10 Zero Waste Tips for the Holidays

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1.  Use real utensils, cups and plates

If you’re hosting a holiday meal, just the thought of washing the seemingly endless amounts of dishes may have you considering a quick trip to Costco to purchase disposable plates and utensils. But when you consider the detrimental impact these products have on the environment, a little “you wash, I dry” teamwork will help you tackle the chore in no time, and have you feeling great about it!


2.  Use cloth napkins

Go old-school and ditch the paper napkins and paper towels. There’s something about using cloth napkins that just feels right! It’s probably a good idea to have some dish cloths set aside in case of a spill or any other minor mishaps.


3.  Shop for food at a Farmers Market or order Zero Waste Catering

Going to a Farmers Market with your own reusable bag is a step in the right direction. It’s guaranteed that the food will be fresh and it’ll be much easier to buy just the right amount. It’s also a good way to avoid buying food that comes in wasteful, unsustainable packaging. Below is a link to a comprehensive list of Famers Markets in and around the Los Angeles area (although the article is a little dated, the Farmers Markets are still current):

http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/the-ultimate-la-farmers-market-guide-google-map-2895133Farm fresh to you option

For larger events such as company parties, you can also research zero waste catering services in your area.


4.  Plan accordingly

Everyone knows that typically even the most scrumptious holiday meals result in ridiculous amounts of leftovers. On Day 2 everything is just as tasty as the day before, but you’ve still barely put a dent in the leftover inventory. By Day 3, you don’t want to see another green bean casserole until the next holiday season. The easiest way to avoid this is by cooking only the amount that you really need.  You can cut recipes in half if need be, or even eliminate some of the less desirable side dishes from the annual rotation.  


5.  Donate to Food Pantries

If you still have leftovers, you can locate local food banks or pantries that will gladly take any appropriate non-perishable food items.  A helpful resource for the Los Angeles area is Foodpantries.org: https://www.foodpantries.org/ci/ca-los_angeles


6.  Save your scraps and compost them

Composting can be a fun and deeply satisfying way to achieve your “Zero Waste Holidays” goal. Doing so will divert organic waste from landfills and provides rich soil for your garden. Do your part to complete the loop: garden to table, table to compost, compost to garden! 


7.  Zero Waste Decorations

Do your best to use the existing decorations you have, but if you must purchase new items, do so responsibly. For example, you can recycle your old holiday lights (Home Depot offers a holiday light exchange in November) and purchase solar powered LED lights. Another good idea is to make consumable decorations such as a homemade gingerbread house or holiday themed cookies. To adorn the perfect dining room table, you can use seasonal whole fruits and vegetables. The point is, a little creativity will go a long way to prevent wasteful purchasing of non-sustainable holiday decorations.


8.  Sustainable Cards

As we march toward the inevitability of a digital future, it’s more than likely that every member of the family, young and old alike, will be spending time during the holidays fixated on their phones, tablets and laptops. This makes for a great excuse to save a tree by sending your holiday wishes via E-cards.

For all you traditionalists out there that insist on buying paper cards, make sure to choose a card made from recyclable or recycled materials. FYI - photo paper is not recyclable!

9.  Opt for real trees

If you’re looking to put a new tree your home to bring in that Christmas vibe, choose a real tree over the fake ones! Real Christmas trees are a renewable resource and can be recycled, while fake trees are made with non-renewable plastics and end up in landfills when people are done with them. Supporting the industry can help plant even more trees for the future.

Not sure what to do with your real tree after the big day? There are tree recycling programs in most communities that can help turn them into mulch for gardens and parks in the area. Some places sell trees that can be replanted too! If you don’t have anyplace to put it yourself, consider donating it to a community garden or park so it is reused. In addition to these options, some companies also rent live Christmas trees out in large pots (such as https://www.livingchristmas.com).

If you’ve already got one of the fake trees, keep using it as long as you can! If it’s still viable then there’s no reason to add it to the waste stream.

10.  Giving Gifts

A profoundly intimate part of the holiday season is the act of gift giving. There are several wonderful ways to give a meaningful gift without creating waste. Gift certificates to local museums, concert halls, restaurants or theaters are always much appreciated. Edible gifts such as breads, cookies, cakes, jams/jellies and herbed vinegars or olive oils are a good way to enjoy a gift with loved ones. Another possibility is to make a donation on behalf of a loved one to a charity or non-profit organization that’s near and dear to their heart. 


Denise Braun Ryan