The holiday season is filled with joy, but it can also be filled with a whole lot of waste. According to the EPA, American household waste jumps 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Make this year’s a no-waste holiday, with the following top ten tips shared by members of our We Hate To Waste community. They will not only help you cut down on the waste, they’ll save you some money, and importantly, time that can be spent with loved ones — the greatest gift of all!
1. Make Room for the New Stuff
Sell your unwanted stuff via Craig’s List or event Harvard’s new Tradr app. Or simply feel good and do good by donating it to your local Goodwill or thrift shop. As Ann Stone so poignantly tells us, the items you donate could be a true gift to the people who receive them.
2. Think Global. Celebrate Local.
Instead of heading out of town this holiday season, save some money and cut down on your carbon footprint by staying close to home. Visit local landmarks, try out some new restaurants in your town, or invite friends and neighbors in for old-fashioned cheer and fellowship. While you’re at it, try to buy local too. Ask your local butcher for the turkey or ham, and get seasonal vegetables from the local farmer’s market.
3. Decorate a ‘Greener’ Tree
Approximately 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. and another 6 million in the UK. Consider a living (potted) tree that can be planted in the backyard when the holidays are over, even asking your local nursery to rent you one. Or, simply decorate a live tree that is already in your yard or porch.
If you do opt for a cut tree, recycle it into mulch, a birdfeeder or even a soil erosion barrier with these tips from the National Christmas Tree Association.
When trimming your tree, make decorations that you or the birds can eat, like strings of cranberry and popcorn. Use LED lights to save energy (they’ll last up to 10 times longer and use 80% less energy), and of course, plug your holiday lights into a power strip so it will be easy to turn them off when not in use.
4. Give Gifts that Help Cut Down on Waste All Year Long
On-the-Go Gifts that Cut Down on Single Use Disposables
Give everyone on your list a set of People Towels, handy personal towels that can save an estimated 3000 paper towels per year. You can even order our very own branded WeHateToWaste designs, (pictured left) straight from the People Towel ladies in Monterey, California.
Stuff the stockings with Erin’s favorite Starbucks Reusable Coffee Mug with Detachable Handle, stainless steel lunch boxes, ChicoBags, and KleenKanteen water bottles.
Gifts that Cut Down on Food Waste
Not everyone has an urban terrace like Marja to compost the scraps on. To compost indoors, repurpose a yogurt container, or check out Maggie’s favorite, the Sure-Close kitchen container. Help family and friends use up all of their leftovers by giving a copy of Suzy Bowler’s The Leftovers Handbook. With 34 recipes for using leftover bacon, who can resist?
Give No-Waste Experiences
Sometimes the greatest gift doesn’t come in a box. It’s a yearlong membership to a museum or gym, theater tickets, movie passes, dinner at a local restaurant, massage — even an e-book. Classes count too! Give the gift of a class on cooking, rock climbing, spinning or crafts. Help friends and family discover the wealth of classes now available online at sites like Udemy.com and Lynda.com.
5. Upcycle a Gift
As Kate Gloede reminds us, ordinary materials and objects can be creatively repurposed into a litany of extraordinary gifts. The list of possibilities is endless: upcycled spoon rings, coasters made out of CDs, and old records and cassettes transformed into end tables, chairs, placemats, lamps, clock faces, disco balls and more. Got one of those shorter iPhone cases still hanging around? Consider turning it into ornaments for the tree and other household items.
6. Shop in Your Attic for Zero-Waste Gifts
Change the way you think of a ‘new’ gift from an item you buy to something that can be simply new to you or a loved one. Give a gift of history this year. Pass on a piece of jewelry, like the one Fredrica adores, or a family heirloom that will be cherished by someone else. Search through your attic to find vintage treasures such as beaded sweaters and antique furniture. As Jacquie has told us year, good vintage finds are likely to last for a long long time.
7. Change What You Think of as a Gift
The Center for the New American Dream suggests we think outside the gift box and consider giving and getting alternative gifts. To help your friends and loved ones discover the kind of things that are most meaningful to you, consider hosting an Alternative Gift Fair in your town, and display your wishes on an alternative gift registry using a resource such as SoKindGiftRegistry.org. Consider the possibilities: who couldn’t use gifts of time, a little help mending clothes, charitable donations, some pretty potted flowers and more these days?
