Spooky season is over, but that means one thing: it’s time to get into the holiday spirit! Sharing laughs over dinner potlucks, bonding over surprise presents, and ringing in the new year over some bubbly drinks, this time of the year is ripe with new memories to be made with friends and family.
But we get the same question year after year: "How can I cut down on waste during the holidays?"
Let’s break it down into five major categories--food, decorations, gifts, travel, and energy. We’ll share five major ways to reduce waste in each category so you can have a fun-filled and waste-free (or very reduced-waste!) time these coming months.
As dinner host, a delicious meal is expected, but with proper planning and strategy, you can avoid common sources of waste this season.
- Plan out your courses and write a grocery list. Before heading off to the store, write down a strict list of ingredients and other supplies you’ll need. This way, you’re not tempted by anything else and you won’t accidentally buy too much of anything.
- Use reusable or recyclable utensils and containers. You might have guests bring their own utensils for eating and to-go ware for leftovers if you’re expecting more company than your own flatware can accommodate. This cuts down on both food waste and food ware.
- Compost or repurpose food scraps. If vegetables are a recurring theme in your dishes, keep the scraps and make your own soup stock. Save peels and scraps from carrots, onions, garlic, celery, and peppers. You’ll need to add fresh herbs for extra flavor, but you’ll have a ready soup supply for colder months.
- Provide cloth napkins over single-use paper squares. Less waste, more class. We recommend neutral colors and patterns that work year-round like plain white, bistro stripes, blue linen with simple embroidery, etc.
- Let guests serve themselves. Guests know how much they want to eat, and you can save food by simply giving them this option. Here’s another appealing reason for this tip: it’s less work you have to do!
We love tinsel and tree ornaments as much as the next person, but let’s go over how we can deck the halls, walls, and tables this year while being minimal and mindful.
- Get crafty. Instead of a traditional fur, pine, or spruce tree, why not upcycle unused household items for a quirky and reusable Christmas tree? Think seashells you collected at the beach, sticks you gathered from your yard, or scrap felt you’ve amassed from your art projects. The possibilities are endless, and you can find ideas to get started here.
- Invest in a reusable tree. Besides the unmistakable scent of evergreen leaves, reusable trees are just as good as the real thing in every other way. Think: you won’t have to chop down your tree for disposal at the end. All you have to do is collapse it into a box, put it in the garage, and wait patiently for the holiday season to roll around again.
- Repurpose all parts of a real tree. If you just can’t part with a good old tree from the outdoors, make sure you’re disposing of your tree properly. Chop the trunk down for firewood, snap off twigs and leaves for mulch, and compost any leftover pieces. One last thing: make sure you’re getting your tree from a reputable shop, i.e. a nursery and not someone chopping up wood from a delicate forest.
- Collect materials from outside. Pinecones, twigs, handmade twine, berries, evergreen branches--combine these to make holiday decor you only wish you could buy at the store. Of course, only take from a place where this is allowed, like, say, your backyard or a local wilderness area with no endangered species.
- Make a paper star garland. Stars are synonymous with the holidays, and you can customize any paper star using leftover sheets of paper you’ve got--old magazines, newspapers, notebooks, scratch paper. Try this easy-to-follow paper star DIY and string your creations together for a simple, but charming design. Hang it over your front door, above the fireplace, the sides of your dining table, or any wall, for starters.
The holidays got you in a giving mood? Here are some ways to be generous, not excessive.
- Propose “experience gifts” instead of traditional goodies. Some ideas for families with children are tickets to the movies, the local museum, mini golf vouchers, and national park memberships. You might even offer to sponsor music lessons, swimming lessons, sports lessons, or anything the children in your family are interested in. Adult-specific ideas are dinner certificates for two, cooking class vouchers, escape room tickets, pre-paid pottery lessons, hotel or Airbnb gift cards, a year’s worth of an online streaming service membership (everyone loves movies and shows!), and concert tickets that cater to their personal tastes.
