We all love the magic of the holiday season… but Thanksgiving to New Years Eve is one of the most wasteful times of the year. In fact, according to Vanderbilt University, Americans produce 25% more trash during this time period than the rest of the year. This includes food waste, single-use plastic, and of course gift packaging! With simple actions like composting food waste, wrapping with ethical materials, and shopping consciously, we can drastically reduce the amount of waste we create as a culture, and bring a little more cheer into the season. Join us below as we show you some of our favorite ways to reduce!
What you’ll learn:
- How to wrap gifts with less non-recyclable waste
- How to decorate your house for the holidays mindfully
- Ways to throw a dinner party with less food waste and more holiday cheer!
How To Wrap Gifts Ethically
There is nothing more satisfying than opening a beautifully wrapped gift box, or tearing the paper off of a hand wrapped gift. But did you know that most wrapping paper is unable to be recycled afterwards?
This is because the dye and laminate that covers the paper in shiny designs is not easy to recycle, and whether you put it in your recycling bin or not, it’s likely ending up in our landfills. Not only can it not be recycled, but it is made from paper – which comes from our forests, and contributes to our growing deforestation crisis. In fact, each Christmas, an average of 8,250 tonnes of wrapping paper is used; equivalent to 50,000 trees! These trees have the capacity to absorb 1,500 tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, and make up entire forest ecosystems.
If every American wrapped only 3 of the average 42 presents that they give every year in an eco-friendly way, enough paper would be saved to cover 45,000 NFL Football fields! From purchasing recyclable gift paper or reusing or repurposing materials, there is no shortage of ways to wrap gifts in a less wasteful way. We’ll dive into our favorites below!
Wrap with Cloth
One of the easiest ways to wrap presents is with cloth, not paper! Inspired by the traditional Japanese practice called Furoshiki, wrapping with cloth can save you money, and reduce the amount of single-use gift wrap we rely on. You can use basically anything to Furoshiki – including old clothing, hand towels, cloth scraps, or even a reusable tote bag. You can even decorate the fabric with markers to add a touch of personalization! Our go-to? Wrap a gift with another gift! If you’re giving someone a new scarf, shirt, towel, or blanket, use that to wrap the other component of the gift. That’s gift-ception!
Wrap with Reused Paper
Although we try to fight it, it seems we all get tons of junk-mail magazines and newspapers every time we open the mailbox. Instead of recycling or composting them immediately, start stocking up around the holidays so you can transform them into awesome eco-gift wrap! Start with using the newspaper as basic wrapping paper, then use colored pencils or paint to customize it. You can even cut clippings from the magazine to make a personalized collage design! Get the whole family involved and make it an art project. The gift recipient will love how customized it feels – plus it’s all recyclable once they’ve opened the gift.
Use Biodegradable Decor
Ribbons and bows are an adorable finishing touch to any gift. But most ribbon and bows aren’t usually recyclable or compostable, and contribute to tons of waste every year. In fact, if every household in the USA re-used two feet of ribbon, it would save enough ribbon to wrap a bow around the world!
Our suggestion? If you already own plastic ribbons and bows, keep them after the gifts are opened, and reuse them each year. If you want to purchase new, look for compostable alternatives like this one from Wrappily, or look for compostable hemp twine. Want to go 100% eco? Use nature as decor! A sprig of pine, a piece of dried cinnamon, or a mini pinecone can add a beautiful touch to any gift. Plus, they can be composted or sent back into nature when you’re done.
If you prefer to use traditional wrapping paper – don’t worry. We have an eco-friendly alternative for you, too! Instead of purchasing non-recyclable gift wrap that is mostly plastic, shop with Wrappily! Based in Hawaii, they make recyclable wrapping paper from 100% recycled post-consumer recycled paper. They print their funky and colorful patterns with non-toxic, soy-based inks, and utilize newspaper printing presses that are no longer being used by businesses to save resources. Check out all of the fun patterns of eco-friendly gift wrap here!
How To Shop for Gifts
Sometimes experiences, like concert tickets, can be an awesome, environmentally friendly way to gift! However, sometimes giving a physical gift is the way to go. Finding something that is unique, thoughtful, and mindful of our planet can be a tall order, however! When it comes to gift shopping, keep these tips in mind!
Steer Clear of Plastic Gift Cards
Gift cards are an awesome gift for someone you’re not sure what to get, or last minute gifts. They let the recipient pick out exactly what they want, and often come without tons of packaging like other gifts might. But… traditional single-use plastic gift cards are not recyclable, and often end up in the landfill after the balance is cleared.
Instead, look for electronic gift cards that can be delivered via email (you can print out the email if you want to have something physical to give them!) or find brands that use wooden or paper gift cards. Or… just give cash or checks! While it may not be as fun, it’s still an amazing gift that lets the recipient get exactly what they want and need.
Be Mindful at the Mall
With all the holiday craziness, it can be easy to forget to bring your reusable bags when gift shopping! Stash several in your car or backpack to ensure they’ll be with you when you hit the stores – and if they ask if you want a gift bag, say “no thank you!”
