, while the Bike Initiative displayed the many biking routes available, and Campus Gardens offered a free bowl of yummy veggies. A great time was had by as students moved through tables, music played, and connections were made! Sponsored by the Committee on Sustainability this will be just one of multiple new ways to interact and get involved with our growing sustainability program, so maybe I’ll see you at the next event!

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How to Make your Summer Road Trip Sustainable in 5 Easy Steps

shutterstock_99063752Summer vacation is almost here, and around the country people are dreaming of getting in the cars and hitting the road. From short day trips to see the local sights to longer vacations that cross multiple states and highways, trips on the open road just seem to have a way to inspire and excite us.

In order to make this summer’s road trip as eco-friendly as possible, consider the following tips and advice:

Decide ahead of time where you are going

Sure, it’s fun to get in the car and just meander for miles. But planning ahead of time where you are headed will help save on costly fuel, as well as unnecessary wear and tear on the car. To boost mileage even more, Made Just Right suggests using cruise control as often as possible and, if you can stand it, go easy on the A/C.

Make sure your vehicle is in good shape

As Smart Traveling Tips notes, cars that are in need of a tune up use more gasoline and tend to belch out more exhaust. In addition, low air pressure in your tires will have a negative impact on your fuel usage. Examine them before you leave, and use the information on the sidewalls (or better yet, on the sticker in the door panel) to learn the proper PSI for your tires. If you notice that one or more are losing tread or otherwise look ready to replace, consider purchasing new BF Goodrich Tires or another brand from a company like Tire Buyer.

Avoid Rush Hour Traffic

Stop-and-go traffic can be maddening, and it’s also hard on the environment. Try to plan your travel time so you are not going through main thoroughfares during the busiest times of the day. Unless you have to head into a town as part of your journey, stick to the main highways and byways as much as you can.

Pack as light as possible

Although it can be tempting to over pack, try to keep your suitcase as light as possible. Also, refrain from loading up your car with a lot of equipment and other gear that you probably won’t have time to use during your trip. A lighter car will get better gas mileage, and will also be more comfortable to travel in. After all, trying to relax while being poked in the back by the world’s largest suitcase is not a lot of fun.

Prepare a picnic lunch

Instead of stopping at McDonald’s or Taco Bell along the way for lunch, consider packing a nice picnic meal for the whole gang. Be on the lookout for a nice scenic rest stop and enjoy a relaxing meal in the shade. When you are done eating, be sure to pick up all of your trash and dispose of it in the rest area’s trash cans, or bring it with you in the car to toss later on. If you find yourself having a hankering for a hamburger but are not in the mood for a chain restaurant, download some of the apps. For example, the SHFT Food Tripping app helps hungry travelers find tasty alternatives to fast food wherever they are on the road.

All about DormMania

Have you ever moved out of your dorm room thinking “how am I going to take all this stuff home? I wish I could do something better than just throwing it into a dumpster!” Now, thanks to a new project funded by the Committee on Sustainability (COS), you don’t have to wish anymore.

Even as you read this, five dedicated students are working tirelessly to implement a new program to reduce move-out waste at William and Mary: DormMania. Indoor and outdoor collection locations across campus will accept donations of usable items that would otherwise be thrown out by departing undergrads. Everything donated will be sorted, cleaned, and stored over the summer, and then sold cheaply at a large yard sale during fall move-in.

DormMania was born after Audrey Kriva ’17 attended a lecture put on by the non-profit Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) last year. Recent University of New Hampshire graduates formed PLAN in 2013 after creating a hugely successful waste reduction program on their campus. Now they help other schools launch similar programs.

PLAN’s idea that “waste is just a logistics problem” intrigued Kriva immediately. She realized that a university, due to sheer scale and organization, has the potential to operate with a unique efficiency, given a little bit of logistical help. So, late one Wednesday night, after gathering her thoughts, Kriva went to the Student Environmental Action Coalition’s (SEAC) Recycling Campaign meeting to ask other students involved in waste management about the feasibility of her idea. The members of the campaign contemplated several potential roadblocks, ultimately concluding that a project like the one marinating in Kriva’s head would be unlikely to succeed.

