My oldest son has decided to go to community college next year. It's a smart financial decision, and I'm proud of him. As a result of that decision, he's making some changes to his bedroom, adding a TV, futon and some other things to make his room more "dorm-like." Some of his Christmas presents will be part of that update, and to make room, he's purging his room and his closet.

This purge has led to a few arguments. It's even earned me a new nickname, "Responsible Electronic Waste Management Mom," which cracks me up.

Believe me, I understand the desire to purge quickly. It's so easy to throw everything in big plastic bags and haul it to the curb. I see it every Friday morning — piles of trash bags and overflowing cans lined up on the street. It's tempting to join them, but I know what happens when perfectly useful things end up in the trash: They go to a landfill.

There's a lot of stuff already in the landfill

Save on Energy's Land of Waste webpage is dedicated to education about landfills and their effects. I learned that the closest landfill to me is 6.2 miles from my house, and it opened in 1970. It's active and currently has 3.9 million tons of trash in it. It's not scheduled to close until 2022, but at this rate, there will be another half million tons of trash tossed in there before it does.

There's another landfill about 8 miles away in another direction that's been closed since 1987; it has about 7.3 million tons of trash in it. Go 14 miles in another direction, and you have another 3.3 million tons of trash in another closed landfill. In fact, go in almost any direction, and you'll hit a landfill pretty quickly. For such a small state, New Jersey sure does have a lot of trash. There are 25.4 tons of trash per person in our landfills compared to big ol' Texas, which has 17.8 tons per person in its landfills.

When I think about those landfills and all the trash wreaking environmental havoc in the ground, it's easy for me top turn into Responsible Waste Management Mom. The extra effort it takes to make sure less stuff ends up in the landfill is definitely worth it.

Yes, you can reduce your trash

christmas-trash-waste You don't have to look too hard to find several things in this mound of Christmas trash that could have been disposed of better: Christmas trees, Champagne bottles and shipping boxes can all be recycled. (Photo: yevgeniy11/Shutterstock)

The average person throws away 4.4 pounds of trash a day, and a disproportionate amount of a year's worth of trash occurs during the holiday season. Food waste increases because of all the celebrations. Paper waste increases because of cards, wrapping paper, catalogs and boxes. And, the number of useful things we throw out increases, usually to make room for the new things we got as gifts.

This year, let's be as responsible as possible with our waste, especially between now and Dec 31, by following these ideas:

  • Be careful with the amount of food you buy, and use your holiday leftovers to make delicious new dishes before you buy more food. (Stuffing Frittata, anyone?)
  • Dispose of used electronics responsibly. Wipe still-usable mobile gadgets of all personal information and trade them in. I personally love getting cash for my old phones from Gazelle.
  • Donate shipping boxes and packing materials to your nearest UPS store. They will take cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and packing peanuts off your hands and reuse them.
  • When you throw a party, use durable plates, glasses and utensils.
  • If you're purging clothing, housewares, furniture, usable TVs, gaming systems or computers, donate, donate, donate — and make sure you get a receipt for tax purposes.
  • If you're unsure what to get someone as a gift, purchase experiences, not stuff. Local theater tickets, museum memberships or passes, a gift certificate for a tasting to a local winery or brewery are all great gifts that will get used and will never have to be thrown away.
  • Make sure only real trash ends up in the trash. Every day items like paper, glass, aluminum and plastic should be recycled. Electronics should go to an electronic recycling center, not out with the regular trash.
  • Recycle your Christmas tree and have it turned into mulch. (And if you need help finding out where you can recycle your tree or why you should do it, read this story.)

There's a lot going on during the holiday season, and it's a big temptation to just throw a few things in the trash to save time — but don't. I encourage you to hop over to Save Energy's page, take a look at where the landfills are around you and the sheer amount of trash that's already there.

Seeing those number may be just the incentive you need to take an extra steps to do your part.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.