While the holiday season is a time of giving and thoughtfulness, it can also be a time of excess and waste.
Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — about a million extra tons of garbage each week, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group devoted to helping people to be more environmentally responsible.
There are plenty of ways to celebrate the spirit of the holidays while giving a gift to the earth (and maybe your wallet) as well.
For starters, go with reusable gift wrap, and recycle wrapping paper and ribbon. “Gift wrap is top on the list of wasteful holiday traditions. An easy hack is to wrap gifts in unused maps, comics for kids or, for larger gifts, printed pillowcases. You probably have these things around your house already,” says Rachel Sylvester, lifestyle editor for Real Simple.
“Save every bit of gift wrap and ribbon that comes your way, and try using fresh greenery instead of store-bought bows,” she adds.
Every year, Americans discard an estimated 38,000 miles of ribbon, enough to wrap around the planet with some left over to tie a bow, according to NEEF.
Sylvester says it’s easy to save on gift tags by writing the names of recipients directly on the gift, or color-coding gifts by recipient. Let your friends and family know you’re opting out of single-use wrapping paper and gift tags this year.
Host gifts can also be more eco-friendly. For holiday dinners and parties, Sylvester recommends reusable drawstring pouches when bringing wine and other presents, and carrying homemade baked goods in mason jars or decorative, reusable boxes.
“They make great host gifts, do away with waste, and save money all at the same time,” she says.
For greeting cards, “I would suggest going paperless for holiday cards, which generally get trashed after the holidays anyway,” says Sylvester. “Your friends and family might rather have a card they can keep on their hard drive for the long haul instead of on their fridge for a week.”
There’s a huge array of companies offering elegant electronic cards, among them PaperlessPost.com , AmericanGreetings.com, GreenEnvelope.com or JacquieLawson.com.
For decorations, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends opting for a living tree that can be planted outdoors or eventually mulched, and using energy-saving LED holiday lights. LEDs use around 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last longer, too, the EPA says.
Remember to reduce food waste and avoid single-use plastics. “When hosting parties and holiday meals, use real or compostable table settings instead of plastics. And if you’re short on table settings, try a service like TableandTeaspoon.com, which delivers table settings in advance and then invites you to return the dirty dishes afterward,” Sylvester says.
Have recyclable to-go containers handy for guests to take leftovers home, and familiarize yourself with local compost centers ahead of time, so food waste doesn’t end up in the landfill.
For gifts, think outside the store: homemade crafts or foods, or experiences instead of stuff. Give coupons for things like cooking a dinner or babysitting, Sylvester suggests. For example, look to knitting, sewing, baking or creating art as gifts.
“Homemade is king,” Sylvester explains. “It’s fun to shop, but the gifts that will mean the most are those that come from the heart. Cookies in mason jars are going to be way more memorable than something you pick up on the internet.”
Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, suggests homemade candles, soap or paper as other gift ideas. Museum memberships, magazine subscriptions or gift certificates to restaurants or concert halls all make great gifts, she says.
And when you do buy concrete things, opt for durable, energy-efficient, recyclable, or things made of natural products, and consider gifts from thrift shops or things that encourage people to use less stuff, like reusable containers, suggests Johnson.