Nevertheless, the facilitator of the Recycling Campaign, Eric Dale ’14, offered to sit down with Kriva to discuss further. Drawing on years of accumulated institutional knowledge about sustainability as well as connections with much of the College’s administration, Dale directed Kriva to the key players she would need to have on board with her idea. Admitting that he didn’t have time to work on the project, Dale sent Kriva on her way, list of names and ideas in hand.

Thirty-four meetings with administrators, committees, students, and other groups later, Kriva knew what would be needed to make her dream a reality. She created a comprehensive plan for the implementation of the project, slowly getting permission from various decision-makers. She also began recruiting her team—starting with Dale. The gleam of determination in Kriva’s eyes and the impressive legwork she had done in a just a few months convinced Dale to sign on. He was followed by Rukmini Bhugra ’17, Jahan Cooper ’15, and Madeleine Boel ’17.

The team of five began holding energetic planning meetings every week. They named the project DormMania, and applied for a COS GreenFees grant to fund it. On April 3rd, DormMania was funded for $5000, and Kriva’s team shifted into high gear. Donning their light blue t-shirts, they talked to club after club, recruiting volunteers and donors alike. Incredibly helpful and generous individuals on campus, including Sandra Prior (Environmental Health and Safety), Bob Avalle (Facilities Management), Chris Durden (Residence Life), Drew Stelljes (Office of Community Engagement), Patrick Foley (College Sustainability Fellow), Lauren Garrett (Office of the First Year Experience), Bill Horatio (Parking and Transportation Services), John Byxbe (Auxiliary Services), Kristen Fagan (Risk Management), and many others lent their support, advice, and resources to transform the project into reality.

You may have already noticed an enormous cardboard box in the lobby or lounge of your dorm, and beginning May 1, you will probably see DormMania collection tents set up outside dorms across campus. Feel free to donate anything you might use in a dorm—everything from furniture and appliances to decorations and books—at any of these locations. They’ll even take non-perishable food items and half-used cleaning supplies! Keep an eye out for volunteers wearing light blue DormMania shirts, and if you have questions, email dormmania@gmail.com. Help the environment by helping this project succeed! Find better ways to dispose of your stuff, and remember to buy anything you need next year at the huge DormMania yard sale in the Fall. Pass it on!

Find DormMania on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/DormMania

Go Solar Without Going Broke

~Tricia Brown

Solar panels

Germany has long been the world leader when it comes to solar energy, but the U.S. is steadily gaining ground. An analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that 930 new megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013. That number represents a 20 percent increase from the second quarter of 2013 and a 35 percent year-to-year increase. Most of these increases were due to large-scale state and municipal projects as opposed to single-family dwellings going solar. Though the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last five years, it’s still a major hurdle for most Americans. If you’re looking to begin your solar journey but costs are holding you back, look into these three budget-friendlier methods:

Build Your Own Panels

Those with a little mechanical inclination and a lot of patience can build solar panels rather cheaply. You’ll need a soldering iron and enough polycrystalline cells to produce your desired amount of power. Each cell should not cost much more than a couple bucks. Tabbing wire, plexiglass, a table saw or jigsaw and plywood round out the essentials.

The process entails gluing down the cells in equally spaced rows with tabbing wire running through each row. The finished product will be sealed in a wooden box with plexiglass covering the cells for protection. You can watch and follow along with any of the video tutorials out there—just do a simple search on Youtube.

Go One Room at a Time

Be it the kitchen or the bedroom, going solar in one room can significantly slash your electric bill. A television, lights, gaming console and a thermoelectric cooler for drinks can conceivably run on a 500-watt solar system. You’ll need a rechargeable 12-volt battery or two 6-volt golf cart batteries run in series. A true sine wave power inverter and charge controller will also be necessary.

The purpose of the solar panels in this scenario is to keep the batteries charged. Depending on the amp-hour rating of the batteries and the total wattage of all the devices, a full charge can potentially get you three days of power without recharging. You can always add more batteries to your bank to power even more equipment. The initial investment should pay for itself within a year.

