‘Tis the season for family, fun, celebration, and…a LOT of waste. According to the EPA, the volume of household waste in the United States typically increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, resulting in about one million additional tons of trash getting sent to landfills. That’s a lot of thrown-out food, wrapping paper, plastic packaging, and Amazon boxes. If you care about the environment and reducing your consumption, there’s no better time of year to step up. Fortunately, there are a lot of easy ways that we can curb our waste and enjoy the holidays even more. This guide can help!
Reducing Food Waste
Food waste already makes up the highest portion of U.S. household waste, and during the holidays, it increases threefold. Cutting back on food waste is a great place to start on being environmentally responsible this season.
This statistic might take away your appetite: As much as 50% of the world’s food — two billion tons — never even makes it onto a plate. Though some of this waste is out of consumers’ direct control (vegetable crops not being harvested because they fail to meet physical appearance standards, for instance), we can help by simply buying what we need and eating what we buy.
Here are some tips for reducing your contribution to food waste this holiday season:
- Before grocery shopping for a meal or party, plan out how much food you and your guests will realistically need. The online Guest-imator calculator from the Natural Resources Defense Council can do the math for you.
- Make grocery lists and stick to them. Try to avoid letting holiday sales trick you into buying unwanted food or unnecessary quantities.
- When cooking, compost your food scraps, such as vegetable peels and eggshells, instead of throwing them in the trash. Composting is simple and offers a lot of benefits, from greening your garden to helping with erosion control.
- Encourage your guests to self-serve their food so that they’re more likely to take only what they want and leave less uneaten.
- Be prepared for leftovers with reusable containers. If you did end up with too much food, share the wealth by sending guests home with some nibbles for later. Check out popular recipes for turning holiday meal leftovers into creative and delicious new meals.
- When giving food as a gift, avoid items that will perish within a few days and try to choose foods that your recipient is sure to eat and enjoy. Try your hand at making food gifts yourself and putting them in reusable containers, steering clear of the plastic packaging that encases store-bought cakes, pies, and cookies.
Reducing Gift Waste
- Gift wrap makes up a large part of holiday waste. As pretty as it is, avoid glossy or foiled gift wrap that can’t be recycled.
- Instead of using wrapping paper, surprise your recipient by wrapping their presents in creative materials like old posters, maps, newspaper, comics, children’s artwork, or fabric. Or give a bonus “present in a present” by placing items inside reusable containers like cookie tins, flower pots, and baskets, instead of wrapping paper or gift bags.
- Replace ribbons and bows with natural evergreens, berries, and dried flowers that will look more seasonal anyway. Keep them as decorations or compost them after the gifts are unwrapped.
- When shopping, look for durable, high-quality, and long-lasting items.
- Instead of “stuff,” consider giving a plant, a tree, or homemade item such as cookies, bread, or jam.
- Give “experience gifts,” such as these ideas from RethinkRecycling.com: A candlelit dinner, tickets to a concert or sporting event, passes to a favorite amusement park, gift certificates to dinner or for a spa service, or membership to a museum or zoo. Your recipient will appreciate you when they get your thoughtful present and again later when they experience it!
- Consider giving a handmade coupon or gift certificate that offers your time to walk a pet, babysit, or help with extra chores.
- If your recipient is the charitable (and already-has-everything) type, make a donation to a favorite nonprofit in his or her name.
Reducing Decoration Waste
- Create one-of-a-kind decor the eco-friendly way with upcycling! Get ideas galore from Pinterest and invite all of your crafty friends over for a decoration-making bonanza.
- Don’t throw away burned-out holiday string lights — take them to a local Home Depot for recycling.
- Time to pack up Christmas? Compost your live tree or take it to a local fire station for Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s Bring One for the Chipper program, which gives donated trees a second life as mulch for playgrounds, public beautification projects, wildlife habitats, and homeowner landscaping projects.
Reducing Party Waste
- Before your party starts, set out easily identifiable recycling containers next to trash cans so that soda cans, bottles, and paper products don’t end up in the landfill.
- Avoid buying single-use plastic dishes, cups, and utensils that will live on in the ecosystem long after your event is over. If you must use disposable dishware, look for the type made from compostable or recycled material.
- Instead of paper napkins, consider cloth napkins that tie in your party’s theme colors. Rather than paper towels, have dishrags at the ready to clean up any messes.
- Find great decor items or party favors secondhand at a thrift store. While you’re there, pick up the ugly holiday sweater you’re sure to need for the season!
Isn’t it great that some of the most environmentally responsible ways to enjoy the holidays are also the most meaningful and fun? When it comes down to it, the holidays are about appreciating the people around us and the many gifts we already have — including a healthy planet. Cheers to that!