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5 Easy Tips for A Happy and Waste-Free Holiday Season

Holiday waste can be a real grinch. Between ribbons and wrappings, tinsel and trappings, feasts—even the tree—it can feel like you need a sleigh to haul the trash away. Stay merry with these 5 tips for a green and waste-free holiday.

It happens every year: You’ve spent 11 months recycling, bringing your own bags, and turning down all manner of plastic. Then the holidays come around and blow up all those waste-free life goals. Extra holiday waste accounts for a 25% increase in trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. You can be part of the solution with these tips for a low-waste holiday.

Give the Gift of Experiences

Let’s face it: One of the biggest wasters of the holiday season is the packaging. From shipping to opening, some products have layers upon layers of plastic and cardboard. Just about all of these trappings get thrown away once it’s time to use the gift.

And forget about recycling. Plenty of packages are surrounded by non-recyclable Styrofoam or air-filled plastic that can’t go into conventional recycling bins. Even the most dedicated recyclers can be stumped by the tape, glue, and sorting.

But there’s a thoughtful and totally waste-free alternative to the kinds of fad gifts you might see at the mall (and then in the trash) every year.

Experiences can be a unique and personal way to enrich your loved ones’ lives while reducing waste. Research area cooking classes, indulgent restaurants, or adventurous activities that would be of interest. Many locations will offer gift cards or online vouchers (sometimes even with an e-card option) for you to send!

A well-chosen experience reduces packaging waste from start to finish while showing a personal and thoughtful touch that lasts well past the holiday season.

That’s a Wrap: Low-Waste and Waste-Free Holiday Wrapping Ideas

Sometimes you just find that perfect gift, and no alternative will do. For times like that, you’ll want to avoid the extra paper and trimmings that come with all that wrapping.

Each year, Americans throw away some 38,000 miles of ribbon. That’s enough to wrap all the way around the planet! All those boxes, bags, and excess paper really add up. If every family opted for re-used materials (even just for a few gifts per year), it would save 45,000 football fields’ worth of paper.

Colorful magazine pages make glossy and easily recycled options for smaller gifts, while favorite newspaper comics or sections can add unique flair to larger items. Other creative alternatives could be scraps of fabric, paper shopping bags, even a child’s artwork! Any of these options add a personal touch while keeping material out of the trash.

Decorate Sustainably

Whether you’re throwing a holiday party or decking the halls just for fun, tinsel, twinkly lights, and greenery are some of the highlights of the season. But single-use décor like streamers, confetti, or glittery floral arrangements can be a real burden for your low-waste goals.

Fortunately, there are many creative and beautiful options to give your home a dose of festive spirit.

Instead of using store-bought centerpieces, try some DIY decorations from materials you might find in or around the house. Acorns, pinecones, fallen leaves, and whatever else you might find can add a natural and home-made touch to your holiday spirit. Plus, you can keep your waste (and cost) even lower if you show them off in your own pottery, bowls, and vases!

Now we arrive at the age-old question for holiday sustainability: What kind of tree is more sustainable, real, or artificial?

The answer? The one you already have. If you already have an artificial tree, it doesn’t make sense to throw it away just to get a real one! Keep re-using it as long as you can. That being said, when you find yourself in the market for a new holiday tree, there are a few things you might want to consider.

Live trees are grown throughout the year, where they can soak up excess carbon and clean our air. And don’t worry too much about cutting them down, since they’re generally grown on farms and replaced every year, just like corn or lettuce. You can also find locally grown trees in many areas, reducing the impact of shipping and transporting them.

All of these features make live trees great options for a green holiday, but you should still be mindful of how you dispose of your tree. Look for composting or recycling centers that will take old holiday trees, or opt for a potted one that you can plant after the holiday.

Watch Out for Food Waste

Nearly 40% of food in the U.S. gets thrown away each year. Holiday cooking can make this problem even worse, adding thousands of pounds of food to landfills each season. Don’t let your festive gathering go to waste!

Reducing food waste starts with getting the amount of food right. This sounds simple, but it can be a real challenge! Check out Save the Food’s “Guest-imator” tool to help calculate precisely how much food you’ll need for your gathering.

You can also keep food waste down by planning ahead. Try and use ingredients you already have in your pantry, make plenty of room in the fridge, and keep a list of leftover recipes to ensure everything gets used.

Embrace the Virtual Gathering

The 2020 holiday season is different than all those before it. While most families use this time to gather together, travel restrictions and health concerns will keep many apart this year.

While this is an unfortunate challenge, there is an unexpected silver lining. Holiday travel produces a carbon footprint of nearly 12 billion pounds of CO2. Air travel is particularly bad for the environment: One round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco can generate 3 tons of carbon (the average person only emits 19 tons for the entire year).

Zoom and video meeting tools are no substitute for the joy of gathering in person. But a video-chat holiday can still be filled with love and laughter! You can try sharing recipes ahead of time, fun activities like coordinated outfits or online scavenger hunts, and gratitude in conversation. Still special, just with lower emissions!

From re-usable decorations to limiting air travel, an eco-friendly holiday will definitely put you on the nice list this year!

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