Another helpful trick is to get an emailed receipt whenever possible. Paper receipts are coated in chemical-laden inks, and typically cannot be recycled or composted. Plus, emailed receipts are far easier to keep track of since you can just search the brand name instead of rummaging through a stack of tiny paper pieces! Pro tip: gift receipts can be emailed too!
Support Ethical Brands
No matter where you shop, or who you’re shopping for, always look for brands that are doing better for our planet and their employees. A good way to ensure they’re truly an ethical company is to check for third-party independent certifications! USDA Certified Organic, Certified Cruelty-Free, Fair Trade Certified… there is no shortage of awesome certifications that you can look for on the product packaging, or company website, to ensure they’re walking the walk.
Next, look for the materials or ingredients of the product you’re interesting in – and double-check what it is packaged in. If you can’t find out, don’t be afraid to ask!
Whether you’re shopping in-person or online, simply asking might make a huge difference in your opinion of a product. When we support ethical brands, we’re letting the market know what we want – and they will shift to meet consumer demand. By taking a few extra moments to research your brands and products, you ensure you are supporting companies that are actively supporting a healthier planet. Want to know how we choose the products on EarthHero? Check out this blog!
How To Throw a Sustainable Holiday Party
Holiday parties and get togethers are one of the most exciting parts of the season, but can often mean extra decorations, food, and a whole lotta’ planning. Whether you’re making a feast for 50, or just throwing a small dinner, make sure you take extra steps to make it a little more sustainable. It’s easier than you think!
We all prefer to be over-prepared when it comes to party planning, but it often means a ton of extra food over the holiday season. We can only eat so many leftovers before they go bad! In fact, in the USA alone, we waste nearly 40% of the food we buy and make. Before heading to the grocery store, make sure you have an accurate number for how many guests are coming, and look up the serving sizes of any recipes you plan to make. Not sure how to calculate how much food everyone will need? Use this fun “Guest-imator” from the National Resource Defense Council – it calculates the amount of food per guest, making it easy to reduce overall food waste.
Use Reusable, Compostable, or Recyclable Dinnerware
With large groups, it can be tempting to simply purchase single-use dinnerware that can be tossed after the meal. But plastic utensils can’t be recycled, and many single-use paper plates can’t be recycled or composted due to the plastic lining on the paper. If you want to go the single-use route, look for sustainable alternatives that are certified compostable!
Even better, opt for reusables that can be washed afterwards! Ask guests to bring extra silverware, plates, and serving spoons, and make an event of washing them together after the meal. It may take some extra planning, but can reduce tons of waste from heading to our landfills! Try these awesome recycled plastic plates from Preserve, or these bamboo utensils from Knork!
Help Guests with Proper Disposal
Whether you’re using reusable or compostable/recyclable dinnerware, make sure you help your guests navigate proper disposal when the meal is complete. Start by clearly labeling a trash, recycling, and compost bin (if you have it!) somewhere that is easy to access. You can even make little signs about what can go into each bin to help the process!
Any food scraps that can’t be saved as leftovers can be composted, and then you can package up the rest of the usable leftovers to send home with guests. Pro tip: if you’re doing a potluck, reuse the dinnerware for leftovers, or ask guests to bring their own reusable tupperware to fill up with leftovers as they’re leaving!
Use Sustainable Decorations
There is nothing more magical than arriving at a holiday party and feeling like you’ve been transported to the North Pole. Holiday decor can be so magical… but also so wasteful. Get crafty this season and try to make some of your own decorations from nature! Use pine cone and tree sprig table centerpieces, dried orange garlands, and fill mason jars with flowers for unique eye-catching design elements. Just like they did in the old days, pop popcorn and string it with thread for a plastic-free tree decoration. Or shop ornaments made from FSC Certified wood – not plastic!
If you do buy decorations, make sure that they can be reused for many years to come. Not only does it create awesome memories to see the same decorations each year, but also reduces a ton of waste!
How To Send Mindful Holiday Cards
According to Stanford University, in the USA alone there are 2.65 billion holiday cards sent every year, most of which go straight into the trash (yes, even the adorable holiday picture of your dog!) If every person sent just one less paper card, it would save nearly 50,000 cubic yards of paper! Instead of paper cards, opt for electronic cards this year. They are easy to customize, cost less money, and can be sent to hundreds of friends and family with the click of a button.
If you’re set on a physical card, Tree-Free Greetings cards are a more sustainable option! They’re made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and are made ethically using electricity generated from wind power. To date, Tree-Free has saved 2,405 trees, 1,121,858 gallons of water, 1,078 millions BTUs of energy, 75,098 pounds of solid waste, and 206,850 pounds of greenhouse gases!
Living sustainably can have its challenges, and with the added stress of the holidays, it can be easy to go for convenience over mindfulness. Not only will these tips help you save money, but they’ll greatly reduce our impact on the planet this season! Which tips from this article did you love? Will you use any to reduce your holiday waste this year? Comment below with how you will help the environment over the holidays!