7 Wasteful Things We Do During the Holidays – and How to Fix It

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Read time: 4 minutes

The holiday season approaches, and for many of us, the biggest preoccupation we have is with our survival. How can we be jolly responsibly? Connect with friends and family yet still adhere to social distancing protocols? COVID steals the headlines; meanwhile the landfills keep running out of room. We risk forgetting that we are in the midst not just of a health crisis but a climate crisis too.

Sad-Looking Dog Sitting in Pile of Red Tissue Paper by Christmas Tree to Represent Wasteful Habits During the Holidays | Vitacost.com/blog

There’s no time like the present, when many of us are sequestered at home or will be in the near future, to take stock of many of our wasteful holiday habits and swap them out with more eco-friendly ones. Here are seven easy habits to modify and thus reduce your holiday footprint.

1. Single use food storage

Everybody loves a Thanksgiving or Christmas doggy bag, but cutting down on plastic bags, plastic wrap and foil is a no-brainer. Especially these days, there are so many great options for reusable food storage. Have some recyclable paper bags on hand (we love lunchskins). Or try saving up your takeout containers to reuse for sending leftovers home with guests.

2. Paper napkin extravaganzas

In the same vein as needlessly wasteful food storage, resist the urge to use paper napkins at your gatherings. Instead give your guests a cloth napkin. They are less extravagant than paper: Just put them in the wash and cloth napkins are good as new. If you don’t own cloth napkins, the holidays are a great time to stock up. Pick a cheerful holiday print or choose a more neutral pattern or solid for all-year use. Use them time and time again instead of filling up a landfill with one-use napkins.

3. Décor do-overs

Resist the urge to do a décor overhaul each season and make do with what you have. Think about how you can mix up your current decorations in new ways and if you need to add in one or two new special things—try hitting up a thrift store—for a little extra fun. For more impact, get creative with where you put the tree or hang the lights in a new way. Even small differences can feel like a refresh.

4. Holiday cards

Even if sending out a holiday missive on cardstock is how you like to roll, you might want to curb your paper trail. Think about it: it’s a lot of paper, energy and money expended for something that has a two-month shelf life. Go for an email newsletter, an ecard or hand out pictures to close relatives at family celebrations.

5. Go too heavy on the heat

Nobody likes overkill, especially when it comes to gunning the thermostat. Lower the temp when the party starts. Holiday cooking—and guests—automatically raises the temperature in your home, so you will be more comfortable if you take it down a notch or two. In general, you should have the house temp set at around 68 degree in winter and lower it during the night or if you are away on a trip.

6. Toss the leftovers

One of the blessings—and burdens—of the holidays is the leftovers. If you have a ton of leftover food on your hands, try getting creative. Dress up the leftovers with fresh ingredients or spices, or repurpose the leftovers into a different dish entirely, such as turning mashed potatoes into patties or transforming thanksgiving leftovers into a one pot turkey hash.

Another strategy to cut down on food waste is to save all your vegetable food scraps—such as the peels or tops or skins—and put them in the freezer. Then, next time you make soup, you have all the fixings for a stock.

Finally, if you really do have to throw away food, composting is your best option. If you don’t have a composting bin yet, maybe it’s time to put one on your wish list. Because composting keeps food out of the landfill, it can slow down our current climate crisis: According to the World Resources Institute, “Once food waste is in a landfill, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” Compost also helps regenerate our soil, which is good not only for planting gardens but the micro eco-system of your yard, including birds and bugs.

7. Unsustainable meat choices

If you are attached to a meat-centric meal, at least learn ways to make your meat choices more sustainable. Many people don’t realize is that meat—especially red meat—is actually not puts a huge strain on our natural resources. Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. Not only does it create almost one fifth of human produced greenhouse gas emissions, it also contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.

What can you do if you’re going to feature meat in your meal? Make absolutely sure that it’s from a sustainable source. Look for local, pasture-raised animal products, rather than factory farm-raised meat that cages animals in barns, cages and lots and feeds them a green-based diet.