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Tips and Tricks for a Merry, Low Waste, Holiday

By, Alex Greenbaum, Senior Associate and Waste Audit Manager, Think Zero LLC

We are coming towards the end of November, which means the holiday season is officially upon us. That means food, friends, family, gifts and of course all the waste that comes with it. According to the non-profit ReFed, around 305 million pounds of food from Thanksgiving dinners will be thrown out this year. When planning for next year's Thanksgiving or this year’s holiday meals, we recommend using the Guestimator which tells you exactly how much food you should prepare for the number of people you have eating to reduce the amount of food and money that is wasted due to excess food. The Guestimator can be used for your family’s holiday parties, office holiday parties, or any party where there is food being served.

Most holidays this time of year are associated with gifts; your friends, or your office might do a secret Santa or white elephant where everyone gets a gift. Sadly, there is a lot of waste associated with gift giving. There is all the wrapping paper, the box the gift comes in, the plastic packaging the gift is inside of and the actual gift itself which may end up getting thrown out. According to a recent study by Pureprofile of 2,000 adults in the U.S., the average person receives at least one unwanted gift over the holiday season, resulting in $16 Billion spent on unwanted gifts. According to Discover Magazine, 4% of all gifts given in the U.S. wind up in the trash.

Instead of giving the traditional gift, try the low waste route where you give someone an experience instead. This can be tickets to a show, or a movie, or even a sporting event; in addition to the fact that most tickets are now e-tickets, there is normally far less waste associated with an experience compared to giving a physical gift. If your gift exchange has a max price, and an experience doesn’t fit under the budget try the traditional gift route, but with a zero-waste twist! Try purchasing a gift that comes in sustainable packaging, wrap your gift using recycled paper, or even make your own gift at home by sewing, knitting, or baking it. You can even make a body oil by blending high quality sunflower oil and olive oil, dropping in a few dried chamomile flowers and pouring it into a nice glass jar. If you are exchanging gifts with family or co-workers try a website like which helps cut down the number of gifts (everyone gets one) and allows for people to pass on gifts therefore hopefully getting something they want and will use, instead of something they do not want.

Finally, if your family buys a tree every year, consider buying a reusable tree instead, this way instead of cutting down a tree and buying a new cut tree every year, you can reuse one. Many groups have performed lifecycle analysis on reusable tree versus fresh cut tree and the findings show that a reusable tree is better for the environment as long as you use it year over year, many, many times. All of these are simple tips and tricks you can use to have an amazing holiday season, but hopefully one with less waste that is just as merry for the planet.

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