Lease the System

A typical photovoltaic solar system to power an entire home can cost upwards of $40,000, depending on the size of the house. Most Americans would need to take out a loan or sell their future annuity payments to come up with that kind of money. The alternative is to lease a solar system.

Many of the large solar providers will install the system for free and charge you for usage. The one caveat is that leases can have terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Some providers will move your system with you to your new home, but others will charge a fee to void the contract.

Solar power does not have to be a drain on your wallet, and you’ll stop draining the traditional power grid. Go solar, go independent, go off-grid.

High School Outreach: Social Media and Sustainability

highschooloutreach2On March 19th and 20th, Maren Hunsberger, the Web Design and Sustainable Communications intern for the College’s Committee on Sustainability (COS), woke up bright and early to attend the environmental science classes at Grafton High School. Calandra Waters-Lake, an associate of COS, is the instructor of this course, and invited Ms. Hunsberger to come into her class to speak to her students about a sustainability related issue. After brainstorming, they decided that social media, a topic which is so salient in the culture today, particularly for youth, could be a great guest lecture for the mix of juniors and seniors who take Mrs. Lake’s class. Maren’s presentation focused on the power of social media to bring people together for a common cause and create change, but also its potential pitfalls as an organizational tool. The teens explored various social media outlets on the topic of the West Virginia chemical spill, tying into their class unit on water pollution, and discussed what worked best, what wasn’t as effective, and why. highschooloutreach2

The overall message that Mrs. Lake and Ms. Hunsberger wanted to communicate to these kids was that they have power. Even though they’re young and may sometimes feel as if they have very little control over what happens in their lives, much less feeling like they are able to contribute to large-scale change on the environmental level, social media provides them with a platform from which they can share their thoughts, spread awareness, and contribute in small ways to big change.highschooloutreach1

Pies AND Sustainable Farming?! Yes, please

—By Maren Hunsbergerbig-sur-coast

Driving down the stunning northern California coast from San Francisco, watching the mist roll in off the rocky ocean shore, one can’t help but lose oneself in the journey. But in this case, the destination is just as remarkable and the drive. Pie Ranch, in Pescadero California, started as a 14 acre triangular piece of property in the hills just off the coast, founded as a center of sustainable food outreach and food system education. It has since grown into two ‘slices’ of land, both triangular, with the points of the pie slices ‘kissing’ one another. In addition to growing all of the ingredients for gorgeously delicious, fresh pies, the ranch also grows a wide variety of seasonal crops, from potatoes and lettuces to orchard fruits. Animals also abound on the ranch’s expanse of alternately mist-covered, alternately sun-soaked terrain. Volunteers can not only help harvest crops or tend to vegetable patches, but can also collect eggs from the warm undersides of some good-natured hens or feed scraps to the goats or the pigs.  11-603-Pie Ranch-01

Aside from being a great place for city-dwelling locals to spend an afternoon volunteering, Pie Ranch’s mission extends beyond just making great delicious pies. Their motto, “Pie Ranch cultivates a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships” sums it up quite nicely, but the roots grow even deeper than that. The ranch has connections with high schools in several local counties, providing programming in schools as well as field trips to pie ranch to plant the seeds for the next generation’s food leaders. These programs hope to further young peoples’ understanding of where food comes from and to provide education about the environmental, social, and economic effect food has, not only on them as individuals but also in their communities. The Ranch’s HomeSlice internship program takes their mission one step further, giving youth a chance to work intensively on the farm and develop skills in sustainable agriculture, food justice organizing, and the culinary arts.

The USDA recently reported that around 125,000 residents of the Bay Area live in what are referred to as ‘food deserts’, or areas where affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. For the USDA, areas qualify as food deserts if they are ‘low-income’ (a poverty rate of 20% or greater) and ‘low access’ (at least 33% of the residents live more than one mile from a grocery store). In these areas and others that may qualify for one metric and not the other, liquor stores and gas stations may greatly outnumber grocery stores, and any available produce is lower quality and above the budget of those who may have physical access to it. Food deserts are a central issue being tackled by food justice advocates, who argue that food is the kingpin problem that needs to be tackled when addressing poverty, public health, and a lack of environmental stewardship.

