Tis the season! From the traditional onslaught of holiday-themed commercials (which seem to start earlier each year) to party planning and gift lists, we’re collectively gearing up for a celebratory couple of months — and a huge uptick in unnecessary waste.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. residents who actively participate in a winter holiday, respondents admit to producing roughly 43 percent more waste than usual. If you do the math, that’s about 29 pounds of trash per week. Not surprisingly, gift-wrapping paper clocks in at a whopping 58 percent of needless waste, with gift bags a strong second at 57 percent. Rounding out the top five offenders are paper products, food waste and plastic packaging courtesy of short-sighted product and retail industry giants.
When it comes to holiday cards, imagine 2.6 billion of these buggers discarded after a one-time read. That’s enough to fill a football field reaching 10 stories high. Heading to your local Christmas tree lot with the entire family in tow? Consider this: Approximately 33 million trees are indiscriminately tossed once the party’s over.
If the magnitude of holiday waste threatens to unleash your inner Grinch, take heart. You can still embrace the joys of the season with these eco-friendly tips.
• Instead of store-bought wrapping paper and gift bags, most of which contain inks and foils unsuitable for recycling, consider repurposing paper grocery bags or using dye-free craft paper. Jazz it up with individualized decorations or a heartfelt message. Other gift-wrap alternatives include old maps, newspaper (use the comics section for added color and whimsy), scarves and bandanas (check that donation box stuffed in the back of your closet), and cloth bags or other fabric remnants. Or simply forgo wrapping altogether. Hide unwrapped gifts throughout the house for a family scavenger hunt that’s fun for kids and adults alike.
• Reduce your holiday footprint and support small businesses by shopping close to home. Peruse your neighborhood mom-and-pop shop for locally crafted gifts or other unique items big box retailers don’t carry. For those on Maui, we have a number of items at our Lahaina and Maʻalaea Ocean Stores. If you are not on Maui but still want to support a local organization (PWF!), consider our 2023 Marine Life Calendar.
• Approximately 60 percent of Americans polled say they receive unwanted gifts during the holidays. Don’t make it 61. This year, think outside of the gift box with a “wow” rather than a “what” by gifting an experience: tickets to an upcoming event, concert or bucket-list adventure such as a whale watch or snorkel trip (gift certificates available to ecotours); a membership to their favorite museum, gym or nonprofit organization; music or pickle ball lessons, a homemade coupon offering your time or talent; a gift card from that pricey restaurant they’ve always wanted to try — the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.
• Give a gift for the greater good by donating to a preferred charity, planting a tree or symbolically adopting an animal in support of wildlife conservation — in your loved one’s name, of course. If you go the retail route, purchase products from reputable nonprofits or mission-driven businesses that give back a percentage of profits to a worthwhile cause.
• Whether you’re shopping online or brick-and-mortar outlets, make every effort to by items with minimal plastic packaging or plastic-free altogether. Do your research ahead of time: eco-friendly retailers and companies aren’t shy about promoting sustainable products and green practices. If batteries are required, include rechargeable ones with the gift.
• Finally, when heading out on a shopping spree, by all means don’t forget to bring reusable totes!
• If your holiday tradition centers around a Christmas tree, lose the tinsel and don’t purchase ornaments or decorative doodads made of plastic. Store-bought swag is no match for nature’s sublime artistry. Keep it green with garlands of branches, berries, flowers, fresh fruit or homemade edibles and hand-made ornaments crafted from twigs, bark, flowers, herbs, etc.
• If possible, recycle your old Christmas tree. Turn it into mulch or wood chips for the garden or donate to a nonprofit or organization that may have use for it, such as animal rescues and sanctuaries. Artificial trees can be a sustainable option if used year after year. Don’t buy a new one every time the season rolls around. Go to a tree farm or, better yet, invest in a potted tree that you can enjoy after the holidays.
• Christmas and other holiday lights make your home merry and bright, but they can also be ravenous energy suckers and money munchers. incredible, Switching to LED lights use 90 percent less juice, release very little heat, last thousands of hours and significantly lower your energy bill.
• Plan your menu with the exact amount of food you’ll need in order to minimize food waste. Hit the farmer’s market for locally grown items whenever possible. Be efficient and economical. Try to get everything you need in a single trip. It’s better for you and for the planet.
• Save energy by cooking multiple items in one oven and running appliances with full loads only.
• Resist single-packaged drinks and assign everyone their own glass or cup. Provide tags, stickers, or other identifying markers if necessary to help them keep track of their libation.
• Paper plates and plastic utensils may be super convenient, but they’re a major scourge on the environment. Reusable dinnerware, beverage containers and flatware, such as bamboo utensils and stainless-steel glasses and cups, that are easy to clean, and store is the way to go.
• Don’t toss those leftovers! Have guests bring reusable containers for a take-home meal or donate your leftovers to a community food bank. Compost any remaining food scraps.
This year, celebrate the season of giving by giving back to Mother Earth. With a little forethought, effort and imagination, your holidays can be joyful AND sustainable.