From budgets to waistlines, the holidays are the time for letting things go. But just because we’re wrapping gifts, illuminating trees, and basking in merriment and cheer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least be aware of how much electricity, food, packaging, and all-around stuff we’re consuming. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the amount of household garbage nationwide increases from four to five million tons. But before you bah-humbug the holidays, positive change is possible with simple solutions and a little planning. So, celebrate sustainably — and save the humbugs for another day.
Why reducing holiday waste matters
From packaging to decorations to food scraps, landfills are besieged with holiday-related waste at the end of every year. And the decomposition of organic waste — all those food scraps and wasted leftovers — produces the greenhouse gas methane. Additionally, the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of holiday-related products consumes energy while depleting natural resources.
By adopting sustainable practices you’re simply embracing the holiday theme of good will to all — including future generations. As we outlined earlier this season, being mindful when decorating trees and wrapping your gifts are just two of the ways you can help. So, let’s consider some additional sustainable living tips for the weeks ahead.
Upcycle or repurpose
Regifting may seem like an indelicate, whispered-about tradition, but it’s also eco-friendly. Why not encourage a culture of upcycling by finding creative ways to repurpose gifts and holiday-related items? Bring regifting out of the shadows and host a gift exchange where participants can trade or repurpose unwanted gifts. It’s a fun way to get family or friends together while also swapping out a present you don’t want for one you actually do.
New to them doesn’t need to mean new to the planet. In fact, recent studies suggest many Americans would happily accept pre-loved gifts. So, go ahead and opt for second-hand or vintage gifts you think might be loved all over again. Is there a half-forgotten item lurking in your own closet — or an unused item lying around your house — that might suit someone else? You can also drop by local vintage shops before deciding on what to give that someone special in your life.
Think outside the (gift) box
In the true spirit of Christmas, consider making a donation to a charitable organization in lieu of traditional gifts. Better yet, choose one that resonates with a loved one you haven’t figured out what to buy for.
Don’t give any thing at all
Puzzled over what object, device, or garment to give someone? Why not consider prioritizing an experience over a possession? This approach minimizes gift waste, since, let’s face it, a lot of presents never get used or are thrown out. Examples could be hard-to-snag concert tickets, a voucher for a weekend adventure or even a class they’ve always wanted to take.
Volunteer to help those in need
If you truly wish to embrace the spirit of the season, why not donate your time to charitable organizations by volunteering to help others who are less fortunate and may be struggling this season? Ultimately, is there anything more valuable? Better yet, consider ways to involve family members and friends in community service. You may be surprised at how satisfying they’ll find the experience.
Embrace green travel and virtual transportation
Whether it’s a long-awaited reunion or a destination we’re dreading, we all have places to go and people to see this holiday season. So, if you’re planning to drive somewhere, why not offer to pick up your fellow attendees along the way? Carpooling is an effective way to reduce your environmental impact and catch up with others before the festivities begin. And thanks to technology, “dropping in quickly” no longer means having to be there physically. Instead, connect with loved ones — and those not-so-loved — virtually. What better way to reduce your energy consumption and your social anxiety?
Prepare eco-conscious meals
Who doesn’t love a hearty meal around the holidays? You’re bound to be enjoying a dinner party or two, so use them as a chance to practice eco-friendly cooking. Luckily, we have a whole guide on ways to cook more sustainably during winter. But to sum it up: aim to reduce food waste by preparing just what you need and composting scraps. You can also shop locally or purchase organic produce. When planning a holiday-themed dinner party, incorporate sustainably by using reusable plates and cutlery and encouraging attendees to bring containers for any leftovers.
Adopt a minimalist approach
You can also adopt minimalism. Instead of exchanging numerous gifts, opt for a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange, reducing the overall number of presents and encouraging thoughtful, meaningful giving. Embrace a minimalist mindset by focusing on the quality of experiences over the quantity of material possessions. Simplify your celebrations to reduce waste and your environmental impact.
Make recycling easy
Make it simple for guests to participate in your eco-friendly efforts. Set up clearly labeled recycling and composting stations during gatherings to encourage proper waste disposal. And when you are cleaning up after festivities, choose products that create less waste as well expose your household to fewer chemicals. SaltyLama’s laundry detergent sheets come in biodegradable and compostable packaging. Think of all the loads of laundry done every year — and the plastic jugs that, once emptied, end up in landfills and in oceans. Best of all, the plant-based formula is hypoallergenic and just as effective as getting out tough dirt as traditional detergent.
Any effort to minimize holiday waste is a gift to the planet. Celebrating the holidays sustainably doesn't mean sacrificing the joy and warmth of the season. By making mindful choices in everything from how we decorate to the gifts we give, we can enjoy the festive season while minimizing our impact on the planet. Cheers to a green holiday celebration and a brighter, greener future!