Eight ways to reduce waste during the holidays

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, a birthday, a baby shower or any other gift-giving holiday, you can apply these eight tips to reduce your waste.

Adair Andre

Christmas, to me, feels like a month-long sugar rush. From Black Friday onward, there’s a constant buzz of nervous excitement — cheery music on the radio; constant advertisements touting crazy good deals on the perfect gift for [insert family member]; and an accumulation of shiny boxes under the tree, each topped with an equally shiny bow. 

But with every sugar rush comes a crash. In this case, it comes at the end of Christmas morning. All the shiny boxes have been opened, and I am surrounded by a pile of new things next to an equally large pile of crumpled gift wrap. I am grateful for all my new presents, but more often than not, a lot of those things do not actually bring me joy (think Marie Kondo). But beyond that, excessive gift-giving also leaves me feeling guilty as I have come to recognize the wastefulness and environmental harm that frequently comes with hyperconsumerism. Consider this: From Thanksgiving to New Years, Americans produce 25 percent more waste than during the rest of the year. 

Now, I’m not heartless. I realize that giving and receiving gifts is exciting. But there must be a way I can participate in this tradition without feeling the crash of guilt or going all Grinch-like.  

That is why, with a little help from my friends and the internet, I have put together this guide. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, a birthday, a baby shower or any other gift-giving holiday, you can apply these eight tips to reduce your waste.

  1. Start by reminding yourself what holidays are all about
    The answer: Family, friends and quality time! There are a lot of ways to show your love, and gift-giving is just one of them. 

  1. Choose gifts that are experiences and services or donate to causes
    Experiences: Concerts or museum tickets, cooking or art classes, music lessons, exercise classes…the list goes on! Better yet, buy two tickets, so you can go together.

    Services: As a child I made coupons for my parents for Christmas. They could cash them in for such options as a free massage, walking the dog or cleaning my room. These are all things I probably should be doing anyway, but I knew that spending my $20 allowance on a gift that they could buy themselves was not worthwhile.

    This sort of giving should not end with adolescence. Think about what you can offer. Maybe a nice hand-cooked meal? Or, perhaps, helping with a big home improvement project? Providing tutoring in a skill you possess is another possibility. These options not only show how much you care but also ensures you’ll spend some quality time with a loved one.

    Causes: Many people would love to contribute more to the charitable causes they value, but might not have the money. Donating in someone’s name gives them the opportunity to make a difference in the world!

  1. Buy secondhand items
    Save clothes, toys, furniture or devices from heading to the landfill. By giving them a second life, you’ll also save money!

  1. Get crafty
    Handmade gifts are fun to create, and they add a level of personal touch. This year, I am getting together with friends to make homemade candles. In addition, the jars I bought to put the candles in are secondhand.

    Other ideas include a knitting project, a photo collage or a recipe book. 

  1. Make reusable gift wrap
    Shiny gift wrap may look nice under the tree, but it gets torn to shreds in 60 seconds. What’s worse is that much of it is lined with plastic, so it can’t be recycled at many facilities.

    Check out this simple tutorial for turning an old t-shirt into beautiful and festive gift wrapping, which can be used over and over again.

  2. Gift sustainably
    Think plastic free and long-lasting when determining which gifts to purchase. Always ask yourself, “Would my present allow the recipient to reduce their environmental impact in his or her daily life?” The zero waste movement is growing, and it helps the planet and your health. Size doesn’t matter. You could give as small as a shampoo bar or as large as a repurposed bike for commuting. Just make it something that won’t be quickly wasted. 

  3. Think local
    Shipping gifts from across the country or the world creates a big carbon footprint. With free two-day shipping, it’s easy for convenience to win out. But don’t succumb to that siren song. Instead, make a day of it, go into your community and support local businesses. 

  4. Ask questions to give practically 
    We all have boxes of gifts sitting in our closet. These presents only saw the light of day when we initially opened them. They were nice gestures but had absolutely no practical use. The best way to avoid doing this to others is by simply asking them what they are interested in receiving. Surprises are nice, but receiving something you will actually use is even better. Or, if you are getting together with a large group of friends or family, a white elephant gift exchange gives people the opportunity to end up with a gift they truly want.

With Christmas once again approaching, I have found these practices helpful in reshaping my holiday mindset. More than ever, I am excited to share gifts with my loved ones that leave everyone feeling a little lighter — with less stuff to hideaway in closets. No more sugar crash…unless it’s from eating too many Christmas cookies. This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have more ideas to add to this list, please leave comments below.


Adair Andre