12 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays


 - By Kailey Bradt

12 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays


Meet this Holiday Season with Mindfulness

In the US, 25% more trash is generated from Thanksgiving to the New Year's holiday which is more than any other time of year. This extra waste adds up to 25 million tons of extra garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week according to the EPA.

It’s difficult to make a change if you don’t know the impact. So, we’re sharing 12 facts about holiday waste and 12 bundles of tips to make a change for the better this year.

  1. Textile Waste

Rubber, leather, and textiles make up more than 9 percent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. according to EPA estimates. That means the average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothing every year. While 95 percent of used textiles can be recycled, 85 percent land in the trash. One reason for this disparity could be public perception of waste and recycling. Clothing consumption has risen sharply: from 1999 to 2009, U.S. post-consumer textile waste grew by 40 percent. -  Saturday Evening Post

Ways to Reduce Textile Waste

- Consider a holiday outfit swap with a friend instead of buying a new outfit

- If you are shopping for new clothes, shop natural materials that are biodegradable like cotton, hemp or bamboo.

- Go by the “one-in-one-out” rule. If you’re buying a new piece, consider getting rid of one you don’t wear by donating it if in good condition (Goodwill, Salvation Army), passing it along to a friend, reselling it (TheRealReal, ThredUp, Plato’s Closet, Crossroads) or recycling it with a local recycler or a service like ThredUp!

  1. Decor: Lighting

Around the holidays, bright lights strung on trees, rooftops and lawns account for 6.63 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption: enough power to run 14 million refrigerators. When choosing between LED and incandescent bulbs for your holiday lights, consider choosing LED. They consume 80-90% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 100,000 hours, versus 3,000 hours for an incandescent. - Phys Org & Christmas Lights Etc 

Ways to Reduce Lighting Waste, Because Energy Counts as Waste Too

- Use what you have, before going out to buy new lights. 

- Replace bulbs that could be preventing others from lighting before discarding.

- When going to buy new lights, take your old lights to be recycled.

- When buying new, shop strands that are wired in parallel. If one bulb goes bad, the others still work, so you won’t be throwing away “bad” strands. 

- Put all your lights on timers for energy savings and peace of mind while you’re away. 

  1. Decor: Candles

Most Hanukkah & Kwanzaa candles are made of paraffin wax, a byproduct of the crude oil purification process. Crude oil is considered highly unsustainable due to it being a non-renewable resource. It has also been the cause of a slew of environmental crises, such as oil spills, damage of natural habitats and climate change.⁠ - Banyan Tree & Britannica 

To Reduce Candle Waste

Beeswax, soy, and palm oil candles are natural alternatives to paraffin candles.

  1. Decor: Trees

In the US, around 10 million artificial trees are purchased each season. Nearly 90 percent of them are shipped across the world from China, resulting in an increase of carbon emissions and resources. And because of the material they are made of, most artificial trees are not recyclable and end up in local landfills. - The Nature Conservatory

Ways to Reduce Tree Waste

- If you can, consider opting into a real tree. Buying real trees will help keep tree farms in business – and in turn keep their lands covered in the healthy forest habitat that wildlife depends on to survive. 

- Once it’s time to pack up the decorations, set aside your Christmas tree for recycling. Many areas collect trees in the first few weeks after Christmas to be mulched and used for water conservation and weed control. ⁠

- If you want to skip the tree this year, consider a wreath instead! 

5. Paper Waste: Cards

The 2.65 billion holiday cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. - Stanford

Ways to Reduce Paper Waste

- Send an e-card instead, there’s no limit to how many you can send!

- Choose to shop cards that use recycled paper. 

- You are probably receiving piles of mail order catalogs and flyers at this time of year. Call the company's 800 number and ask that you be removed from their mailing list to save that paper! 

6. Plastic Waste: Gift Cards

Most gift cards are made of PVC plastic and about 10 billion new cards are placed into circulation every year. Once they’ve served their purpose, then usually end up in the trash contributing more than 75 million pounds of PVC to the waste stream every year.⁠ - Earthworks

Gift cards are a great way to gift sustainably, because they give people the ability to choose their own gift (therefore limiting unwanted gift waste and return emissions), but you can make it even more sustainable by going digital!

7. Shopping: Online

In 2018, the United States Postal Service delivered 6.2 billion packages. 14.5% of that (900 million packages) were delivered between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. All those deliveries mean a lot more delivery trucks on the road and more delivery trucks on the road means more carbon emissions. According to the EPA, CO2 accounted for 82% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. Of those CO2 emissions, 34% came from the transportation sector.⁠ - Sustainable America

Ways to Ship Smart

- Ship your gift directly to the person, rather than shipping to yourself, wrapping, and then shipping somewhere else .

- Plan ahead and choose ground shipping. Ground shipping is 6x more efficient than air transportation, which takes more fuel.

- Order from one place & all in one round, rather than placing multiple orders⁠.

  1. Shopping: In Stores

According to the EPA in 2018, 4,200,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were generated. Of that 4.2 million, only 10% was recycled. 3,040,000 tons (73%) ended up in landfills.

Ways to Shop Smart in Stores

- Use a reusable bag when shopping for goods.

- Ask for paper bags. You can use them in place of wrapping paper!

- Take your old plastic bags and films to be recycled on your way to shop.

  1. Gifting: Unwanted Gifts

5 billion pounds of returned items end up in the trash every year. Some 61% of Americans surveyed admit to getting at least one unwanted gift over the holidays, totaling roughly 154 million American adults.⁠ - Finder, CNN & LA Times

Ways to Gift with Intention & Reduce Waste

- Gift experiences⁠. Think Masterclass, Virtual Workout Class Membership, Meditation Classes, A Cooking Class, Netflix Subscription (1 year) or Spotify Subscription (1 year).

- Make consumable or personalized gifts. Granola in a mason jar wrapped with ribbon (can be reused), spiced nuts or cookies!

- Regift & shop second hand: 56% of respondents of a national survey say they would welcome second hand gifts⁠. Plus vintage is in.

- Ask them what they want!⁠

  1. Gifting Waste

The EPA has estimated that the US produced 11.9 million tons of plastic packaging & over 90% of this went to a landfill after being used just once.⁠ - Sustainable America

To avoid unnecessary packaging, shop minimally packaged products and products gifted in recycled materials!

  1. Gift Wrap: Paper 🎁

In 2018, 230,000 miles of wrapping paper were thrown away. That’s almost enough for us to paper our way to the moon! If every household in the US wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Stanford

Ways to Wrap Gifts & Reduce Waste 

- Reuse packaging cartons and shipping materials.

- Don’t even wrap them, hide them! Treasure hunt anyone?

- Make the wrapping a useful part of the gift; put cookies in a mason jar or a gift in a reusable bag

- Reuse brown paper bags from the grocery store and draw cute designs on them. ⭐

12. Gift Wrap: Ribbons 🎀

If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. Stanford

Ways to Reduce Ribbon Waste

- Consider using a fun headscarf as a bow, it will double as an accessory for the gift-receiver later!

- Re-use holiday ribbon from last year.

- Use natural materials like hemp or cotton & tie a pine sprig or pine cone on top. Biodegradable + natural for the win.

Hope you all enjoyed the tips to reduce waste this time of year! Happy (Low-Waste) Gifting! ✨


If you want to see more on this topic or have questions, send us an email at hello@susteau.com!

ImageHannah Thornhill for Susteau