8. Use No-Waste Gift Packaging
Alternative gift-wrappings let you express your personal creativity while cutting down on waste. Try cloth wrappings inspired by the Japanese Furoshiki tradition— a beautiful and sustainable alternative to wrapping paper.
Have fun using recycled newspaper, matching the newspaper articles and pictures to the recipient’s interests like Kate suggests in the comment on this post from Mike Graham.
Patronize retailers that make it easy to cut down on packaging. Lush Cosmetics sells many colorful ‘naked products,’ keeps packaging down to a minimum, and will wrap gifts in their distinctive ‘knot’ wraps.
9. Throw a No-Waste Holiday Party
Turn up the cheer and cut down on the waste out of holiday parties by planning your meal before you shop, Use dinnerware and place cards that will compost along with the food scraps in your own backyard like that from our friends at Verterra; have guests bring dishes potluck style and send them home with leftovers.
10. Throw a Re-Gift Party After the Holidays
Once the holiday craze slows down, invite your friends over for a re-gift party — to make sure some of the gifts you and your guests receive will end up in appreciative hands. Who knows, you might find something really useful yourself. Check out this post describing our very own regift party for ideas.
What ideas do you have for going zero waste this holiday season? Share them below. Happy No-Waste Holidays to All!
This post originally submitted by Kate Good in 2013. It has been lovingly updated by the WeHateToWaste crew with some of our favorite new ideas submitted during 2015.
This is a great list!! Thank-you so much.
I just came across this little pearl and thought I would share… Eden’s Paper “Plantable Christmas wrapping paper is embedded with seeds” http://www.springwise.com/plantable-christmas-wrapping-paper-embedded-seeds/
What a cool idea, I love the idea of giving wrapping paper that is a gift in itself. I am a huge fan of growing my own vegetables, in all honesty I would be delighted to just receive that wrapping paper as a gift!
During one of the biggest times for consumer spending, I find that “green” often goes out the window. With so much emphasis put on buying gifts and getting good deals, it can be difficult to sit back and think about all the subsequent waste. I try my best to give the gift of time spent together (whether that is show tickets or a calendar of dinner dates, etc.), but there are other aspects of the holidays that I often overlook. The Christmas tree is definitely one of those. I love your idea for a potted plant. Every year my family slowly, very slowly takes down the Christmas tree. None of us want to see it go, especially knowing that its short life is over. A potted plant is a fantastic way to combat this and enhance the backyard’s foliage.
As for your second point regarding staying close to home, I also think that this is incredibly meaningful advice. It is relaxing to limit travel time, especially when this opens the opportunity to share the holidays with neighbors and local friends. I recently learnt about the Audubon Society’s annual bird count. The bird count runs over a few weeks between mid-December and early January, just in time for the holidays. Anyone can go out in their community to look for specific birds and contribute to this large pool of data. I thought this was a great idea to get out in your local area for family/friend time, even on Christmas. Now, I’m not a birder and I don’t know many people that are. Counting birds may not appeal to everyone, but this idea started to turn my wheels toward other outside holiday traditions. I know a group of people who play a big game of neighborhood flag football on Christmas and a family that goes for a hike in their local area. To me the holidays are all about spending time with friends and family and these can all be great ways to do so in a way that limits unnecessary waste.
One of the tips that resonated strongly with me is Tip #2. This winter break, I went on a service trip to Ghana in which I had to raise over $2,000. Part of the money that I raised was to buy supplies for the service project that we were doing, which was to build a rainwater harvester for a family in a local village, but a majority of it was for the airfare.When it comes to service trips, I always ask myself, does the transportation cost outweigh the experience? Is this an inefficient system and use of the funds? What if the funds were used instead to pay people in the communities in which we were working to build their own tanks, thus creating jobs and raising more funds? Shouldn’t I just help locally instead of increasing my carbon footprint?
