With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Remember the environment and those in need this season by taking a moment to give back. Even small acts can make a big difference. Here are five waste-free ways to give back this season.
1. Clear Your Cupboard To Feed the Hungry
Canned and dried foods that have been sitting in your pantry for months aren’t technically “food waste” — yet. After all, they’re still perfectly edible and have yet to be tossed in the trash.
But with the growing demand on food banks across the country, all that nonperishable food could definitely be put to better use than sitting forgotten on the back of a shelf.
Clear out your cupboards, and set aside nonperishable food you won’t realistically use in the near future for donation to your local food bank, food pantry, or soup kitchen. A few minutes of pantry purging will help these organizations feed people in need of nutritious food.
By donating food you aren’t using you can help prevent future food waste — that stuff expires eventually, you know. Did you know that even canned food has an expiration date? Most food banks won’t accept food that is past its expiration date.
2. Donate Toys to Make a Child’s Day
Kids in low-income families often go without during the holidays. Help make sure every child in your community receives a gift this season by donating toys and clothes to charities or thrift stores in your area.
Parents on tight budgets may be doing some of their holiday shopping at secondhand stores, and charities that collect toys will surely be distributing them during the holidays. You’ll prevent unwanted toys from going to waste and just may make a child’s holiday a little more special.
3. Volunteer for Neighborhood Treecycling
An ever-increasing number of communities now offer Christmas tree recycling (often called “treecycling”) programs that transform discarded trees into mulch for playgrounds, parks, and other public spaces.
Many of these programs depend on volunteers. By giving a few hours of your time, you help ensure that your neighbors can recycle their trees rather than send them to the landfill.
Use Earth911’s recycling directory to find your local treecycling program, and check out its website to see if the program needs volunteers. A bit of time spent mulching trees isn’t bad for burning off all those holiday calories either.
4. Fight Litter While Making Merry
Holiday schedules are often packed with parties, community activities, and seasonal shopping. While you’re out and about, make it a point to pick up litter when you see it. Bring a bag with you while shopping or caroling with the kids, or de-litter rest areas when traveling to visit family and friends.
It may seem simple, but the planet and your community will be far better off as a result.
5. Choose Charitable Gifts
If you’re stumped on what to give to a friend or family member this season, think outside the box and choose a non-material gift such as a charitable donation.
Provide clean water to a family in need through The Water Project, or donate livestock and seeds with Heifer International. Kiva now offers Kiva Cards, which are like gift cards that allow recipients to choose from a library of micro-financing projects around the world.
Choose a cause that suits your loved one best for a thoughtful gift that’s entirely waste-free.
Editor’s note: Originally published on December 13, 2013, this article was updated in December 2019.