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7 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain (In Your Trash Can, That Is)

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Household waste increases by about 1 million extra tons from Turkey Day to New Year’s. Keep that weight in check!   


The other day I was reading a magazine and flipped the page to the inevitable article with tips on surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds. With parties, baking, and food-centered celebrations, not to mention cold weather that makes getting outside more difficult, this is always a challenge for me.

But equally as challenging as keeping excess weight off my waist is keeping excess waste out of the trash. After all, it’s the time of year when packages are delivered on a near-daily basis, we’re baking and cooking more than usual, and we’re shopping not just for gifts but for decorations and festive outfits and, possibly, provisions for a vacation or even just a road trip to grandma’s.

Indeed, household waste increases about 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day… that’s about a million extra tons of trash! It’s hard not to give into the excess and celebratory spirit of the season, but a few small changes this year will help you keep your own holiday waste weight in check. Here’s how:

  1. Consolidate your online orders. Especially if you have Amazon Prime or shop at places offering free shipping this season, it’s easy to be cavalier about ordering just one or two items from your shopping list as you think of them. Instead, keep items in your online shopping cart until you’ve amassed a bunch, and then click on “place order”. This will allow the retailer to pack your orders in as few shipments as possible, saving packaging materials and the resources used in shipping. You could even go one step further: Have an online shopping sesh with your neighborhood friends and put in your purchases on the same order to save even more on shipping resources.
  2. Don’t shop so much! We love the unprecedented step that outdoors retailer REI took this year, closing its stores on Black Friday and encouraging its staff and customers instead to spend the day outside. We’re spending the day kayaking, and it’s setting the tone for the holiday season to not shop to excess. After all, less stuff = less waste. Pare down your list of gift recipients this year — ask extended family if they want to draw names to buy a nice gift for just one person, or ask friends if they want to meet up for lunch rather than spend money on gifts for each other… chances are they’ll be just as relieved as you are to not have to shop for one more token gift.
  3. Spring for the real Christmas tree. The real vs. artificial tree debate is the holiday version of gas vs. charcoal grills or cloth vs. disposable diapers. And, as with these other debates, there’s no clear answer as to which is better for the environment. But because artificial trees are made from petroleum-based plastics, they are not only bad for the environment when they’re produced, but they also will take centuries to decompose in the landfill. And although artificial trees supposedly last for as long as 10 years, the scales still tip in favor of real trees, which are typically farmed under managed-forestry regulations, and, after the holidays, can be mulched or otherwise recycled. And if you want to be even greener with your live Christmas tree, you could check out the live tree rentals that many cities offer.
  4. Avoid gift wrap. (Or reuse it.) The huge garbage bags of gift wrap, ribbons, and plastic-and-cardboard toy packaging always makes me feel a bit queasy on Christmas morning. And with its dyes, thin quality, and metallic embellishments, gift wrap isn’t always recyclable. But a pile of gifts under the tree would just look, well, naked without it! And, after all, it’s a longstanding tradition. Instead of buying pricey rolls of paper, scout around the house for some alternatives to repurpose: Fabric, newspapers or magazine pages, cloth napkins or tablecloths, and decorated cardboard boxes all make great options for concealing a surprise.
  5. Give experiences, not stuff. In our tiny house, I’ve been trying to instill in my kids the joy of an experience rather than just another toy or game that will take up space and eventually fall from favor. And it’s working. My daughter got horseback riding lessons for her birthday, and last Christmas we surprised them with tickets to the live performance of their favorite TV show. Not only are these gifts making memories (and they really don’t play with — let alone remember — that must-have toy that I scoured the malls for a couple of years ago), but they also don’t use up resources in the way of packaging, shipping, and manufacturing. And there’s nothing to throw away!
  6. Use reusable shopping bags (and not just at the supermarket). I’m pretty good about bringing a stash of reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, but when I’m at a mall or in my neighborhood shopping district, it’s another story. Plus it’s hard to deny the pleasure of slinging the little glossy shopping bag handles over your arm as you stroll along Main Street. I’ve collected a couple of pretty reusable bags that squish down to nothing and can fit into my purse so whether I’m in a boutique or at a mall, I can say no to the shopping bag, no matter how fancy it is. The reusable bags from Baggu come in a wide variety of cute patterns and a range of sizes, and they fold up into a pouch for your purse.
  7. Send e-cards instead of paper ones. Sure, it’s fun to open the mailbox every day to hand-addressed envelopes holding cards, family photos, and annual newsletters, rather than the usual bills and junk mail. Card company Hallmark estimates that more than 1.2 billion cards are sent each year. That’s a lot of paper and envelopes to recycle, if they can even be recycled: Cards with glitter or foil embellishments might not be able to go in your curbside bin. With the hectic pace of the holidays, I’m always all too eager to eschew all the addressing of envelopes, purchasing of stamps, and delivering to the post office in favor of e-cards, which cost nothing to send and waste fewer resources. You can help society or the environment by choosing an e-card service that gives back to a charitable organization. And, if you just can’t resist the tradition of mailing cards, then consider finding your cards on, a site where you can find cards that raise money for worthy causes, or choose cards that are either made from recycled paper or don’t have too many adornments, so that the recipient can recycle them.

What are your plans to keep your holiday waste weight in check? Share your ideas in the comments below. 

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Quiara K. 5 years ago
    While I would love a real Christmas tree, my son's asthma just won't allow it. Does anyone know of environmentally friendly artificial trees?
  • joanna l. 5 years ago
    I use the paper shredder to shred colorful catalogs and wrapping paper to use for stuffing home made gift baskets and gift bags.
    • joanna l. 5 years ago
      our city accepts shredded paper for recycling. Or you can use the paper for packing Christmas ornaments away or for shipping.
  • joanna l. 5 years ago
    I like the idea that I read somewhere years ago where you would decorate the house with evergreen sprays and wreaths (that wonderful smell! And all natural too!)

    And when the holidays are over, you remove all of the decorations and you put the foliage in the yard with birdseed in it.
  • GeneAnn K. 5 years ago
    I've been recycling gift bags for ages. It's really fun when one from some previous year of recycling makes it's way back to my house!
  • Roxanne M. 5 years ago
    Definetely already using reusable bags at the store but will be making every effort to use alternatives to traditional wrapping paper.
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