Pie Ranch is an integral part of the food justice movement in the Bay Area not only in their youth education and outreach but also in their regional partnerships, with organizations like the San Mateo Food Alliance and ChangeScale. Together with other such sustainable farming initiatives in the area, Pie Ranch hopes to help San Mateo county and surrounding areas evolve into self-sustaining, healthy, economically viable, and innovative food communities. And as a bonus, on days when members of the public can come volunteer, after a day of tending the fields, you are invited to take part in a potluck and barn dance. Who doesn’t love a barn dance?

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What Could Be Greener than Water to Fuel Your Next Car?

By Steven Walter

Under evaluation, fuel cell vehicles from Honda and Mercedes delivered 60 and 53 mpg, respectively. Other companies have fuel cell SUVs, like the Hyundai Tucson. A boon for drivers interested in sustainability, this nearly doubles the mpg of a gas car. While hydrogen fuel cell cars have long been called “the car of the future,” automakers hope to have models to market as early as 2015. Learn how these cars use simple hydrogen and oxygen to produce power.

Understanding the Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Though hydrogen fuel cell cars look like a traditional vehicle, much is different underneath the hood. Instead of a gas tank, these vehicles have a large hydrogen storage tank. An electric motor and a high-output battery, which regenerates through braking, utilize similar technology to other hybrids. Electric motors deliver quieter operation, a smoother ride and more efficient performance than internal combustion engines. Through the vehicle lifetime, they tend to require less maintenance as well.

Photo of the 2015 Tucson Fuel Cell via Hyundai Scottsdale

Most importantly, the car’s fuel cell stack converts the stored hydrogen gas to power. In hydrogen fuel cells, the molecules of hydrogen gas, which is stored in the car much like gasoline is presently stored in a traditional car, are split into positive and negative ions. Negative ions are passed through a circuit to a cathode, where they pick up electricity. Then the positive ions combine with the electricity, powering the car and creating only water as a byproduct. Running on a naturally-found element, and emitting only water vapor, the hydrogen fuel cell promises to revolutionize cars.

Hydrogen fuel cells reduce dependence on fossil fuels and emit far fewer gases into the air. While some gases are still emitted when the hydrogen used to power these vehicles is produced, the overall figure is low.

The Future of Hydrogen-powered Vehicles

Photo by ideowl via Flickr

Hydrogen itself is a renewable and abundant resource, and one that can be produced in part from renewable energy. At present, hydrogen is made from non-renewable resources, creating CO2 gas in the process. To really become a viable solution, automakers must develop an infrastructure and supply-chain mechanism that will support alternative energy drivers. Plus, consumers will need to be educated on the advantages of renewable energy, the reliability and performance of these cars and the specifics of using a new fuel type. Cars powered by a hydrogen fuel cell will not become widespread until several challenges are met. These include:

  • Infrastructure - At present, no network of hydrogen refueling stations exists. Until the underlying infrastructure of refueling stations and fuel providers develops, there is limited potential for these vehicles.
  • Cost - While automakers have made strides toward creating an affordable hydrogen-powered car, cost estimates for most of the first-generation hydrogen cars are above the $50,000 mark. According to Hyundai Scottsdale, Hyundai is hoping to release their first hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle for under $50,000, helping to break this barrier.
  • Fuel cell reliability - As automakers prepare hydrogen fuel cell cars for the market, they must address the underlying reliability of hydrogen fuel cells. At present, fuel cell engines underperform internal combustion engines in humid climates and in temperature extremes. Additionally, fuel cells are unlikely to be commercially viable unless they can last for up to 150,000 miles. At present, they last approximately 75,000 miles.

What is Composting…and Why Do We Do It at W&M?

