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EarthTalk – How can holidays be made less wasteful?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

The holidays are so wasteful given all the consumerism and decorations. Do you have any tips for making this year’s celebration less wasteful?

Shelly R., New York, NY

The holidays are indeed a hugely wasteful time of the year, but there are many ways we can reduce our impact and still enjoy this special season.

Gift wrap is a great place to start. Much of the wrap we buy in stores can’t be recycled because of its mixture of paper with glitter, plastic, dyes, laminate and other materials, so it goes straight to the landfill after we use it once. Wrapping gifts in brown grocery bags or parcel paper makes use of an everyday item that you may already have in your home while keeping your wrapping recyclable. Cut open paper bags from the grocery store, wrap up your present like you would with any other kind of paper, and tie it up using recyclable twine, paper ribbon or a shoelace (you can even put it back in the shoe later).

To decorate your gifts, use stamps and leafy embellishments to make for a cute or sophisticated look. Go out into your neighborhood to forage for flowers or shoots of leaves to slip under your ribbon or twine. Another alternative to wrapping with brown paper is wrapping your gift with a scarf (two presents in one)! 

The debate over which kind of Christmas tree (real or artificial) is better for the environment has been raging for a long time, but the real right answer is a live tree that you can plant in the ground outside after the holidays. If you decide to get a cut tree, look for one that’s grown sustainably and pesticide-free. Going to the closest tree farm lowers the carbon footprint of buying a tree that was imported. If you want to get an artificial tree, most experts agree that you would need to reuse it for about 18 years to keep the environmental impact lower than that of a real tree.

There are plenty of ways to decorate your home festively for the holiday seasons without being wasteful. First of all, if you already have decorations, use them! If you don’t, try DIYing your decorations this year. You can use recycled paper or salt dough to make ornaments for your tree, and collect branches, holly, and leaves outside to create a wreath to hang on your door. Additionally, if you enjoy advent calendars for the month of December, try investing in a reusable wooden one this year so that you can fill it up with your own favorite treats, toys, or surprises for years to come. 

It’s also important to be conscious consumers while we shop for holiday gifts. Be sure to think (and think again) before buying something this season. Try to buy long-lasting gifts and shop at small, sustainable and/or local businesses to make your shopping greener. Etsy is a great place to find small businesses that sell ethical and sustainable products. Finally, if you enjoy unwrapping your creative side over the holidays, making your own gifts (upcycling thrifted clothes, jams or chutneys, knitting, painting, pickling or whatever you want to do) is another way to reduce waste. Cheers for the holidays, and have a crafty one!

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at To donate, visit https// Send questions to: