Spread the Spirit of Sustainability: 5 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of celebration and merriness…and trash. Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) than any other time of year? That means 25 million tons of extra garbage per year (Stanford). 

If everyone did their part to make the holiday season a little more sustainable, we could cut down and reduce waste during the holidays. Think about all the holiday movies: they all preach about how the Christmas spirit lies within us. Those movies might be onto something…if we all believe Santa can be sustainable, then he can, right? 

Reduce Waste During the Holidays

By Cristina Thorson

5 Simple Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays

  1. Change up the Christmas tree tradition

The waste generated by Christmas trees alone is quite large. On average, 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. Then, most Christmas trees go out to the curb once the holidays are over. And where do they go from there? That’s right — the landfill. The decomposition process of Christmas trees produces methane, which adds to a tree’s carbon footprint

But don’t fret — you don’t have to eradicate the Christmas tree tradition to be more sustainable. There are ways to cut down on the extra waste generated by Christmas trees. You can buy local, to avoid the extra transportation carbon footprint (for you and the tree). You could also consider buying artificial—most artificial trees actually offset the carbon footprint if they are used for over 6 to 9 years.

There are also many ways to recycle your Christmas tree. Did you know there are actually more than 4,000 treecycling programs in the U.S.? “Treecycling” is when a Christmas tree is ground up to make materials, like mulch. You could DIY the treecycling process by renting a wood chipper. Other ways to recycle your tree are using it as firewood and composting.

  1. Decorate sustainably

Christmas decorations end up being incredibly wasteful, especially if they have to be replaced or thrown away year after year. Here are some ways to be more sustainable in your holiday decorating:

Use DIY decor

This year, try decking the halls with some natural decorations. Bonus: using materials from outside will save you money and the extra trip to the store. 

  • Make a homemade wreath with leaves and branches. 
  • Collect pine cones for ornaments or centerpieces (you could also make a fun holiday game either collecting pine cones or decorating them). 
  • Use berries, spices, and fruit to make a holiday potpourri (oranges pricked with cloves make a lovely holiday-themed scent). 
  • Create a natural holiday atmosphere with cinnamon sticks and garlands hung around your home.

Try energy-efficient lighting

This one’s simple: go LED for lighting instead of incandescent or halogen. LED lights use 75% less energy, and last longer. They also help you save money (that you could be spending on Christmas gifts)! Another option is to skip lighting altogether, and go for some nice colored (reusable) garlands instead.

  1. Use alternative wrapping methods

You probably saw this one coming. It’s easier to conceptualize, especially if you’ve had to clean up a living room full of wrapping paper in the hours after gleefully opening holiday gifts. You know those bags of wrapping paper you fill up? Well, most households have one or two of their own, which generates extremely high amounts of waste. Around 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced each year in the U.S., and about half of that ends up in landfills. Not to mention the ribbons.

However, there are tons of ways to make presents fun without the extra waste. Use shoeboxes, paper grocery shopping bags or old newspapers. You can decorate your gift by drawing or coloring on the paper to add a personal touch. For more delicate gifts, use tea towels or old t-shirts for extra padding.

choose experience gifts
  1. Be mindful of food consumption

Santa isn’t the only one with a round belly during the holidays. It’s pleasant to gather and pass around plates of food, but most people go overboard with the kitchen prep. Tons of food waste is generated each year from hearty holiday gatherings, but there are ways to avoid it.

Get a headcount

Don’t just go to the store and buy food with the assumption that it will be eaten. Have an adequate amount of food to serve your guests. You could even go so far as to ask if they are planning on eating when they RSVP. 

Give it away

When your guests start to trickle out, give them plates to take. If no one wants any leftovers, consider donating some of your extra food. This is easier when you have canned leftovers—most food drives don’t take already-made dishes. There are tons of food drives around the holiday season, but if there isn’t one in your community, consider starting your own. 

Go to the compost 

Food scraps actually make up around 30% of the waste that’s generated in the U.S. These scraps can be composted into something useful, so consider composting—especially after a big holiday fête and feast. Here are a few things that can be composted: 

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Coffee grounds
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Ashes
  • Tree leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Indoor plant trimmings

Composting enriches soil and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, so it’ll give you double points in sustainability.

  1. Think about your gift

Giving gifts is the ultimate joy of the holiday season. However, some gifts only sit and collect dust. Make sure to take time to reflect on your gift. Think about how it can be more eco-friendly. Most importantly, make sure what you’re giving will actually be used. No one needs extra things, especially if they’re headed to the landfill. 

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An experience gift is a sustainable way to give someone something they’ll love. An experience gift is giving them something like a gift card for a night out, or a contribution to their favorite charity. You could also consider buying secondhand or vintage. That way, you aren’t contributing to the distribution of new waste.

At the end of the day, the holidays are a great time to rest and connect with your loved ones. But what’s better than spreading the holiday spirit? Spreading the holiday spirit and the ideology behind a sustainable Christmas. Happy holidays!

Article and Graphics Courtesy of TurboTenant

Infographic on Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays 

How to Be More Sustainable For the Holidays

Author Bio:

Cristina Thorson is a part-time content writing intern at Siege and a full-time student at Boston University. She enjoys exploring new pockets of cities, culture, and cat websites (as well as alliterative expressions). In her spare time she can be found reading books, commenting on movies, and writing anything from advertising copy to feminist satire.