The Responsibly Different™ Guide to Spreading Zero-Waste Holiday Cheer

While the holiday season is cherished by many Americans, the amount of trash produced in the US between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day increases by 25%. Each year, Americans discard 38,000 miles of ribbon (enough to wrap around the planet), $11 billion worth of packing material, and 15 million Christmas trees. The holiday season also worsens the food waste problem in America.108 billion pounds of food (worth $161 billion) is wasted each year in the United States and nearly 40% of all food in America goes to waste. U.S. households produce 5 million tons more food waste during the holiday season.

While gift giving is a traditional way to be selfless around the holiday season, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a gift we don’t wish to keep. Americans spend almost $15.2 billion on unwanted presents every holiday season. While you might imagine that returning unwanted items keeps them from going to waste, returns usually end up being trashed rather than reshelved. “Companies have to foot the bill for inspecting a product once you return it… and that’s not always easy to detect,” says environmental journalist Adria Vasil. The result? About 5 billion pounds of returns end up in landfills each year.

With a little creativity, we can enjoy the holiday season while minimizing waste. Here’s how you can be a responsible consumer this holiday season.

Minimize holiday food waste.

According to the NRDC, “200 million pounds of turkey meat are thrown out during the Thanksgiving holiday.” That’s enough turkey to meet more than 500 million adults’ recommended daily protein intake. You can minimize food waste by planning meals before grocery shopping, properly prepping and storing food, and reusing and eating leftovers. You can use this toolkit by the US Environmental Protection Agency to improve your household’s food management.

You can also encourage guests to take home leftovers in containers they can keep and reuse. Certified B Corp Ukonserve makes stainless steel food containers that make the perfect parting gift for your guests. You can also give guests Bees wrap, a reusable food wrap, to take home holiday leftovers. Just be mindful of if anyone on your guest list is allergic to bees. When you let your guests bring home food in reusable containers, not only are you cutting down on your own food waste but you’re empowering your guests to cut down on their food waste in the future.

Be a smart gift giver.

Clothing and shoes made up 62% of all returns, so you probably shouldn’t buy clothes and shoes as gifts unless you know the recipient’s size, style, and clothing needs. Consider giving them zero-waste versions of the items they use every day, like reusable versions of single-use items from LastObject or zero-waste toothpaste and deodorant from Bite

You could also empower gift recipients to minimize e-waste by gifting them a phone case from Nimble. E-waste makes up 70% of all toxic waste in the US. Certified B Corp Nimble makes chargers and phone cases from a variety of recycled materials and provides shipping bags that you can recycle old e-waste in.

Get crafty with decor and gift wrapping.

So much waste gets produced from setting the scene of presents wrapped under a tree. Out of the 4.6 million lbs. of wrapping paper produced in the U.S. each year, about 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper will end up in landfills. Consider getting crafty by reusing and decorating old fabric or paper from thrift stores instead of gift wrap. Check out EcoCult for more zero waste gift wrapping ideas. 

Due to global supply chain issues coupled with climate change, Christmas trees, both real and plastic, will be harder to find this year. Instead of buying a Christmas tree this year, why not consider some DIY alternatives instead? Here’s a list of alternative Christmas tree ideas to get you inspired. Many of these can be made using materials you already have! 

Be a smart gift receiver.

One of the best ways to normalize wasting less during the holidays is by voicing what you would like this year! While it might be taboo to show up empty handed to a christmas party, you can encourage your loved ones to be less wasteful for the holidays by wasting less on you. Ask for experiences instead of tangible gifts. Here’s a list of experience-based gifts to put on your wishlist.

Anticipate those unwanted gifts. While you might be preparing to be the most ethical giver this holiday season, your well meaning aunt might want to show some love by giving a gift that you’re less than thrilled with, even when you asked her not to. Regift or giveaway items whenever possible, as this is always less wasteful than returning gifts. 

With these tips in mind, you can minimize your waste while still enjoying the holiday season and spending quality time with your loved ones.

By Bianca Gonzalez November 17, 2021