Every year, Americans throw away huge amounts of waste during the holiday season. From food to packaging, our landfills see a massive influx of trash throughout the festive period. Much of this waste is completely avoidable. Leftover food could be frozen, used up or simply not produced in the first place. Gift-giving could be seriously scaled back, and single-use packaging could be removed from products wherever possible.
If you want to celebrate with friends and family, but don’t want your festivities to harm the planet, being a little more mindful with your purchases could make a big difference. To help you cut waste and celebrate in style during the festive period, we’ve put together our top tips for reducing waste this holiday season.
How Much Waste Is Produced During the Holiday Season?
The holiday season is famous for its excess. People eat more, drink more and buy more at this time of year than at any other. As a result, we also throw away more. In fact, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than they do the rest of the year. That adds up to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week.
A large proportion of this waste is generated as a direct result of the gifts we give and the food we buy. Packaging also contributes a lot to this excess waste, as do our greeting cards and festive decorations.
Buy Experiences, Not Objects
In 2019 alone, Americans spent an incredible $15.2 billion on unwanted holiday gifts. It’s estimated that around 4% of these gifts went straight in the trash, contributing significantly to our festive waste. Even presents that aren’t thrown out instantly aren’t blameless, with plastic packaging a major contributor to the festive garbage pile.
A good way to reduce the amount of waste you produce this holiday season is to avoid objects altogether and invest in experiences instead. So, rather than buying your child a colorful plastic toy that will fall out of favor after five minutes, plan a fun day out that both of you will enjoy. And instead of getting your partner a plastic-wrapped present, take them out for a meal or book yourselves a weekend away.
Buy Pre-Loved Gifts
If you want to have a few physical presents under the Christmas tree, think about investing in pre-loved gifts rather than buying brand new presents. Renovating or upcycling things you already own is a fantastic way to show someone you care without creating extra waste. You could also visit local vintage or second-hand shops to see if you can find any stylish pre-loved items that need a new home.
If second-hand gifts just won’t cut it, and you really need to splash out on something new, keep your carbon footprint to a minimum by shopping local. Visit independent shops in your neighborhood to find unique gifts your friends and family will enjoy. Try to look for shops that source local products and that use environmentally friendly materials to make your holiday season even greener.
Don’t Send Cards
Every year, 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold in the U.S. That’s enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. While it’s true that festive cards can be recycled, in reality, a lot will be thrown in the trash and end up in landfill. As well as producing a huge amount of waste, holiday cards contribute to deforestation, making them doubly bad for the environment. So, if you want to reduce waste, holiday cards are a good place to start.
The best way to cut out greeting card waste is to avoid sending cards altogether. After all, with emails, text messages and social media, sending holiday greetings the zero waste way really is easier than ever. If you can’t bear the idea of an empty post box this holiday season, look for cards that are made from recycled paper or make cards yourself using sustainably sourced materials.
Go Easy on the Groceries
Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else. Even though leftover food can easily be frozen, cooked or otherwise used up, millions of tons of groceries end up in the trash every year. In fact, around 30-40% of the US food supply is thought to end up in the garbage, and more food is discarded in America than in any other country on Earth.
Every year, Americans throw away around 200 million pounds of turkey meat during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend alone. Households in the US also throw out 45 million pounds of sweet potatoes, 30 million pounds of gravy and 38 million pounds of stuffing. Christmas is no different, with huge amounts of leftover meat, veg and treats ending up in trash cans, instead of on plates, every year.
If you really want to reduce waste Thanksgiving and Christmas meals need to be better planned out and more carefully catered. Encourage your guests to confirm their attendance well in advance so you have time to plan your menu and source your supplies.
Do a few sums before you head to the grocery store so you know exactly how much of each ingredient you need to buy. Try to find meat, fruit and veg that’s produced in the local area to minimize food miles, and choose items that aren’t encased in plastic packaging to reduce waste. You could consider asking friends and family to bring Tupperware with them when they come for lunch so any food that is leftover can be used up rather than thrown away. Alternatively, freeze your leftovers so they can be eaten another day.
Choose Zero Waste Products
Choosing zero waste products is a great way of reducing waste this holiday season. Dress your table with reusable paper towels, serve drinks with reusable bamboo straws and tidy up using an environmentally friendly cleaning spray in a reusable glass bottle.
You could also consider giving zero waste products as gifts this holiday season. Zero waste kits make great presents, as do plastic free shampoo and conditioner bars and face moisturizer. As well as helping you reduce waste, giving environmentally friendly gifts offers the perfect opportunity to get a conversation going about zero waste over the dinner table. You never know, by highlighting the issue and discussing the importance of zero waste, you may encourage your friends and family to live more sustainably and adopt a zero waste lifestyle themselves.
Get Creative with the Wrapping
Wrapping paper contributes to deforestation and clogs up landfill. Plus, it’s only used very briefly before it’s thrown away, making it a prime candidate for a zero waste re-think. Instead of buying single-use wrapping paper, why not use newspapers or pages from a magazine?
Fabric can also work really well as reusable wrapping paper, simply grab a scarf, t-shirt or tea-towel, wrap it around your gift and secure it with string. As well as reducing the amount of waste you produce this holiday season, wrapping your gifts in textiles will give the pile of presents under your tree a stylish, alternative aesthetic.
For more ideas on how you can live more sustainably and mindfully, or to learn about the services we offer, take a look around or get in touch with a member of our team.