- Ask friends and family to share a wish list. On top of experience gifts, ask your loved ones what they actually need or want instead of guessing and picking a random gadget you hope they’ll keep. This will drastically decrease the chances that they’ll just store your gift in their closet, unused. In other words, this cuts down on a lot of waste during the holiday season! If they’re still acting coy, gift them something they can easily return or exchange at your favorite eco-friendly store. Don’t forget gift receipts when possible!
- Say goodbye to non-recyclable wrapping paper. A lot of holiday wrapping papers are non-recyclable because of additional materials like metal sheets, stickers, glitter, and tape. Instead, make the “gift wrap” part of your present. For example, you might cover a new necklace in a scarf--another part of your gift. Another idea is to create a luxury bath care package and stash it in a reusable stationary box.
- Reuse bows, strings, tags, and ribbons. Holiday ribbons and string are tough, so they can be reused multiple times!
- Recycle all paper wrapping you do receive. Make sure to remove any tape hanging off and that the material is actually recyclable!
If you’re traveling for the holidays whether to meet family or to escape from them (no judgment here!), check out these smart ways to stay zero waste while enjoying your getaway.
- When possible, drive instead of flying. Driving is significantly more greenhouse gas-effective, though we understand flying is sometimes unavoidable. In that case, choose eco-conscious airlines with carbon offsetting pledges.
- Take non-stop flights. Much of airplane fuel is burned during take-off and landing, so skipping layovers is one way to reduce this burden. Another one is to pick airlines that try to fill up all the seats instead of luxury companies who might fly whether there are ten passengers or 200.
- Choose paperless confirmations or boarding passes. This will not only cut down on paper waste, it means you’ll have one less thing to keep track of when going through security or rushing to catch a flight or train.
- Don’t forget your reusable utensils and water bottle. When eating out, pack your reusable spoon, fork, knife, water bottle, and straw to avoid using plastic ones. Keep a cloth napkin or two in your bag to cut down on paper waste, too. Bonus--bringing your own flatware is more hygienic and safe during flu season.
- Bring your own toiletries. If you’re staying at a hotel or rental stay, they’ll likely offer travel-sized items packaged and bundled in plastic. When you have your own reusable containers of shampoo, body soap, and toothpaste, it’ll be easy to say no.
We discussed some energy-relevant tips above, but here we’ll focus on home-specific advice.
- Switch to LED decorative lights. Whether you’re a fan of string bulbs, rope lights, projection lights, or lanterns, switching to LED means high energy savings.
- Turn off lights during the day or set them on a timer. While LED lights save energy, only use them when needed to reap the full benefits. Turning them off periodically also helps prolong their life use.
- Utilize rechargeable batteries where possible. This is great for outdoor lights, lanterns, kitchen gadgets, wreaths with lights, etc.
- Set portable heaters to a constant temperature or your thermostat on a timer. Turn on the heater only when you’re home or at key times during the day like right before sleep when you want to be cozy and warm. This will reduce your energy use and save you big bucks on electric bills. Keep in mind when guests are over, the house will be extra warm, so you can get away with turning down the temperature a few degrees.
- Cook strategically. When you use the oven, cook several things at once to take advantage of the power you’re already using. This is a little tricky if your recipes call for different temperatures, but we believe you can make it work! Lastly, cook in big batches when possible to avoid firing up the oven multiple times a day.
From cooking with care to keeping a close watch on our heater use, there are an infinite amount of ways to save waste over the holidays. Bookmark this guide and use it as a handbook when you’re stressed about the big family dinner or your last-minute decorations. Either way, we hope you’ve discovered a new holiday life hack you can use for your mindful lifestyle.
The days are getting shorter, the weather is cooling down (even if you’re living in sunny Los Angeles), and the holiday season is officially right around the corner. While this may be the most wonderful time of the year, you’ve probably noticed that the environment tends to take a hit during the holiday season. In fact, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans throw away 25% more trash—1 million extra tons of garbage per week—than any other time of year.
Does that mean you should be less celebratory? Of course not. There are ways you can celebrate while still cutting down on waste. To help you get started, I, along with other top sustainability experts from across the country, shared some of our best tips and tricks with Redfin.
Check out what they had to say so you can be more sustainable at home and reduce your environmental footprint this holiday season.
With that said, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season!