October 16, 2019

How to Reduce Waste During The Holidays

The holiday season is a great time to spend with loved ones, celebrate, and eat delicious food. It’s also, however, a time when waste can pile up—think, decorations, food waste, and wrapping paper. Americans produce more trash during the holiday season than at any other part of the year.

Fortunately, with some good-to-know tips and intentionality, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holidays while also being kind to the environment. To help you and your family reduce waste this season, we’re providing some tips on how to decorate, plan and cook food, and rethink gift giving.

Consider some of these tips to help you reduce waste this holiday season!

Reducing Waste When Decorating

Many families opt to decorate for each holiday. With Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s (just to name a few) decorations going up this holiday season, it can create a potential for a massive amount of waste.

Real tree vs fake tree

Some families opt for using a real Christmas tree instead of a fake one for the holiday. This might sound odd, but using a real tree may be better for the environment than a fake tree! 

Synthetic trees are often made with PVC plastics, a non-recyclable material that also creates pollution during manufacturing. Additionally, at the end of your fake tree’s life, it has to be buried in a landfill.

Experts claim that the carbon emissions associated with using real trees are a third less than carbon emissions created when using a synthetic tree.

Alternatively, Christmas trees are a crop plant that provides many benefits to the environment as they grow. When the time comes for a tree to be cut down, tree farmers will normally plant a new tree in its place to grow for the future holiday season, meaning more environmental benefits can continue.

Additionally, if you use a real tree, companies like Texas Disposal Systems will process the trees for free in recycling and composting programs. The trees will be turned into mulch, soil, and compost, all of which are new products that can be used to grow even more trees!


A vast majority of American households do use an artificial tree during the holiday season. However, if your family does want to use a fake tree to reduce the impact on greenhouse gases, the American Christmas Tree Association has found that a household would need to reuse an artificial tree for more than five years for them to have a lower environmental impact than real trees. If you and your family are going this route, make sure to purchase a durable synthetic tree that can last for years to come.

Use LED lights

LED lights do not get hot to the touch which means they’re a lot safer to use with your other decorations.   LED lights also use less energy than incandescent bulbs and are a lot more durable, which means that you can use them year after year without needing to purchase new lights.

If you have old Christmas lights, check to see if your municipality offers Christmas tree string light recycling. These programs allow recycling of dead bulbs, non-working string lights and other outdated decor. Be sure to use these offered programs – string lighting cannot go into your recycling bin! The wires cause entanglements and can damage sorting equipment at your local recycler.

Use DIY or second-hand decor

For decorations around the house, instead of going to buy new decorations, shop around at your local thrift stores. Thrift stores can have a good collection of vintage holiday decor to give more uniqueness to the decor around your house.

Shopping second-hand stores are also great for those who opt to DIY their holiday decor. It also can be a lot of fun! Get the whole family involved in hunting through a thrift shop to make something special to hang on the tree or display around the house for the holiday season.

Environmentally-Friendly Gifting

What’s the holiday season without gifts? Unfortunately, with all the gifts we give to our loved ones, lots of trash comes along with them as well.The following tips should help you cut down on the waste generated by gift giving.

Give gift experiences, not gift materials

Consider giving your loved ones gifts to events or pampering treatments instead of material objects. Anything from a nice dinner, tickets to the ballet, an upcoming game, or a great massage would make an incredible gift and a chance to make memories.

You can also make something that is consumable, such as a mason jar filled with the dry ingredients of your favorite cookie or brownie recipe. It’s a sweet treat to share and cuts down on the clutter and trash that would accumulate. If sweets aren’t a favorite for your loved ones, custom-made bath bombs, salts or soaps are a great gift to give as well!

Alternatively, you could also invest in your loved ones by giving them a monetary gift or make a donation in their honor to one of their favorite charitable organizations!

Reuse old wrapping paper or use non-traditional wrapping

Wrapping paper can be the biggest source of trash and waste during the holidays. Due to their mixed materials, most gift wrapping is not recyclable, meaning lots of garbage after unwrapping.

        
To help cut down on waste, save the wrapper or bags that gifts come in to reuse for future presents. Similarly, consider buying non-holiday specific wrapping paper that can be used regardless of holiday or event, or better, use a plain recyclable paper like butcher paper or newspaper.     

Many have also used scarves or other beautiful fabric to wrap gifts. It adds uniqueness to the gift as well as giving the intended person an item that they can wear or use.

The holiday season can be a merry time to spend with the people we love. It will be extra sweet to know that we are doing what we can to reduce, reuse, and reassess the items we have when we’re celebrating.

Reduce Food Waste During the Holidays

Food is unquestionably the centerpiece of the holidays. It can be easy for food preparation to get out of hand and create more mess and waste than anticipated. Being mindful of how much food you and your family actually need this holiday is a great way to reduce your waste!

Buy less food

With Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season within weeks of each other, households are poised to have a lot of leftover food that can go to waste. Minimizing food waste starts with planning your holiday meals, taking note of who is coming over, and how much they eat. Firm guest counts will help you plan and portion food accordingly and help you with buying food items you need.

Before you buy all new recipe ingredients, take a good inventory of what is in your fridge and cupboards. Chances are that there are ingredients for part of a recipe or even enough ingredients for a whole dish already inside your house. Try to use ingredients you have on hand first before going out to get new ones.

When you do go to the grocery store, have a shopping list on hand and stick to your list. Grocery stores pull out all the stops during this season, including holiday decor, offers for items in bulk and with big sales. It can be very easy to grab items that you do not need or that nobody will eat, but sticking to your list will ensure you stay tight on your food budget.

Keep track of your leftovers and compost what you can’t eat

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, about a third of all the food produced for human consumption is thrown away or wasted. After your holiday feasts, try to use your leftover dishes in other recipes. There are a lot of creative dishes you can make with leftover turkey, such as turkey sandwiches, homemade stock, or even exotic dishes like jook soup. Ham, potatoes, nuts and other holiday staples have several forms of reuse as well in leftovers!.

Holiday leftovers should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator and consumed within one week. If you have food that will last beyond four days, freeze your leftovers and enjoy them up to four months later.

For leftovers that can’t be eaten or reused, look into composting your food. Check with your local service provider to see if food composting is allowed or if there are certain rules around composting food scraps. If composting is an option where you live, it is a great way to use your leftover food scraps.

Use reusable dishware and cutlery

Washing so many dishes while everything else is going on during the holidays can be tedious. However, paper plates, plastic cups, and disposable cutlery all can end up in a landfill.

Due to their light material and their contact with food, those listed items are not recyclable – and if they’re made with wax or plastics, they’re not compostable either. This ends up creating trash, no matter how convenient it is to not have to do Thanksgiving dishes.

Use washable dishware and cutlery, even pull out your holiday-specific dishware if you have them. Along with looking fun and festive, using washable plates will cut down on the trash that gets sent to the dump.

The holiday season can be a merry time to spend with the people we love and it will be extra sweet to know that we are doing what we can to reduce, reuse, and reassess the items we have when we’re celebrating. For more information on how you can recycle or properly dispose of materials or food items, head to TDS’s Waste Wizard!