Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season. That is 25 million tons of garbage. During the season of giving, consumers buy countless gifts prewrapped in plastic only to wrap again with brand new wrapping paper that is immediately torn to shreds and subsequently thrown in the garbage. If American families wrapped just three presents in re-used materials, we could save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Even the smallest change at home can make a big impact on the environment if everyone commits to doing his or her small part.
Rethinking gift wrap alone can reduce your carbon footprint this year. Rather than buying rolls of glossy wrapping paper, bundle presents in recycled newspaper. It adds a vintage feel to any gift and allows one more “reuse” step prior to recycling. I love finding use for those obnoxious newsprint ads that somehow find their way into my mailbox. Plain brown paper that typically stuffs mail orders also works wonders in the gift department. Fancy it up with a ribbon or twine and you have yourself a beautiful gift. Brown paper is easy to paint as well, so if you have old red or white paint lying around, you can enhance your gifts’ wow factor with designs. My favorite gift wrap is simple brown paper wrapped with twine, with a small pine tree branch as decoration. A towel or reusable canvas bag also make for great gift wraps. In my family, we all reuse the gift bags, bows, and ribbons, which provides new options every year as various adornments are passed from family to family.
One way I reduce waste during the holiday season is by saving nice jars or baskets throughout the year so I have options on hand around Christmas. This year, I repurposed old candle jars to refill with my own homemade beeswax candle wax for gifts. I also filled old jars with bath salts and dried flowers as a great “spa” gift. I had plenty of baskets left over from our wedding that were used as gift baskets instead of wrapping presents, along with leftover ribbon and twine. For gift tags, I save scrap paper from other projects and spice them up with some calligraphy quotes. I can honestly say that I haven’t bought any new gift wrapping supplies in years.
For the present itself, opt for waste free alternatives. Homemade cookies stored in a reused tin, one of the thousands of homemade mason jar gifts, a “spa package” with bulk bath salts, unpackaged soap, and homemade candles. Vintage cookware is great for any chef, especially with how cheaply products are made these days, and offers a unique story alongside everyday use. A lot of clothing is now made from recycled materials, which is a great way to support a cyclical consumer model. Gift cards are a great option, as well. Some companies like Starbucks are even opting for gift cards free of plastic. Giving the gift of an experience is my favorite idea, such as movie tickets, entrance to a museum, or concert tickets.
The holiday season isn’t just about gifts. It is about time spent with family gathered around the table. Remember that gluttony is in style during the feasting season, but food waste is not. Have Tupperware or mason jars on hand at gatherings so leftovers don’t go to waste. Make enough food for the number of guests but don’t go overboard with five pies for only five people. Have a grocery list prepared ahead of time so you don’t get suckered into those ridiculous deals on 10 for 1 marshmallow bags. And don’t forget your reusable shopping bag!
It is easy to get swept up in the chaos of the holiday season, rushing from family gatherings to parties, trying to cook giant festive meals for loads of people, and struggling to find just the right gift for a special someone. But don’t forget that this season is a chance to hone in on what’s important: friends, family, and cherishing time together. A waste free gift does not mean a thoughtless or cheap gift. On the contrary, I find myself thinking more about presents for my loved ones now that I started following a waste free mantra. It’s truly the thought that counts, and battling society’s notion of only “new” is acceptable for gift giving is a powerful way to challenge your own and others’ thoughts and beliefs.