’Tis the season for lots of food, lots of friends, lots of relatives, and unfortunately, lots of trash. The EPA estimates that Americans throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That’s approximately one million extra tons of waste per week. Cards, gift wrap, ribbon, broken lights, and used Christmas Trees are just a few of the items that get added to landfills every year. With a little effort, it’s not hard to reduce the amount of waste we create. Here are ten tips for cutting down on the amount of your holiday garbage.
1. Recyclable wrapping paper
Many of us assume that wrapping paper is recyclable; after all, it’s paper, right? Not quite. Many gift wraps on the market contain coatings, dyes, and other difficult-to-process additives. However, it’s easier than ever to find recycled paper, and they aren’t as expensive as they once were. As a general rule, stay away from the shiny, metallic paper or paper with sticky tape. If you’re unsure if the paper on a gift you receive is recyclable, try using the “scrunch test.” If it’s easy to scrunch it into a ball, then it's recyclable.
2. Reuse ribbons, bows, and gift bags
They look pretty on a package, but recycling centers hate them. Since they can’t be recycled, it’s best to reuse them as much as possible. Have a bin or paper grocery bag handy has the unwrapping begins. It’s an easy way to collect the goods for future use like birthdays, graduations, or next years’ holiday gifts. Some bags and bows can be used multiple times before they are indeed dead. You may never need to buy a gift bag or bag of bows again.
3. Christmas & other holiday greeting cards
Similar to wrapping paper, some greeting cards are recyclable, and some are not. However, it’s easy to tell if they are, just flip them over. If you see the Recycle logo, throw it straight into the recycle bin… after you read it, of course. When you’re buying cards, look for ones made of recycled paper. Or, send e-cards or make a phone call instead.
4. Give a gift of time or donation
Every gift you purchase online or at a store has an environmental cost, from the manufacturing and transportation to the packing materials and wrapping. Consider giving a gift that requires none of this. For example, wash the car, do house chores, or make a donation to a loved ones’ favorite charity.
5. Buy durable gifts
It seems obvious, but in the frenzy of gift-buying for everyone on your list, sometimes we can get a little careless with our purchases. Try to find well-made gifts that have purpose and meaning. Stay away from the latest “fad.” Ask yourself if this gift will hold value for the recipient, or will it end up in a yard sale the following summer.
6. Share an “experience.”
Some of us don’t know what we like until we try it. Experience-based gifts not only reduces trash, but it can be a perfect gift for people who “have everything.” A few great ideas would be cooking or art classes, sporting or music event tickets, museum memberships, or gift certificates to a favorite restaurant or spa. Or share the experience of saving. If you have grandkids, start them off with their own savings account. The little kids may not be jumping up with excitement, but their parents will love it!
7. A gift from the heart
Make it yourself. You might think you’re too old for hand-made gifts, but that is old-school thinking. DIY gifts are a growing trend. They can be the most meaningful gifts that your loved ones receive. And it can be fun! There are tons of ideas, from a decorated basket of homemade baked goods to a custom Christmas ornament with family photos. Just search “DIY Christmas” on Pinterest to find one that works for you.
8. “Green” stocking stuffers
Gardening is not something people typically think of around the holidays, but if you have a green thumb on your list, or perhaps someone who wants to be, then giving packets of seeds is a great way to reduce packaging waste. If you want to get a jump start, you can visit your local gardening center and pick up a little sapling that you can plant indoors and transplant to the garden in the spring.
9. Shop local
Shopping local might not do much to reduce trash, but you can reduce your overall carbon footprint by eliminating the environmental impact from shipping and warehousing merchandise. It also helps support your local area shops, makers, and artisans.
10. Recycle or repurpose Christmas trees
Studies show that real Christmas trees are more earth-friendly than artificial trees since many artificial trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and can’t be recycled. The best you can do is give them a way to a charity or local thrift store. However, be aware that they will usually only accept them in October or November so they can be immediately used or sold. For real trees, recycling programs are common, but they vary from state to state. You might even consider buying a real tree in a pot so you can take it back to your house and plant it in your backyard.
The holidays don’t have to be wasteful with some thoughtful actions and a little effort. Any little bit helps and can make the future bright for generations to come. We wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.