How to be less trashy: holiday edition

Ah yes, the holiday season is upon us, and that means gifts and parties galore. But after everything is said and done, Americans generate 1 million more tons of waste than we do throughout the rest of the year. Give the earth, and the rest of humanity, a gift this year by doing things a little more eco-friendly.

PRESENTS | buying + wrapping

There are a ton of brands out there that take the initiative to minimize their impact by shipping their products in all recyclable/compostable materials, and you can find some on our 2018 ethical gift guide. But the best way to avoid wasteful packaging is to buy in person, and bring your own bags. Head to your city’s main drag and support local businesses and buy from local artisans.

Wrapping presents is one of my favorite parts of the holidays, but most gift wrap is NOT recyclable. Give the best looking gifts with earth-friendly wrapping (inspiration below, thank you Pinterest).

  • Go classic: brown paper packages tied up with string. You can buy 100% post-consumer recyclable brown wrapping paper at OfficeMax or Office Depot in the mailing section. You can also buy contractor’s or builder’s paper at Home Depot. Simply add some twine, yarn, or colored string for a cute pop of color.
  • Wrap au naturel: use either brown paper or old newsprint and embellish with pine, other greenery, or dried fruit. Use the pieces you had to trim off your Christmas tree, or go for a nature walk and snip off some sprigs from fallen branches.
  • Get crafty: use plain white or brown paper and use a non-toxic paint to add your own design. Pro tip: trace your cookie cutters to create an outline then color in, or cut shapes into a potato (photo below) and use that as a stamp (compost it afterwards).
  • Repurpose: patterned men’s button downs, old tees, wrap skirts, those 8 scarves you have but never wear…all of these can be used to wrap your presents. You can also use the gift itself – did you get someone tea towels or a reusable bag as part of their gift? Use that to wrap the rest!
  • Use what you have: the first rule of reducing waste is to use what you already own. Have wrapping paper left over from last year? Use it, but be sure that when you re-stock you choose a sustainable option.

PARTIES | food + hosting

Americans will throw away an estimated 5 million tons of food in total between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Food waste accounts for 20%+ of what goes into landfills. It decomposes eventually, but the process takes a lot longer than normal (too packed – little airflow and few worms/decomposers). Be sure to compost what you can, even if you are at someone else’s house. Ask if they compost, or bring a paper bag and take compostable items home with you (it’s weird, sure, but good for Mama Earth).

Crafting a signature cocktail for your party? Opt for reusable bamboo straws instead of plastic. In the US alone, an estimated 500 million single-use plastic straws are thrown away every day, and during the holiday season, this can be much higher. If you’re trying to get fancy, theotherstraw offers customized bamboo straws for parties. They’re sustainable, compostable, and stylish, aka the perfect addition to your party drinks and decor!

Additionally, vegetarian and locally-farmed foods have a lot lower carbon footprint than traditional grocery store meats. Keep that in mind when bringing a dish to share – there’s plenty of inspiration online. Bring a mouth-watering vegan bourguignon, beet wellington, or roast carrot and cran for a side. If you want to dig in to what your carbon footprint will be over the holidays, you can calculate it here.

If you are hosting, take this as an opportunity to get fancy and only use real plates, silverware, and glasses – no plastic. Doing dishes may seem daunting, but someone will want to help which will give you some one-on-one time with a treasured friend or family member. If you need something disposable, look fortree-free biodegradable paper products (usually made out of bamboo) rather than plastic or plastic-lined paper products. Make sure your guests can easily tell where to put their recyclables. When cleaning up, store leftovers in reused takeout containers, Pyrex containers, or cover bowls with beeswax wrap..

DECORATING | tree + lights

Real Christmas trees are the way to go. Did you know: “one acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people. There are about 500,000 acres of Christmas trees in the United States which collectively provide oxygen for 9 million people daily.” ? But if you already have a fake one, commit to keeping it. Once it’s in the landfill it’s just going to sit there for centuries (not trying to be dramatic here, but fake trees are made out of plastic, so it’s true). After the holiday, real trees can be composted, made into mulch or used for outdoor firewood. Most cities even have a recycling program, check your local newspaper for resources. If you’re in Columbus, Ohio, here is what your options are.

Decorate it with natural materials. Make popcorn and cranberry garlands, make ornaments out of dried citrus fruit or cinnamon sticks and greenery like magnolia leaves, or bake traditional hard gingerbread cookies then dry them and add a ribbon to create vintage-inspired ornaments. Want to buy more ornaments? Go for glass.

Bonus tip – you can recycle twinkle lights! We didn’t know this, so thanks for the heads up Trash is for Tossers. Lauren Singer says “stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot oftentimes offer a twinkle light recycling program during the holiday season, and Holiday LEDs offers a free online twinkle light recycling program if you ship them your old lights.”

Happy Holidays!

P.S. check out our original “how to be less trashy” guide here.

All images via Pinterest


No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.