The holidays can present many challenges for anyone trying to cut their waste. From the parties, to the feasts to the gifts—and everyone’s expectations—you may feel like throwing your hands in the air and throwing in the (disposable) towel. These nine steps will help you reduce your consumption, retain your sanity and keep (mostly) everyone happy.
1. Buy less stuff
This seems pretty obvious. But although you and your partner may have agreed to exchange no gifts, that might not go over as well with your kids, your brother, your mother-in-law… Fortunately, you can give your gifts stuff-free if you opt for experiences and services.
My younger daughter—who doesn’t read my blog and so won’t see this—wants to go to the symphony so I bought two tickets for that. They weren’t cheap. But have you seen the price of one video game?! Maybe music isn’t your recipient’s thing. You have lots of other choices—tickets to games, movies, the theatre, the train to come visit. I have compiled a “shopping” list of experiences and services here.
2. If you’re crafty, make gifts
Today kicked off Make Something Week, an international push to encourage people to become active makers, rather than passive consumers. Our addiction to convenience has become a self-perpetuating downward spiral toward helplessness. As we become less skilled at the basics—cooking, gardening, sewing, carpentry, repairing and mending—we become more dependent on corporations to fulfill our basic needs and so we buy more stuff. Reclaim your independence. Make something!
My younger daughter wants to make all of her presents this year. She loves to embroider. Last year, she gave me the dishtowel below, embroidered with the likeness of our cat, Bootsy. I love it! You could also make food. Most people would love to receive a glass jar filled with homemade cookies. Here is a list of 13 other gifts in jars.
3. When you do buy stuff, buy local stuff
We all love the convenience of shopping online. But when you shop local, more of your money stays in your local community, you support local small businesses and you avoid all that packaging! San Francisco recently raised garbage collection rates due to the “Amazon effect”—bins overflowing with brown cardboard and packaging materials from online shopping.
4. Learn to say no
Be prepared! This time of year, people will attempt to foist large amounts of stuff onto you. Can you speak with your friends and family in advance and come up with alternatives to exchanging presents? If you have to, practice in the mirror what you’ll say: “We’d like to start a new tradition this year and take you out for dinner at [name of recipient’s favorite restaurant], rather than exchange gifts” or “For the love of god, if you buy me so much as a pair of socks, I’ll have to rearrange my 600-square-foot apartment, please buy my nothing this year.” Tailor your request to each audience.
5. If you bake, buy bulk ingredients
My mom’s freezer sits empty pretty much all year. Then about a month before Christmas, she begins to cram it with chocolate chip cookies, taffy tarts, date squares, dream squares, brownies, pie pastry… The scary thing is we eat every morsel… If you plan to do lots of baking, buy your ingredients in bulk, filling up glass jars and cloth bulk bags. Just make sure you get the weight (the tares) of the jars marked before you fill them up. You don’t want to pay for the weight of the jar, just the weight of the food in the jar.
6. If you don’t bake, buy with reusables
If you don’t enjoy baking—my boss says she philosophically opposes baking—find a bakery that will let you fill up your reusable containers and simply buy the cookies, brownies and other treats rather than baking them. You don’t have to make everything yourself. I tend to because that’s how I’m hardwired. Everyone is different. But both bakers and non-bakers can reduce their waste.
7. Plan your big meal
Reducing your waste requires some planning ahead but not that much—a meal plan for a few days, a shopping list and the jars and bags to fill up with food at the store. The same rules apply to a big meal like Christmas dinner. Will you cook all the food yourself? Host a potluck? Eat at your parents’ house? What will you cook? Come up with a menu now. Some food you can make ahead. Here is a list of ideas. And try out the Guest-imator, a dinner party calculator that figures out just how much food you need to buy for your menu.
8. Wrap gifts in reusables
Cloth produce and bulk bags can double as gift bags. Below are some of the bags I have made over the years. Dish towels, hand towels and bath towels double as wrap and useful gift. (As a crazy jar lady, I think everything looks best in jars…)
9. Choose natural decorations
When my kids were little, I made gingerbread cookie ornaments for the tree—gingerbread men, stars and bells I decorated with icing and silver dragées (which are illegal here in California!). We have also made popcorn garland and have decorated with pinecones and pomegranates (just be sure to eat that fruit). I saw the beautiful dried oranges in the pic below on Michaela Chamberlain’s Instagram feed. She’s using these to decorate her tree. Her tree will not only look beautiful but will also smell fantastic!