We generate 25% more trash in the United States between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day — an extra 1 million tons. So much of this trash is unnecessary if we were to become a bit more mindful and creative with our choices.
Here are six ideas to help you reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle and rethink this holiday season:
1. Get more crafty.
The holidays are a great time to get out your scissors and tape and channel your inner kindergartner. You can make your own holiday cards from cut up recycled paper, old cards that you've received, or even paper bags. Pine cones, shells and other treasures you can find in nature make for beautiful Christmas tree decorations.
Tell your friends and family members you're doing a challenge this year and are only giving gifts that you can make. Give them a piece of art, something yummy from your kitchen, homemade potpourri, or soap. If you have kids, tap into the jackpot of their creative output and give their art as gifts — saving their less-than-Picasso-quality drawings and paintings to be used as wrapping paper. Use cereal boxes, shoe boxes and the boxes you receive, to package any items you are shipping.
2. Give the gift of experience, rather than material things.
If you don't want to add more stuff to the mix, give the gift of experiences. I think there are very few people on the planet who wouldn't be over the moon with a gift certificate for a massage. A cooking class, tickets to a show, surf lesson, or dinner at a unique restaurant, can lead to a lifetime of memories.
You can also make your own gift certificates! A voucher to babysit, clean someone's house, or cook a nice dinner, will surely be well-received. You may also want to consider gifts of charity. My favorite charity gift to give is a goat. For $50, Oxfam donates a goat to a family in a poor village, and that goat provides two gallons of milk per week to drink and sell, as well as fertilizer for their crops. Plus it comes with a hilariously cute card that says, "Don't be mad, but I bought you a goat."
3. Consider alternative tree options.
In the US, 33 million live trees are cut each year for the holidays. If you don't want to cut down a tree, and aren't a fan of plastic fake trees, consider a live potted tree that you can plant outside after the holidays. It will add oxygen to the atmosphere and provide a home for birds — how cool is that?
But if that sounds like too much of a project, or you don't have the outdoor space to plant it in, how about another tree alternative? In the southwest, dried yucca stalks make beautiful Christmas trees when decorated with shiny things. In the tropics, a dried date palm stalk is fun to adorn with tinsel. Or you might try stacking the books from your bookshelf in a Christmas tree shape and hanging lights around it, with a lovely star on top.
4. Shop at secondhand stores.
I'm a huge fan of thrift stores and garage sales, and not just because I love a bargain. I can find so many more unique items secondhand, because they aren't on the shelf next to hundreds more just like them. Also, items that are still in circulation in a secondhand shop are likely better made than new items of lesser quality. But mostly, I like the feeling of reusing rather than buying something new unnecessarily.
My children, friends and family members appreciate the distinctive things I find for them, and aren't at all put off that they are secondhand. You can also look online on local sites like Craigslist and Freecycle, where you can find gently used items for great prices, or even free to a good home.
5. Include rechargeable batteries.
Millions of battery-powered gadgets and gizmos are given this time of year, and according to the EPA, 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Each year, Americans throw away more than 3 billion batteries. This is kind of a big deal. Because those batteries contain hazardous waste that can leak into landfills and leach into our air and water supply. This year, choose to give rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well.
6. Don't forget the bags!
If you're like me, you have a crumpled pile of re-useable shopping bags in your trunk. And if you're not like me, you actually remember to grab those bags every time you go shopping. Because if you don't, you end up with a ginormous pile of paper or plastic bags at home!
Although there may be good uses for them, many of them inevitably end up in a landfill or choking some poor sea creature. So if you find yourself at the checkout counter and realize you've left the bags in the car, excuse yourself and sprint back and get them. The planet will thank you for your effort.
The holidays don't have to be a time of frantic consumerism and waste, just for the sake of it. We can be mindful of the choices we make and the actions we take, when we consider the waste that can be produced.
These are just a few ideas, but there are so many more. Please share yours in the comments section, and have a happy, healthy holiday season!