 

By Maren Hunsberger

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Composting is one of those things, like veganism or a hybrid car, that’s used in skits on SNL to identify the hippie environmentalists in the group. You know, “Oh you just have to meet Carol, she brought the vegan pesto quinoa to the potluck and she and Steve have the most amazing compost in their garden, you just have to talk to them about it”. But chances are, most people are seriously confused about what compost is and why anyone would do it. It involves worms?!? Gross!! But what people don’t know is that, despite what your taste for quinoa or your opinion on hybrid cars may be, composting can be incredibly beneficial for the environment, your health, your carbon footprint, and it’s even…fun!

You start with the waste you naturally produce in your kitchen. Your eggshells, unused vegetables, old leftovers, tea bags. You can use newspaper clippings, sawdust shavings, dryer lint, flower or garden clippings, even chicken droppings (y’know, if you happen to have any of those lying around). Just start throwing any of these you have onto a pile of dirt—you can use topsoil from a bag if you like. Once you start adding your own organic material to the mix, you’ll need to turn it. This means you can have it in a big pile outside and just poke it with a shovel every once in a while or, if you really want to get fancy, buy a compost keeper that has a handle you can turn when you dump stuff into it. If you’re not into giving your compost much attention, you can fix this issue by adding lots of aerating material, like straw, so the turning part becomes unnecessary.

That’s pretty much it! Simple enough right? “But wait, what about the worms?”, you ask. Ah yes—you can add worms to your compost to increase the nutrient richness. (Plus they’re friendly and cute). So what can you use it for? Most people who compost use it on their gardens or lawns as fertilizer—if you get really good at it you can start giving/selling it to friends and neighbors. It serves quite a few eco-friendly purposes: it keeps a serious amount of waste out of landfills, which are filling too fast to keep up with America’s trash production and as it so happens, one third of the waste that makes it to a landfill is compostable. By keeping it at home, you’re preventing the landfills from filling up with waste that could be put to a better use. When you use compost to fertilize your veggies or your grass, you’re adding beneficial microorganisms to the soil (healthier for the things you’re growing and for you when you consume them) AND you’re keeping the chemicals used in generic fertilizers out of the soil waterways—excess nitrogen and phosphorus can do some serious damage to ecosystem function.

In 2010 we started composting on a large scale here at W&M. Thanks to some awesome Committee on Sustainability Interns and our great Dining Staff, all organic wastes from the Commons, Sadler, Marketplace, and Miller Hall are separated out and given to a third party company to make compost to sell as organic fertilizer. The Student Environmental Action Coalition’s gardening committee also only uses their own compost to tend the campus gardens! It’s easy, it’s hands-on or low maintenance, and it’s great for the environment. The only question left is…why not?

 

 

The Power Shift Experience

By Maren Hunsberger

The weekend of October 18th, a group of William and Mary students made the trek up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a little something called Power Shift. This biennial conference is geared toward environmentally-minded young people all across the country—it serves as an opportunity to attend trainings and workshops while offering the chance to hear distinguished speakers on subjects ranging from clean energy to policy making. The purpose on this particularly chilly October weekend? To empower young leaders, to promote a sustainable future, and to bring young people together and forward their progress in the environmental movement. There were an estimated 8,000 plus people in attendance, including students from Virginia Tech, JMU, Mary Washington, and W&M—Virginia was well represented by its student population. Speakers at the conference included 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Dream Defender founder Phillip Agnew, and the director of the acclaimed documentary Gas Land, Josh Fox, all inspiring students in fields as diverse as nonprofit entrepreneurism and the arts. There were also a plethora of panels to choose from, focusing on topics such as homeowners in fracking territory, and an even wider variety of workshops on everything from divestment, sustainable gardening, and environmental leadership.

The conference has previously been held in DC but took place this year in Pittsburgh, PA. Once the steel capital of the world, Pittsburgh has made great leaps to clean up the city and is the first municipality to ban fracking. The city is an exemplary prototype of an urban center in the post-industrial age cleaning up its act and becoming an environmental leader, mostly for the sake of the health of its citizens. 102_0070 Another big change in this year’s conference was the new focus on environmental justice.

