The holiday season is a time for traditions, delicious food, family gatherings, and...25 million tons of extra trash? This is the amount of additional waste that Americans throw away between Thanksgiving and New Year’s each year, amounting to 1 million tons per day. Tackling this waste problem may seem daunting, but you might be surprised to find out that many of your favorite holiday traditions are already eco-friendly, often completely by accident!
Reusing Gift Bags
The average American adult will wrap 15.3 presents each holiday season. So, save yourself some money and a trip to the store, create family traditions, and reduce holiday waste by saving and reusing holiday gift bags.
Eating the Leftovers
Many families already make great use of holiday leftovers by sending excess food home with guests or stubbornly eating leftovers for the weeks following Christmas. Thanksgiving leftovers can be repurposed into delicious quesadillas, casserole, sandwiches, soup, or even fried mashed potato balls! If you simply can’t finish your leftovers, freeze them, give them away, or compost them as a last resort. Eating all the leftovers is a great way to reduce food waste!
If you’ve ever strung a popcorn garland, constructed a natural wreath, or made bird feeders out of pinecones and peanut butter, you’ve already done an awesome, low-waste holiday activity! Making decorations saves money and prevents the waste that comes from tinsel, garlands, and other plastic decor. An internet search will yield countless holiday crafts for adults and kids to transform their homes into a low-waste winter wonderland. Bonus points if you make your decorations out of natural, found, or thrifted items!
Giving Experiences as Gifts
Giving experiences as gifts is a thoughtful, low-waste way to show how much you care. Some ideas include tickets to concerts or movies, snowshoe or ski rentals, MN State Park passes, language lessons, cooking classes, and museum memberships. Kids can make “coupon books” with coupons for fun activities they can do with the recipient or chores they can help out with. This list from the MPCA has lots of great ideas for experiences to give as gifts!
Making Christmas Lists
Help your kids make a Christmas list to share with friends and relatives. If there’s someone in your life who you’re unsure what to purchase for a gift, just ask them! Writing and requesting Christmas lists helps ensure that everyone receives gifts that they want and need, rather than well-intentioned items that sit in the closet or get thrown away. One way to do this is by making a sustainable gift registry with the SoKind Registry Tool.
Try making gift wrap out of brown paper bags, comics, newspapers, maps, or other materials! Better yet, wrap a gift in a blanket, garment, or something usable that goes with the present. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reusable materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields!
Whether you’re skilled at knitting, painting, woodworking, quilting, writing, cooking, or any other craft, handmade gifts are beautiful, meaningful, and show another level of thoughtfulness was put into the gift. If you’re not artistically inclined, consider framing a special photograph as a gift.
Giving to Charity
Most people practice extra generosity around the holidays, so keep it up! Donate new or gently-used winter clothing to a local homeless shelter or other organization. Or, purchase gifts for those in need, looking at wish lists from local nonprofits. Whatever causes you decide to support, setting aside some of what you have for others is a great way to get in the holiday spirit.
Check out this list of sustainable gift ideas from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. See these additional resources from Simplify the Holidays. Hennepin County’s Choose to Reuse site has lots of great ideas for shopping, gifting, and decorating secondhand this holiday season. Or, check out this site for tips on how to “Cancel Christmas.”