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The Dirty Details of Holiday Consumption and Waste

October 18, 2022 3 min read

The Dirty Details of Holiday Consumption and Waste

It won’t surprise you that the holiday season is one of the most wasteful times of the year. Did you know Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holidays than any other time of year? That adds up to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons each week!

Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to cut down on your waste and have a more sustainable holiday season.

Food Waste During the Holidays

Food waste is a significant factor in climate change. In fact, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that if you considered food loss and waste as a country, it would be the third biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste on its own produces 10% of total annual greenhouse gasses. So, every scrap you can save adds up!

Here are some tips for reducing food waste during the holidays:

  • Use this calculator to figure out how much food to prepare based on your number of guests to avoid excess.
  • Leave the peels on your food (or consider baking them into chips)! Think about how many potatoes get peeled for Thanksgiving – leave the peels (be sure to give all your veggies a good wash) and cut down on waste.
  • Ask guests to bring to-go containers to bring leftovers home with them after the meal.
  • Use your leftovers! Most food can be frozen and reheated if you can’t eat it within a few days.
  • Get as much of your food from local sources as possible. This helps cut down on emissions by reducing how far your food has to travel to get to you (and supports your local economy).

How to Reduce Holiday Gift Waste

How many gifts have you received during the holidays that you’ve simply never used? How many of those did you end up throwing away over the years? In 2019, it was estimated that about 7% of gifts given during the holiday season are unwanted. Gift-giving is often stressful and wasteful in and of itself, particularly if you are ordering online and wrapping your gifts and even sending them elsewhere afterward. Want to cut down on waste this holiday season?

  • Make your own gifts! Whether you have a giftable hobby or simply create a heartfelt card, handmade gifts always mean the most.
  • Gift an experience instead of an item. This is bound to be less wasteful and possibly more enjoyable!
  • When shopping online, try to support businesses that are climate neutral or use plastic-free, recyclable and/or compostable shipping materials
  • Whatever items you do purchase, try to make them plastic free.
  • Gift a CSA share to support a local farm
  • Remember: quality over quantity. Don’t buy excessive gifts thinking more is better.
Sustainable wrapping paper

Sustainable Gift Wrapping for the Holidays

Paper goods for gift wrapping amount to as much as 40 million tons of waste annually. Plus, a lot of wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, which really adds up.
If every family in the US wrapped just three presents in reused or recycled materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Wrapping paper is easy to conserve and reuse as long as it isn’t ripped. You can also swap wrapping paper for something you might already have around the house, like newspaper, paper grocery bags, or cloth. Or, you can skip wrapping altogether and simply present your gift to your receiver.

Host Holiday Parties Responsibly

Beyond the food waste, holiday parties can be a big producer of needless waste with lots of single-use plastic. Cut down on your plastic consumption when hosting with these tips:

  • Reduce or eliminate single-use items like plastic utensils and plates, decorations, and more. You can reuse decorations from year to year and can opt for classic cutlery or try to find a compostable option.
  • Prioritize locally grown food and only make as much as you need.
  • Give guests a way to label their cups so they don’t lose track and need to take another glass.
  • If you’re giving away party favors, try to make them plastic-free with sustainable goods.

A Sustainable Holiday Season

While the holidays can be stressful and wasteful, there are plenty of easy ways to cut down on your overall plastic consumption and waste. Keep these tips in mind as the holidays approach and remember: every little change counts!