Environmental justice, commonly referred to as EJ, centers around the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”, according to the EPA. EJ focuses on grassroots solutions to environmental issues, mostly by ensuring equal protection from environmental health hazards. However EJ is a broad field of study and practice that can also include access to healthy food and the availability of environmental advocacy. There were several workshop and seminar opportunities at Power Shift 2013 that offered anti-oppression training to help participants recognize where one is in a position of privilege and power and to identify and understand different perspectives when addressing environmental degradation.

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Sophomore Anne Davis reflected on this aspect  of the conference, saying that “it was at Power Shift that…[I realized] how fortunate I am to come from a stable, middle-class upbringing and to be getting a college education and that I don’t have to worry on a daily basis whether I’m going to get sick from the air I breathe or the water I drink”.

Most of William and Mary’s attendees are also members of SEAC, the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Student environmental organizations from across the country can stay in contact with one another and share their work after the conference on Power Shift’s website. Check it out and join the conversation at http://www.wearepowershift.org    (above, William and Mary’s Power Shift attendees)

If you have any questions or comments about Power Shift, environmental justice, or sustainable initiatives at William and Mary, please connect with us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

–Maren Hunsberger

 

Sources: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/ej/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/26/2841841/15-million-americans-live-near-fracking/

Photos courtesy of Anne Davis

 

5 Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season

By Steven Walter

Decorations, gifts, trees, cards, parties, cooking — it seems like every day near the holidays is a party. While making new memories and enjoying the season, Mother Earth should be in the back of your mind. Approximately 25 percent more trash is thrown away during the holiday season, which amounts to around 1 million tons of extra waste per week, Stanford reports. Here are five simple ways to do your part to reduce holiday waste and still enjoy the season:

LED Lights

Photo by Robert.Montalvo via Flickr

Everyone loves to hang lights around the holidays. Lights are strung around trees and draped on our homes. There are even light-up decorations and lawn ornaments. Try using LED lights, as opposed to incandescent lights. LED lights use less energy, which is better for our environment and your wallet. Lighting a tall tree with LED lights approximately 12 hours a day for over a month will only cost you around $0.27, while a tree lit with incandescent lights would cost around $10 for the same duration. LED lights are also safer for kids and pets as they stay much cooler than incandescent lights and are shatter-proof.

Up-cycled Decorations

Photo by various brennemans via Flickr

Rather than going out and buying decorations, try making some from items no longer used around the house. Old light bulbs can be painted and strung on a tree. Use reclaimed wood or metal pieces to cut out decorations for doors and walkways. Stockings can be made out of old holiday sweaters. Make garland out of cranberries and popcorn, which can be eaten by birds outside when you’re done with it.

Holiday Cards

Photo by Grissom7 via Wikimedia Commons

Americans purchase around 6.5 billion greeting cards per year. Of that number, 1.6 billion — including boxes of cards — are for the holiday season. Some say that sending ecards online is a great way to save on waste. While that is true, it isn’t the same as mailing a person a physical card. Send your loved ones holiday cards using recycled paper. Photo postcards from companies like Minted can be printed on 100% recycled paper, so you’re sending out an adorable holiday photo and giving back to the environment at the same time.

Alternative Gifts

Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Have you ever received a sweater as a gift that collected dust in your home until you threw it out? Don’t be one of those people. Get creative with your gift giving this holiday season. Give the gift of travel — plane tickets, an outing, zoo memberships, and much more. Gift certificates or tickets are also a great gift that takes up minimal space in the trash. Find out your recipients’ favorite sports team or restaurant, or purchase a subscription to a movie streaming service or book club.

Parties

Photo by COLORED PENCIL magazine

Keep holiday parties fun and eco-friendly by using washable dishes and silverware. After gift opening, be sure to collect paper to reuse or recycle, and make it easy for party attendees to do so. Instead of buying artificial decorations and centerpieces, use colorful fruits and vegetables. It can be as simple as filling large vases with Granny Smith apples or Hershey’s Kisses.