According to Washington University in St. Louis, “Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season than any other time of year. This extra garbage amounts to 25 million tons of trash.” Here are a few everyday ideas for reducing waste.
1. Use reusable bags when shopping.
Before you hit the mall or begin shopping for your holiday groceries, remember to bring along a reusable bag or three. Plastic bags are petroleum-based products and—let's face it—few of us use them more than once, and many end up in our oceans. Make bringing a bag a habit.
2. Send Christmas cards judiciously.
According to Washington University, the “2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 [stories] high.” Of course, your grandmother will be delighted to receive a handwritten note—and so may plenty of your friends—so feel free to mail away! But be honest with yourself: If there’s anybody on your list who is probably going to toss your thoughtful note into the trash five minutes later, just send them a digital greeting.
3. Buy light strands that are wired in parallel.
Few things are more annoying than watching the whole strand of Christmas lights go dark just because of one cruddy bulb. According to the EPA, strands that are wired in parallel will still work if a bulb bursts, “so you won’t be throwing away ‘bad’ strands.” And if you’re the type of person who worries constantly about whether you turned the lights off, put your displays on a timer: It saves energy, money, and worry.
4. Skip the Secret Santa if you don’t know the people well.
We don’t want to sound like Scrooges here. A gift exchange with your colleagues or acquaintances can be a delightful way to get to know people better. But let’s be real: If you don’t already know the people well, chances are you’ll give—and receive—something that will be thrown away within days. It’s OK to just say no.
5. Quit guessing (and stop other people from guessing about you).
Here’s a tip: If you need a second or third opinion on a gift—"Do you think so-and-so would like this?"—don’t buy it. We all love planning a thoughtful surprise, but few things are as wasteful as buying somebody something they don’t want or need. Be forward and ask people what they’d like. And give helpful suggestions when people are shopping for you.
6. Buy experiences instead of things.
Tickets to a concert or game, dance lessons, a reservation at a hotel, and other experiential gifts don’t require wrapping or packing peanuts. Besides, many people insist that they find experiences more meaningful than physical objects (and there are even some scientific studies that back that observation up).
7. Stop wrapping gifts.
Hide them instead! If you have small children, one of the most fun (or evil) things you can do is create a scavenger hunt. (This also works on adults who have refused to grow up.) Searching for gifts in mundane-yet-unexpected places like a pillowcase, a cookie tin, or in the pocket of a coat buried deep in the attic closet can be more surprising and fun than unwrapping them.
8. If you choose to wrap, use recyclable wrapping paper.
Every year, millions of pounds of wrapping paper end up in the trash. “Some wrapping paper is recyclable—but it has to be not metallic, textured, or have glitter or ribbon on it,” Tim Donnelly writes in a great guide at Lifehacker. If you do buy recyclable paper, make sure to use it correctly and remove all the tape before recycling it. In fact, why not just skip the tape entirely and bundle the present the old-fashioned way with some string or ribbons (which you’re reusing, right)?
9. Make your own wrapping paper.
If you’re the creative type, gifts wrapped in old catalogs, newspapers, butcher paper, magazines, and other paper products lying around the house can actually look quite handsome. According to one oft-cited statistic, “If every family in the U.S. reused just 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet."
10. Don’t pop that bubble wrap.
We know. This one is nearly impossible—but resist the urge to pop any bubble wrap you receive. Save whatever packaging you get to be used later. (That includes those pesky packing peanuts!)