Steps You Can Take to Reduce Holiday Waste This Year

During the holiday season, we give a lot of gifts, prepare a lot of food, and fill our homes with a lot of decorations. Unfortunately, that leaves the opportunity for plenty of trash to be left behind. Not to worry, though. You can enjoy this time of year and all its pastimes without generating too much waste. Here are some pointers.

Choose Gift Wrapping Wisely

Woman wrapping gifts in fabric, alternative to wrapping paper

Have you ever had to get a big bag to collect all the wrapping paper after everyone has opened their presents? You certainly aren’t alone, but you could choose alternative wrapping options that can be recycled or reused instead. Those include cloth, do-it-yourself wrapping paper with designs on paper bags, newspaper, comics, or pages from magazines. You can also forgo the wrapping altogether and put gifts in reusable shopping bags, cookie tins, baskets, or even in a winter hat or gloves.

If you’re looking to top the gift with a little flair, reusable cloth ribbons are also a good alternative to plastic bows.

Choose More Environmentally-Friendly Gifts

If you’re still looking for what you’ll be putting in that gift wrap, there are some choices that will lead to less waste later on. One option is gifting an experience, like tickets for a flight, to a game, a show, or an exhibit. You could also cover the cost of something ongoing, like a membership or subscription.

Man giving woman airline tickets, gifting an experience, not things

If you’re set on a tangible item, though, you could go a few different ways. There are homemade baked goods, plants, or important family heirlooms you think relatives would enjoy. There’s also regifting, if you have a new or nearly new item someone would love. Gifts made from recycled materials are a good bet, as well.

Finally, how about a gift that helps your loved one reduce waste? That could be a reusable water bottle, a coffee tumbler, or a few reusable bags designed with something your loved one enjoys.

Minimize Food-Related Waste

Family coming together to eat big holiday meal

When a big crowd is expected, the shopping list expands and you end up coming home with lots of food. Sometimes that might be more than you actually needed. You may also find that you’ve purchased an ingredient you already had. Sometimes, a particular side dish doesn’t get much love, either. This can all lead to plenty of holiday food waste, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the main things you can do to avoid having too much food left over is to be clear on your meal plan, create a dedicated shopping list from which you do not stray, and be sure to check your pantry before heading out. If the menu is flexible from year to year, you can also build the big meal based on what you already have in the house.

When you get out of the house to do that grocery shopping, hitting up the bulk bins may be more helpful than buying ingredients that are already packaged because you only buy what you need. It should also help cut back on plastic packaging. Don’t purchase disposable cutlery, plates, or cups, either. They’ll just end up in the landfill.

Man preparing holiday dinner with lots of ingredients

If you want to cut back on the number of dishes you’ll have to clean, you can serve more finger foods or have people bring their own bowl. You could also have people bring their own reusable containers to avoid food waste, by having them take leftovers home. That’ll lower the risk of anything going bad, as does meal planning with the leftovers that you keep. Making plans to freeze extra food helps, as well. If anything does end up going bad, though, compost it, and you can donate any unopened, unused ingredients.

Dispose of Decorations Responsibly

Once the holidays wrap, you’ll need to start taking all the decorations down. If that decor includes a real tree, be sure to recycle it so it can be used as mulch. There are alternatives to this, though. Trees submerged in water can provide habitat for fish, and they can feed fish later, as algae begins to form. Reach out to your local government’s wildlife agencies to see if you could leave your tree in a lake or pond for that purpose.

You can also take the branches off the tree and place it in your backyard to serve as an animal habitat while it decomposes. Placing the branches and the trunk in your garden in the spring will allow flowers to grow around them throughout this process.

Festive Christmas tree filled with ornaments

Another item that can sometimes be recycled is used string lights. Check with your local government to see if that’s an option for you. Bear in mind that you should not put them in your recycling bin, however.

Be Sure to Reuse Items, Especially Those That Can’t Be Recycled

There are plenty of holiday-related items that can’t be recycled, but that doesn’t mean you need to immediately throw them away. Be careful when you unwrap a gift with regular wrapping paper, and you can use it again next year. You can also save ribbons and bows for reuse. As for gift tags, they can be fashioned from the prior year’s Christmas cards. Any packing material, like Styrofoam peanuts, can possibly be given to local mailing centers, too. Reach out to see if any in your area could use them.

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