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10 Tips to Reduce Your Waste This Holiday Season

Wooden advent calendar for low waste holiday blog

Ah, the holidays. A time to cherish your loved ones and take a breather. A time to over-indulge on treats… and unfortunately, a time when we seriously over-stuff our trash cans! Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week!

In this time for celebrating old traditions and building new ones, we hope you’ll consider these 10 tips towards a zero waste holiday. Make it a season to make an effort towards a better, more sustainable future:

[1] Rethink the gift wrap. (Egads, NO FOILS OR GLITTER!)

OK this is a big one. Just think of how crazy it is we spend $7 billion a year on something that’s forgotten and discarded in minutes. And most of this ink-heavy paper can’t be recycled, especially anything with foils, or glitter or texture (please don’t try – you’ll actually ruin more recycling!). This adds about 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper to our landfills a year – is that the gift you want to leave the next generation?!

For eco-friendly gift wrap ideas, use paper bags, newspapers or other materials you already have. Trade the plastics tapes for paper-based tapes and natural strings instead of ribbons. Use fabric or cloth bags you already have, decorative storage baskets or glass jars. Pick natural materials right around you for stand-out décor (see below) instead of wasteful bows and ribbons. Here are some fun DIY instructions from Greenpeace.

Hands tying string on sustainable gift wrapping paper and string.

PS. Still need a last minute gift you can send without ANY wrapping or packaging? Personalize and schedule our e-gift cards now!

[2] Reduce food waste & plastic packaging.

Roughly 40% of all the food grown in the U.S. is thrown away. Prevent waste with careful planning, then stick to your shopping list. Serve food in shifts to prevent spoilage. If there are leftovers, encourage guests to take them home in reusable containers and freeze the rest for an easy meal on another day. Buy locally to reduce how far your food travels and support your hometown economy. Skip the time-savers like pre-cubed or spiralized vegetables that wastes extra packing. BYO produce and shopping bags. Learn how/where you can compost!

[3] Don’t trash our recycling system.

When we “wishcycle,” which is when, even with good intentions, we put things like broken Christmas light strands, greasy cardboard food containers, foiled/glittered wrapping papers and more into our recycling, we only clog up machines, slow sorting and ruin entire larger batches of what could get recycled. Every city’s recycling is different, so make a quick effort to understand what yours can take and where to otherwise responsibly recycle the specialty stuff, like those lights!

[4] Think ahead to be a low-waste gift receiver next year.

We’ve ALL been the recipient of unnecessary gifts that we don’t want. This is a great time to pause and think about for next year, how you can communicate to those around you what you do and do NOT want. Make a list you can share ahead. Work with your loved ones to create more experiences over physical gifts. Be firm about what you don’t want, including passing on something as simple as no gift bags, card with glitter or wasteful wrapping paper that can help get others thinking about their choices too.

[5] Decorate naturally.

Skip the cheap stuff and the plastics and consider how you can use nature’s gifts for your home décor. Acorns, pine branches, punched-leaf confetti, dried orange slices and cranberries… need ideas? Hit up Pinterest and you’ll be amazed by the ways you can get creative that also creates some fun holiday activities for the family. What other potted plants, glassware, etc. do you already have at home you could otherwise easily transform for the holidays?

Close up of dried natural pieces for sustainable, eco-friendly holiday decorating and gift wrapping.
[6] Plan ahead to reduce trips and online shipping.

Forgot that ingredient? Well, that’s bound to happen. But we can still make a difference by more thoughtfully planning our trips to the stores and online delivery orders to consolidate as much as possible, reducing packaging and carbon footprint.

[7] Use what you have or borrow instead of buying.

Don’t be tempted by the after-Christmas clearance sales unless it’s something you’ll truly commit to using for the long-run. Skip any single-use at the table or for packaging leftovers (see our reusable bag and beeswrap options in the Food section!), use whatever you have or ask guest to bring their own.

[8] Make sure your real tree gets composted, replanted, or mulched.

Take responsibility to understand what happens with your curbside take-away options and research the options in your city. There’s debate on the sustainability of live versus real trees, but real trees are crops grown on farms that can provide environmental benefit. New York’s Nature Conservancy Executive Director said, there are ways shoppers can lessen the impact of using a real tree: Shop locally, minimize driving and recycle the tree. (Read more from NY Times on this here.)

Female stringing Christmas lights on a tree.
[9] Save energy with LED lights, scheduled timers and rechargeable batteries.

Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years. Don’t use one of the 15 billion alkaline batteries produced a year – replace them with rechargeable ones! Ask your local hardware store what other ideas they have for saving energy.

[10] Be a sustainable traveler.

If there’s not place like home… or your relative’s house, or your friends house for the holiday, think about how you can be a sustainable traveler! For flights (*sigh* hopefully next year), book direct where possible as take-off and landing creates the most emissions. For the road trip, BYO snacks and reusable water and coffee mugs (like all of these!) and silverware (as found here!) to skip packaging waste on the move. Plan the most direct routes possible and don’t idle your car when you can help it. Think about ride-sharing and choosing slow travel, like a train adventure.

Young boy with Santa wishing for a sustainable Christmas

Thanks for keeping all these tips in mind for an extra-green season. After all, the greatest gift you can give our future generations is a healthier planet. Happy holidays to you and yours from the Sustainable Travel & Living team!

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