Perhaps you’ve noticed, but the holidays can be an extraordinarily wasteful time. As a whole, Americans produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. All the extra food, extra travel, extra wrapping paper…there’s a lot going on. And unfortunately, that often translates into extra waste. Now, I’m not saying you should cancel Christmas with your family. There’s nothing better than good times and good food with good people. However, there are a few easy things you can do to reduce waste while making the holidays a more sustainable, celebratory time!
Invest in sustainable food storage. This is an easy one! Especially these days, there are so many great options for reusable food storage. Cut down on plastic bag use by using (re)zip reusable storage bags. Eliminate foil and plastic wrap usage by using reusable wax wraps (we love Etee wraps!). Or, if you’re into takeout, save some Chinese takeout containers to reuse for sending leftovers home with the relatives.
Shop local. This means that there is less shipping of items (less waste!) from the time it’s made to the time it gets into your hands. Plus, you’re supporting local businesses who thrive off your patronage!
Use energy efficient LED lights for decorating as well as general usage. This will cut down greatly on your household’s overall energy expenditure, and LED lights will also usually last longer. Put your lights on a timer to save even more energy. Also consider enjoying a few candlelit dinners! It makes for great memories, whether for a special family holiday tradition or a romantic dinner for two.
Choose your tree wisely. There’s great debate between the plastic tree and real tree camps over which is truly better for the environment. Here’s where your habits can make a difference: if you buy a high quality faux tree and plan on using it for 20 years, that’s probably your more sustainable bet (as opposed to buying a new plastic tree every five years or so). If you cut down a real tree every year from a sustainable tree farm and recycle it wisely, like replanting it or using it as mulch, that can be a great option. Evaluate your family’s preferences, habits, and abilities to make the most sustainable choice!
Decorate with what you already have! I know all those new decorations in Target are enough to convince everyone to do a full-scale Chip and Joanna remodel, but buying new decorations every year is not very sustainable. Dress your home up by thinking about how you can use your current decorations in new ways, then add in one or two new special things for a little extra fun! Saves money and the planet.
Don’t send out a Christmas card. Ok, I know I’ll probably hear some pushback on this one (traditions and all). But that’s a lot of paper, energy, and money expended for something that will be thrown away in a month or two. Go for an email newsletter, or hand out pictures to close relatives at family celebrations.
Condense multiple shopping trips into one day or carpool to family celebrations. This one also might be unpopular (or simply not possible), but it’s a great way to cut down on sometimes extensive traveling and driving around before and during the busy season.
One of the greatest areas of waste is in gift-wrapping, and there are so many ways wrapping can be done in a more sustainable manner. So many that we decided it needed its own section in this blog post! We can reduce this toll on the environment with a watchful consumer eye, finding fun alternatives, and even have some crafty fun with friends or little ones in the process.
When shopping for gift wrapping or cards, look for items that are made from recycled paper. More specifically, look for those that read, “100 percent recycled materials,” or as high a percentage of “post-consumer recycled materials” as you can find. While these wrappings tend to be more expensive, they are significantly thicker and sturdier, making them a wise choice for those who need to transport gifts to another location. You can also save wrapping paper use in the first place by wrapping smaller items together.
Avoid wrapping and cards that are glossy, have foil, or are shimmery or shiny. Though very beautiful, these materials are not recyclable and need to be removed from the paper before recycling could occur.
Reuse bags and tissue paper. Our family has gotten in the habit of saving any gift bags and tissue paper we get in our wrapping paper box, and then using them when we do the gift giving. It has the double benefit of extending the life of wrapping materials while also saving us money (we rarely have to buy bags or tissue paper).
Purchase a market bag, tote bag, or basket as part of your gift and use it functionally in wrapping. I have done this in the past by gifting items in reusable canvas bags, carved gift boxes, and similar non-disposable wrappings. It’s sustainable and classy. If you’re feeling crafty, purchase cotton canvas totes in bulk and roll up your sleeves with the project ideas found here.
Use an old map for the traveler in your life, or the comics for kids or your family clown.
If you’re crafty, embroider a pillowcase and place your gifts inside. This year, my son was gifted a new set of character sheets and pillowcase, hand embroidered with his favorite character and was in awe.
Use fabric ribbon or twine instead of plastic bows, or even fold your own paper bows from wrapping scraps, magazines, or old children’s art.
Break out the markers and recycled paper (grocery bags) and make simple patterns for something fun like this – Bow included!
Utilize one of my favorite ideas that only got better once I had children of my own: Recycled paper and potato stamps (see below for our project). If you have little ones, never underestimate the joy of grandparents who get a hand-painted/decorated item from their grandchildren.
Maybe you’ve forgotten your totes, but have a ton of extra brown paper bags from trips to the grocery store. (You can also purchase the paper in bulk here) This project is both sustainable and fun!
What else you’ll need:
- Cookie cutters (Optional)
- Water based paints (to be used sparingly to ensure the paper remains recyclable)
1.Halve or cut potato into 1-inch thick slabs
2. Use cookie cutters or free-hand cut your desired shapes
3. Prep shallow dishes or plates with paint for dipping or use a paint brush to ensure you’re not over-utilizing paint.
4. Stamp away! To ensure the paper remains recyclable, use minimal paint and decorate further with markers as too much paint can disturb the paper fiber structure beyond the point of being able to be recycled. (Note: If stamps aren’t your thing, set marker to paper.)
5. Let the paper dry, then wrap those gifts and tie with some twine or a bow made with leftover paper and use the markers to create a little “gift tag” or accentuate your stamping (these tree trunks are marker based)
6. The last thing to do is watch those faces light up when they receive a personally decorated present!
While making these changes may seem daunting, keep this in mind:
If just three gifts from every American household were wrapped in re-used materials, we would save enough paper to cover 45 thousand football fields.
Simple acts can have a huge impact on the Earth for ourselves and for future generations. As always, we’d love to hear your suggestions and traditions for a sustainable holiday. May this holiday season be filled with joy and peace for you and yours!