After much thought and reflection, I came to realize that while the transportation cost is expensive and could be considered an inefficient use of money, the experience gained through this trip was priceless. For me, at least, it was an eye opening experience that changed the way I view sustainable development and made me re-evaluate my way of life. In addition, I realize that maybe sending the money would have been more effective, but people probably wouldn’t have been as committed to fundraising and as attached to the cause if they weren’t going to see it for themselves. The point of these trips is to inspire people so that they can come back to start projects of their own to better this world. This isn’t to say that this mentality should be extended to all types of trips; perhaps service trips deserve a category of their own.
I LOVE this list! I agree with what Michelle Vogt said about #2. I sometimes think, being from a small town, that there is nothing to do nearby, but this past December when we were all home for the holidays, my friends and I attended tons of local events, volunteered at the nursing home and had a blast getting involved in our community!
For #3, I feel that rather than cutting down a tree, if you want to have a tree up in your home, you can always buy a fake tree. That’s what my family does, and we have been using the same tree for over 12 years now. I also like #6! Saving money is always great, but I think passing on valuable items to others can be a very personal and sentimental gesture.
Anyways, thank you for sharing this! I will keep this all in mind for this upcoming holiday season.
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I’m grateful for this list, because it allows for creative ways to celebrate as opposed to being totally anti-gift (which I sometimes classify myself as). I know from firsthand experience that re-gift parties are a blast. And the idea of changing our mindset about gifts in general is great, because the emphasis on buying stuff is ever present (sorry, it’s a pun) year-round. It’s true that anything made by hand, whether a craft, a work of art, or a batch of cookies is always an excellent way to gift without waste.
While driving 1200 miles to Florida and back this holiday season to be with family is far from staying local, the only gift we’re bringing along is our 2-year old son, so that he can spend quality time with his grandparents. Of course, the pile of presents he will receive under the tree is inevitable. It’s difficult to say ‘no gifts, please’ as the holidays roll around when the socially acceptable thing is for the adults to load kids with presents. This year, I asked everyone to please at least refrain from buying him clothes, because we are already overloaded with hand-me-downs from friends. And it’s a waste because they’re outgrown so quickly.
Maybe our holiday carbon footprint will be slightly offset by the fact we decorated a ‘greener’ outdoor Christmas tree this year and the fact that my parents and my husband and I never exchange any gifts. Except for things that my mom finds at the dump as she’s a bit of a diver!
I found this list to be extremely resourceful and a great solutions to so many of the waste complications we face during the holiday season. Now that the holidays have passed I am reflecting on the different ways my family and friends either contributed to this problem or used similar ideas to those on the list to help avoid some of these waste issues.
My family tends to be on the larger side around the holiday season when everyone gets together to celebrate. It usually turns out to be a combination of 5 smaller families each with at least two kids. When all the children, including myself, were younger nearly every member of every family exchanged gifts. Looking back, I cannot imagine how much waste in wrapping alone we produced! As we have gotten older, my family has gotten a bit better at this. Instead of exchanging gifts with everyone, we do a ‘Yankee swap’ or ‘white elephant gift exchange’ where each member of the family shows up with a gift suitable for everyone. This year, we put a new twist on our gift swap: each gift had to be something that did not need to be bought. This is similar to tip #10. Everyone brought gifts that were ‘gently used’ and had to wrap them or conceal them using anything but wrapping paper. This not only cut down on waste and consumption, but resulted in quite the interestingly hilarious gift exchange! I highly recommend this to anyone with a large group of friends and family to celebrate with.
Thanks for sharing this list, I’ll be sure to keep these ideas in mind for future celebrations!
Love these advices! I have always wanted to have a living Christmas tree at my backyard. This year I will definitely buy one and I will decorate it every single year!
What a fantastic list. Now more then ever we need to be looking after the planet, doing our part in contributing to the circular economy. Just a small thing – like decorating an outside Christmas tree, rather then cutting it down and bringing it inside can make such a difference.
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Incredible ideas and tips to make Christmas even more magical and practical as well. Loved the idea about the green tree, i have two in my backyard, and every year me and my husband are decorating them with some yellow and red lights. When the sun goes down, you have the amazing feeling of being at home with your loved ones.