How to Reduce Waste Over the Holidays

Wrapped holiday gift

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The holidays are here! And with them, festivities, food and fun. You may travel to see friends and family. You may give gifts and send cards. You may cook special recipes and decorate your house — inside and out. There may be parties on your calendar, school events, and of course, religious services. Often, all of this comes with an emphasis on “more” each year. Wondering how to reduce waste over the holidays? Keep reading to learn how!

Reduce waste this holiday season: A how-to guide

Wall-e toy overlooking airport

More than 3 million Americans will fly over the holidays. Image courtesy of Morgan.

Holiday celebrations are a wonderful way to bring people together for good times and memorable events. But they also come with a cost, and not just what comes out of your wallet. For example, amazingly, in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years in the U.S.:

  • Trash accumulates faster: Americans will throw out an extra 25 percent of trash, amounting to about 25 million extra tons. The landfills that take the trash will emit even more methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than CO2.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions rise: This is largely due to the extra travel that occurs at this time of year. According to AAA, 46.9 million Americans drove more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving this year — a 0.6 percent increase over 2014 and the most since 2007. While Christmas 2014 saw more than 98 million folks on the road, we may well top 100 million this year, as gas prices drop and the economy continues to recover. Add in the 3+ million Americans who will fly over the holidays, and the emissions pie just gets bigger.

The point is not to skip celebrating. The point is to understand the impacts those celebrations have, and to choose your way to minimize those impacts. Because there are many things you CAN do to reduce waste over the holidays, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Pick what is easiest for you, and DO it. Feeling guilty doesn’t help — but taking action, however small, really does!

What Can You Do?

So how can you keep the holiday cheer coming while stepping more lightly on the planet? Let us count the ways:

  • Drive instead of fly. Flying is the most GHG-intensive form of travel, so if you can avoid it, do! When you drive, try to pick a less-congested time to travel and keep your speed to the posted speed limits. Cars that just idle in congested traffic burn fuel and create emissions — while going nowhere! Lower speeds are safer for you, save you money on fuel and create fewer emissions.
  • Offset your emissions. If you do fly, choose an airline that prioritizes more-sustainable practices — like Southwest and JetBlue — and offset your emissions if you can.
  • Send e-cards instead of paper ones. Hallmark, American Greetings and a host of smaller players offer the chance to select digital cards. According to Google, around 500 million e-cards are sent each year. You can connect with everyone on your list while avoiding postage, saving some trees and helping to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the U.S. Postal Service delivering approximately 2 billion Christmas cards each year.
Joy e-card

Image courtesy of Christian Soulliere.

  • Think before you gift. Where appropriate, give gifts that aren’t just more “stuff.” Give time. Give an experience, whether it’s a hike through an amazing park with your kids, a romantic dinner with your significant other, or a “boys’ night out” with good friends. Give gift certificates if you’re not sure what someone wants, to avoid the costs of them returning your gift. Donate to a favorite charity in someone’s name. Whether you donate to a medical cause like curing heart disease or an organization like Heifer that provides people in poor countries with animals and training to help raise incomes, pick a cause that resonates with your giftee, and donate in their name.
  • Decorate with LED lights and put them on timers. By now you know that LEDs use about one-tenth of the electricity as old-fashioned (and hot!) incandescent lights. Lighting manufacturers today have decorative LED lights in every color, size and length of strand. And remember to put them on timers that turn them off when you go to bed.  
  • Reuse paper and packages. As a kid, I loved seeing the array of beautifully wrapped presents under the tree. I also remember helping clean up, and stuffing all that paper and packaging into garbage bags without a second thought. Today, I know that UPS alone expects to deliver 630 million packages between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve in 2015, an increase of more than 10 percent over last year. And the impact of wrapping, ribboning and tagging all that is staggering. These days, I buy simple holiday boxes from a place like Michaels, and reuse them each year. They are pretty, seasonal, come in a variety of sizes, and still keep the gift a surprise until the big day. You can wrap gifts in the comics, reuse gift bags, or even hide gifts around the house, giving clues to the recipient as to where to find it. Whatever works for you, do it!
  • Reduce food waste. Great food — and lots of it — is an intrinsic part of the holidays for most people. But in the U.S., it’s estimated we waste 40 percent of food grown between the farm and the consumer’s table. And holiday foods are especially prone to wastage because we make too much (just in case) and create those once-a-year recipes with unusual ingredients that never get used up. So send food home with guests or get creative with your leftovers. And, of course, look for local, fresh and fair trade foods when possible.
  • Make a green resolution for 2016. Changing habits takes time. So pick one thing to do in 2016 to make your life or business greener. It may be learning to compost food scraps. It may be ramping up your recycling efforts. It may be buying your first hybrid-electric car. Whatever it is, set your intention here in 2015 so you’re off and running in 2016!

Happy holidays! May you maximize your cheer and minimize your waste!

Feature image courtesy of storebukkebruse

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Alison Lueders

Alison Lueders is the Founder and Principal of Great Green Content - a green business certified by both Green America and the Green Business Bureau. She offers copywriting and content marketing services to businesses that are “going green.”Convinced that business can play a powerful and positive role in building a greener, more sustainable economy, she launched Great Green Content in 2011.