The holidays come with some sustainability challenges. Stanford University reports that, Americans throw away about 25% more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Consider all the single-use wrapping paper, the shipping and packaging, the food, the trips back and forth to the store…
…it can really add up. Since I work in sustainability and waste, I can’t help but get nervous about the impending mountain of waste at the other end of the season. Despite that, I love the holidays and I love giving gifts (and receiving gifts, if any of my loved ones are reading…).
My goal this year is to go into the holiday season with a plan to reduce waste, to get creative with gift ideas and packaging, so I can enjoy this time of year without feeling too much guilt. If this has been on your mind as well, here are some ideas to get you started:
Give experiences rather than things. Take a friend to a new restaurant, cook them a nice meal, gift tickets to a concert or movie, or make plans for a ski date (maybe with an après after). Donate to an organization or non-profit in a friend’s name.
Get creative with wrapping and packaging. Wrapping paper is often only used once and then thrown away. Use newspaper instead, which can be recycled after. Save boxes from online purchases and reuse to package gifts. Better yet, wrap gifts in something reusable, like a tote bag or a cloth sack for bulk goods. That’s like an extra bonus gift!
If you’re sending gifts to long-distance friends and family, order from businesses local to where the gift is going. This will not only support small businesses in other communities, but reduce transportation emissions as well. Gift baskets from a local cheese or wine shop make great gifts!
Donate before throwing away. There are Thrifty and USAgain textile donation bins at the community drop sites throughout the county and at the landfill in Wolcott, where you can donate usable clothes and shoes. Organize a clothing swap with friends for a wardrobe refresh. Utilize the drop & swap area at the landfill, where you can leave usable items like skis, grills, and furniture for reuse. The Town of Vail also has a ski drop area at the community drop site. Download the Eagle County Waste Wizard app to discover more donation opportunities in our community.
Think beyond gifting to reduce waste. Food waste in landfills is a major contributor to methane emissions; methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Instead of throwing extra food away, think strategically to reduce food waste from your holiday feasts. Be realistic about how much food you need. Plan ahead by encouraging guests to bring Tupperware to share leftovers. The less glamorous extra parts of holiday meals (think turkey carcasses) can be used for delicious stocks and broths. Some foods like soups, cookies, and breads can be frozen and enjoyed later. I have also been told there is a limit to how many holidays leftovers one can eat (based on how many leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches I ate this year, this is news to me). If you are someone who does get sick of the same leftovers, get creative! Try repurposing before tossing. The internet is full of great recipe ideas to spark inspiration for holiday leftovers.
If you’re hoping to reduce waste this holiday season, start small. There are lots of ways to lessen your impact while still enjoying everything fun and festive about this time of year. It might actually take some holiday stress off your shoulders!
Nina Waysdorf is a Sustainability Programs Coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. Her favorite part of the holiday season is having potlucks with friends.