The holidays are a time for giving and celebrating, but it’s also a time of year where we produce an incredible amount of waste. It’s estimated that each American throws away about four pounds of trash per day and a staggering 300 pounds of food each year. During the holidays, Americans generate about 5 million tons of extra waste, with a large portion of that consisting of wrapping paper. And a recent survey found that we’re wasting over $9 billion on unwanted or unnecessary gifts every year.
Piles of gift wrap and ribbon end up on the floor, disposable items are used to help save time during kitchen cleanup, and countless gifts soon end up on a closet shelf or tucked away in a drawer. But what if we were able to make changes that could keep a lot of that waste out of our landfills? Making your holidays waste free is easier than you think, and it can all be done with a few easy swaps.
1. Reducing Gift Wrap Waste
Shiny wrapping paper adds a festive look to your holiday gifts, but did you know that most wrapping paper can’t be recycled? Yes, it’s paper, but the laminated coating, glitter, and foil graphics make this product a no-go for your recycling bin. Most gift bags can’t be recycled either, all because of the laminated coating.
Ribbons and bows are another issue. Sure, they look pretty, but they can’t be recycled so they just end up in the trash. Instead of using items that generate waste, try these reusable and eco-friendly options instead:
- Wrap gifts in plain, brown craft paper or old brown paper bags, both of which can be recycled.
- Use newspaper and twine to wrap boxed gifts
- Wrap small gifts in colorful cloth napkins or embroidered handkerchiefs from the thrift store. You can also find reusable cotton bags printed with soy-based inks.
- Reuse gift boxes and bows that you already have, then save them to reuse the following year
- Use plain, uncoated cotton string or twine in place of ribbon. Make sure it’s free of metallics and coatings so it can be placed in your compost bin.
2. Choosing Thoughtful, Waste-Free Gifts
Erikka van Rujssen/Flickr
Gifts are a favorite part of any holiday or celebration, but how often do we give people things they don’t really want or need, just for the sake of giving? Instead of heading to the store to find gifts, think about handmade items or those that provide people with a memorable experience.
- Use homemade lotions, face or body scrubs, and bath bombs to create a “spa day” kit
- Make a quilt from old t-shirts or scraps of fabric
- Visit a local craft fair to find unique, handmade gifts
- Give the gift of entertainment with passes to a museum, state park, or botanical garden, or tickets to a movie theater or live performance
- Package homemade treats like cookies and candy in glass jars or reusable boxes
3. Decorating the Eco-Friendly Way
You can have a beautifully decorated home without contributing to landfill waste. When choosing decorations, use what you have first, then choose additional items wisely. Stay away from items like tinsel and glitter, which end up polluting the environment and harming marine life.
- Decorate with natural elements like pine cones and twigs
- Create a warm, inviting atmosphere with handmade or soy-based candles in reusable glass jars
- Choose sustainably sourced trees and greenery instead of buying artificial versions made from plastic
- Visit thrift stores to find traditional holiday items instead of purchasing them brand new
4. Making Your Holiday Meals Waste Free
Le living and Co/Flickr
Overall, approximately 40 percent of food is wasted in the U.S. each year. In addition to that, holiday meal planning produces large amounts of trash from disposable packaging, containers, plates, and silverware. Help keep your mealtime green by following these tips:
- Choose the package-free route by purchasing holiday staples like grains, dried fruits, nuts, and candy from bulk bins at grocery stores.
- Use a dinner party calculator to help you make just the right amount of food for your holiday meals. Choose to make plant-based dishes help lower the impact of your food choices.
- Ask guests to bring reusable containers with them to take home leftovers instead of having them go to waste.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and towels, and real plates, glasses, and silverware instead of disposables
- Compost all food scraps and other organic materials instead of tossing them in the trash
Creating a waste-free holiday doesn’t mean sacrificing fun and tradition. And you can feel good knowing that you’re doing something to help reduce waste and protect our natural resources from pollution.
Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
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- Sign a Petition: Your voice matters! Help turn petitions into victories by signing the latest list of must-sign petitions to help people, animals, and the planet.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest news and important stories involving animals, the environment, sustainable living, food, health, and human interest topics by subscribing to our newsletter!
- Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!
Great article! May I add a couple of thoughts:
1. Cook from scratch, during the holidays and the rest of the year, and you will cut out one heckuva lot of waste. Set up a compost pile for your onion peels, squash innards, and apple cores, and you\’ll be that much more ahead of the game.
2. Those of us with serious allergies or similar issues don\’t feel safe taking things from bulk bins, so bulk is not an option for everybody. We can\’t just grab a scoop of nutritional yeast or whatever from a bin, because who knows what else the scoop has picked up.