Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the volume of garbage we generate goes up exponentially. As in millions of tons.
But there are ways to reduce of the number of half-eaten party platters, the mountains of bubble wrap and an estimated 38,000 miles of ribbon— without cutting back on the holiday cheer.
It can be pretty simple. Be thoughtful. Be practical. Be creative.
And if you want a few more specific tips, read on.
Finding the perfect gift
1. Quality over quantity
Instead of buying a number of cheaper (and possibly short-lived) gifts for someone, consider spending that same amount of money on one main present. A gift exchange with a family or group of friends—where you draw a single name—could allow you to purchase a nicer item with more staying power. Also, gag gifts may get a brief laugh, but how long will they hold their appeal before ending up in the trash?
2. Give experiences, nurture relationships
Give lessons related to a loved one’s hobby or interest. Give movies cards, memberships to museums or the Oregon Zoo, tickets to a show at Portland’5 Center for the Arts, or entrance passes to national, state and regional parks. Offer to babysit for a friend, go shopping for an elderly neighbor or make a meal for someone special.
3. Consider re-gifting new or preloved items
Do you have a new or unopened item that you know someone totally would enjoy? It's fine to regift—if the gift makes sense for the recipient. Maybe you have a family heirloom that doesn’t speak to you anymore but that your nephew adores. Consider passing along something you love to someone you love.
4. Purchase the gift, not the packaging
Online shopping can be convenient, for sure. But making your purchases at a local shop can reduce unnecessary bubble wrap, styrofoam and plastic – and even the number of returns. If you do receive packages from afar, save and reuse the shipping materials.
5. Christmas trees
This season, celebrate with a living tree—ask a local nursery about which trees grow best in this region. Decorate a live plant you already have. Or create an alternative tree with materials found at home or scavenged from a place like SCRAP. It could become a new tradition.
Many menorahs get passed down from generation to generation. But if you don't have an heirloom to light, create your own menorah using materials you have around the house. Make it a family activity. Or buy one from any number of artists who work with recycled materials. You know Etsy has a few!
7. Ditch the store-bought wrapping paper
Furoshiki is a Japanese gift-wrapping tradition—think origami for cloth—that is beautiful and reusable. Or decorate your own wrapping paper using the inside of brown shopping bags. Write on the wrap or make the gift tags out of last year’s cards. Use reusable gift bags, boxes and tins. You also can make the wrapping part of the present by putting a gift card inside a new pair of cute socks or warm winter hat.
Eat, drink and save the leftovers
8. Reduce food waste
Greater Portland tosses more food in the garbage than anything else. When cooking for holiday parties and large family gatherings. It’s easy to overestimate the amount of food you will need. Online resources can help you plan meals that keep guests happy and yield leftovers that you can handle. Invite guests to bring reusable containers to take leftovers home.
9. Reduce food-related plastics
Throwing a bring-your-own bowl party can save on trash and cleanup. Consider offering finger foods. And when you need dishes, use real plates and utensils instead of disposable ones if possible. If you do use disposable items, remember to keep them out of the recycling bin. When there is an option, buy ingredients for your favorite holiday recipes from the bulk bins instead of items packaged in bulky plastic. Not only does it cut down on packaging, it can also save a little money because you can buy only what you need.
Ask Metro for more waste reduction and recycling advice
Divide and conquer—the trash
Before ripping into those presents, grab three separate bags.
- One for things like bows, gift bags, and large pieces of wrapping paper you can reuse next year.
- One for recyclable material like some types of paper, and boxes you don’t plan to use again.
- And one for trash like plastic packaging and Styrofoam.
If you throw everything into one big bag, it’s more likely that good stuff will end up in the garbage.
Questions about that sparkly wrap or that singing holiday card? Ask Metro what you can recycle at 503-234-3000 or search the online tool.