Around the holidays, our households produce way more waste than normal. From presents and gift wrapping to food scraps and leftovers, waste just seems to multiply around the festive season. If you're trying to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, this probably bothers you. So, to help manage your household's waste more effectively this coming holiday season, we made a quick guide for you.
The thing that will most help you in managing your household's holiday waste is making sure that you won't have tons of it, to begin with. The way to ensure this is to plan, plan, and plan.
Plan the presents
There are two things to plan for here - the presents themselves and the wrapping they come in.
A lot of unwanted presents end up in landfills around the world every year. You can make sure you don't add to that by giving considered and thoughtful presents. Make your holiday list well in advance (we're talking months in advance) and try to think about what kinds of presents you might want to give based on their hobbies, personality, job, current situation, etc. Avoid heading to the shops a couple of days before Christmas and just buying whatever is still in stock. These are the presents that might never get used or chucked in the bin. Planning extra early also gives you the chance to figure out if you want to DIY some presents.
Take the time to look for sustainable brands for the items you want to purchase and consider digital gifts or experiences where applicable. Your adventurous friend will probably appreciate a paragliding voucher more than yet another scarf or bottle of body lotion. Likewise, your musical brother may love a class on the new instrument he's learning - definitely beats another jacket or backpack.
For more on sustainable presents, check out our guide to sustainable holiday gifting and our conscious holiday gift guide.
Also be mindful of how you wrap your presents - these are the things that make up a good chunk of holiday waste. So if you want to make your holiday season kinder to Mother Nature, here's where you can make a big difference. Wrap with reusable and recyclables whenever and wherever possible. For more on this, check out our guide to sustainable gift wrapping.
Plan for the meal
We all love a great, big feast for the holidays. However, when it's poorly planned, you end up with tons of waste. Not to mention, you end up spending more than you need to. So, here;s a few things to help you avoid both of those things.
Keep in mind the number of people at your gathering
Whether you're making the entire feast or bringing a dish to a potluck celebration, keeping this mind helps you end up with as little food waste as possible. There are tons of guides on how to do this online so take full advantage of the internet for this one.
If you’re bring a dish to a potluck, it's a good idea to check in with the host. Ask how many people are coming, and how many are bringing mains, sides, appetisers, desserts, or whatever it is you were assigned. Use that information to gauge how much you need to make. It's always a good idea to make a little more than you think would be needed, but it's not great if you have a heap of leftovers.
Tip: If you’re hosting and anticipating leftovers, encourage your guests to bring their own reusable food containers so they can take some food home.
We know it’s annoying to have to wash up after all of your family and friends, but it’s a small price to pay for making sure you don’t toss yet another batch of single use plastics into a landfill. Yes, they are convenient, but they also will stay in the landfill long after we’re gone so please reconsider using plastic plates, cups, and cutlery if you’ve saved yourself from washing up by using these in the past.
If you really have to use disposables though, consider using ones that are biodegradable or compostable. These more sustainable options for disposables are out there, you just need to look. They are, admittedly, more expensive, but they are tons better than single use plastics.
Treat your leftovers well
Sometimes, no matter how well you plan your menu, you still end up with more leftovers than you anticipated. You certainly don’t want these to go to waste so make sure you have reusable food containers and fridge space at the ready. If you’re the type to forget what’s in your containers, label them with some masking tape and a marker. Look up how long you can keep your leftovers for and make a meal plan for the coming week to ensure you use them before they need to go into the bin. Also, remember that reheating isn’t your only option. You can get creative and use your leftovers in different ways. There’s a whole genre of food blogging and video recipes that tackle what to do with leftovers so have a look around and save recipes you like so you can use them in your meal planning.
Taking this approach to leftovers means you get to fully enjoy the fruits of your labour in the kitchen even days after the celebrations have finished.
Before the celebrations even start, make sure you have containers ready to sort holiday rubbish. Keep this container handy at present opening time so you can sort through the paper, ribbons, packing materials, boxes, bags, etc. afterwards and decide which ones to keep, which ones can go into the recycling bin, and which ones you have to toss into the garbage.
If you compost at home, don’t forget to tell your guests where they can toss their food scraps.
Tip: Try to ask if presents can be opened a bit more carefully than usual so you can keep the wrapping paper. This might not be an option for kids at your gathering that have tons of fun ripping presents open, but it’s worth a try with the adults.
Hopefully these tips can help you have a less wasteful holiday season this year. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or tips of your own to share!