5 Things to Consider for a More Sustainable Holiday Season

It’s probably not hard to imagine that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans produce 25% more waste than they do all year. Over the holidays, roughly 4 million pounds of waste is created. There is enough wrapping paper discarded to cover 5,000 football fields and enough ribbon to reach around the planet at least once. In fact, the earth’s circumference is 24,901 miles, while the estimated ribbon waste is roughly 38,000 miles worth. This holiday season, I urge you to rethink your actions. Here are some tips to bring the holidays back to what they are all about and reduce your footprint in the meantime.

Paper Bag Wrapping

Gift Wrapping: One of the problems with wrapping paper is that the dye makes it difficult to recycle. It needs to be stripped down and separated and that leaves very little to recycle. The process is almost not worth it’s trouble. Secondly, many wrapping papers are made of plastic with glitter or foil which makes the recycling process even more difficult and nearly impossible.

Tradition is great, so by all means, you should not have to forgo the tradition of opening presents on Christmas morning, but there are some pretty great alternatives out there. For example, I like to save my paper grocery bags throughout the year. These can be put to good use and still look cute with the right fixings. Faux cedar and pine cones, dried fruit, rosemary, fabric ribbon and some rubber stamps are not only a great way to spruce up a drab paper bag, but they are fun to craft with and the whole family can enjoy it. I was planning to recycle the bags anyway, so why not give them another life first? Collect the fixings after to repurpose or save for next year. If you’re not really into wrapping anyways and you’d like to save some time while keeping the landfills free and clear, check out these amazing options I’ve found on Amazon here and here (hint: they’re not just for the holidays either).

Cards: It’s estimated that 1.3 billion holiday cards are sent annually in the U.S. alone. Again, many of these cards contain decals of glitter, gems, and foil that is no recyclable. If you’re looking to save a tree or two, opt to forgo the cards or make your own with recycled paper. I personally love organic seed paper that can be planted directly into the ground after it’s received. I use it for all of my client gifts. This year, I ordered our holiday card ornaments through Minted, like this one. You can add your family photo and it makes a lovely, thoughtful gift, and card that won’t get tossed. It will be hung on the tree for years to come. They also have a recycled paper option!

Trees: Believe it or not, real trees are a little more eco-friendly, unless you keep your fake tree for 20 or so years. The best thing to do is skip the tree all together, but where is the holiday cheer in that? If you already own a faux tree, just put it to good use! If you don’t own a tree and aren’t really feeling faux or real, make your own creation with paper or cardboard, do a fancy painting on a canvas, or buy one like this recycled cardboard tree. There are also several other modern and artistic tree alternatives like OneTwoTree and their unique take on wooden Christmas trees.

We are fake tree owners. It’s all about what you do with it when you’re done. It’s glass, it’s plastic, it’s metal. It’s not exactly made up of anything you can easily recycle or put back to the earth. The best thing to do when you are done with your tree, if you decide to upgrade, is donate it. You can donate it to a shelter, a church, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Local Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, library, school, or nursing home. Someone who can’t afford a tree will be happy to own your used one. Or a place who is welcoming others during the holiday season won’t hesitate to make there building a little merrier and brighter with your pre-owned tree. They won’t care if it’s not a fancy pre-lit with 5 different lighting options, I swear.

So you’re more of a real tree family? Well, there are many options. First of all, you can buy a potted tree to ensure it lives it’s best life before and after it enters your home for the holidays. You can purchase one to plant somewhere specific after the holidays or you can simply Adopt a Christmas tree. If that’s really not a suitable option for you, there are places that will take your tree and turn it into mulch. Here is a link of how and where to dispose of your tree in Michigan.

Food: Optimize your leftovers by first planning accordingly. Instead of the potluck mentality we are all used to, it’s much less wasteful if one person is designated to make your top 3-4 dishes or you can have volunteers make these dishes only and the other guests can be supportive by giving them money, bringing tupperware for everyone to take home leftovers, or offering to do the dishes.

Another way to plan for less leftover is to get a firm guest count in advance. This will help with portion control. Portions should roughly go as follows: Proteins 4-8 oz (1/2 cup to 1 cup) per person, Starches 4-8 oz per person, Vegetables 4-6 oz per person. If you have heavy or light eaters, here is an awesome tool to help you out! Just remember, it’s better to run out or come close to it than have a ton of leftovers that may not be eaten. Plus, they can always fill up on dessert! We know the holidays mean lots of treats to be shared. No one is going to go hungry.

Make sure you have plenty of tupperware so your friends and family can take the leftovers home to enjoy and no single person is left with it all to certainly be thrown out. For the remains during the cooking process, save your vegetable peelings and bones for broths or animal feed. You could skip the meat all together. By avoiding meat just one day of the week or just one holiday, you are making a huge impact on the environment, but that’s for a different blog post another time.

For dinner service, be mindful by using your real dishes - plates, bowls, glassware, and utensils. Encourage your guests to take smaller portions by providing smaller plates as opposed to the large dinner plates.

Lastly, be mindful with your menu. You don’t have to go all out on trying new things that involve ingredients you’ll never use again.

Gift Option

Traditions: While traditions are fun and heartwarming, not all of them are up to date, perhaps you can reconsider some in your family. For example, if your daughter has been a vegan for 3 years and you’re still making your famous sugar cookies with a whole stick of butter and two eggs, maybe it’s time to consider changing the recipe. Other family traditions may include a series of small, cheaply made toys leading up to the holidays (ie: Hanukkah and Advent Calendars) . Instead of buying the cheap plastic toys that will likely be thrown away within the next month, consider other options like chocolates that will surely be eaten, a pair of socks, gloves, or a hat, something that can be used again and again and not head straight to the landfill after a short lived life.

The best thing we can do to lead a more eco-friendly life is to be more conscious of our actions and think before we buy. We need to get back the basics of the holidays and stop this culture of spend, spend, spend. This holiday season, consider your impact and spread awareness. Maybe this year we can reduce our waste to 3.5 million pounds. Every little bit counts!