A plate of cookies, wrapped gifts and ornaments

Five Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact This Holiday Season

For many, December is a time of celebration and gift-giving, which also means lots of room for waste: wrapping paper, leftovers, vegetable scraps, the gift of a crocheted tissue box cover — the list goes on.

But the holidays don’t have to be wasteful. Our staff at Reep Green Solutions have found some innovative ways to reduce waste during this busy season by being smart about food waste, reducing unnecessary purchases and using reuseable products.

Here are five tips on how to have a low waste holiday season, from the experiences of Reep staff:

BYOB – Bring Your Own Bin

A small grey bin with the word "organic" on it
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

When pandemic restrictions allow for it, executive director Mary Jane Patterson visits family in Chatham-Kent for holidays. However, unlike the Region of Waterloo, they don’t have public compost pickup in Chatham-Kent. So Mary Jane brings her own compost bin and carts home food scraps that would otherwise go to the landfill.

“Often I just bring home the little under-the-sink compost bin, but for a big family gathering, I bring the whole green bin, empty and clean, with a fresh paper liner,” says Mary Jane. “It’s surprising that parts of Ontario do not have green bin composting.”

While Waterloo Region has a green bin program, many other Ontario municipalities do not. According to the Ontario government, only 20 per cent of the province’s 444 municipalities have green bin programs. The residential sector generates 55% of food and organic waste in Ontario. Where green bin programs do exist, they often do not service multi-unit buildings like apartments or condominiums.

By bringing your own compost bin to a gathering at a place without compost pick-up, you can help divert waste that would otherwise go to the landfill.

Go Gift-Free

a red box sits empty
Photo by George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com from Pexels

The most low-impact gift is no gift at all! Lisa Truong, Reep’s Energy Programs Manager, has decided to go gift-free with her family this year.

“After doing Reep’s Zero Waste Challenge, I realized that I needed to look for more ways to reduce my waste. I wanted to inspire my family to break old traditions, choose a more sustainable alternative, and value spending time together,” said Lisa.

The rules are simple: no gifts. Instead, they have agreed to give each other experiences together, donations or homemade crafts and baking.

With six kids in the family under 10, Lisa felt it was important to set an example. The kids’ reactions were positive — one suggested making a joke book or picture book, while another proposed hot chocolate bombs.

“I know they look up to their ‘Aunty Lisa,’ so I need to pave the way and teach the importance of protecting the environment for their future,” said Lisa.

Invest in Soup Stocks

Soup stock is a mainstay of low-waste living. You can squeeze extra nourishment out of vegetable scraps and bones with just a little bit of boiling water.

Our Zero Waste Challenge kick-off event featured tips and tricks from stockmaking pro Shefaza Esmail. You can check out Shefaza’s presentation in the video embedded above.

The basic recipe is to collect vegetable scraps (and bones if you are not vegetarian/vegan), put them into a pot with boiling water, boil for one hour and sieve out the scraps. It’s a simple way to get use out of food that would otherwise go in the green bin.

If there are not enough scraps to fill a big pot, you can save them in the freezer until you have enough.

Re-Gift, Thrift and Re-Make!

A multi-coloured pyramid with these words bottom-to-top: use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, make and buy

Going completely gift free may not make sense for everyone, but there are still ways to reduce the environmental impact of gift-giving.

Regifting gets a bad rep, but sometimes sustainable living means challenging paradigms and pushing back against norms that only exist because of a Seinfeld episode.

Sarah Lazarovic’s image of the Buyerarchy of Needs, above, provides good guidance for the holiday season. Regifting is just a way of using what you have. If someone else would appreciate that crocheted tissue box cover, why should it languish any longer in your closet?

Thrifting is a great way to buy gifts while keeping the circular economy moving. In Waterloo Region, we are blessed with a surplus of thrift stores and vintage clothing shops.

Wrap Mindfully

Canadians collectively send 545,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and shopping bags to the landfill during the Christmas season, according to a 2017 report from Zero Waste Canada. Tape, ribbons and foil decorations are not recyclable, so go directly to the landfill. But with some careful consideration, you can lower your wrapping impact.

A basic step is to make sure you are using recyclable wrapping paper. The safest bet is newspaper or plain brown Kraft paper. It can be tricky to tell which wrapping paper is recyclable and which is not. Check out the Region of Waterloo’s Waste Whiz to find out what goes where.

Reuse is at the heart of sustainable living. Our bin full of gift bags is a prized possession that comes in handy all year round. You can amass quite a collection if you save all that cross your path, and a good gift bag can last for years. Carefully folded tissue paper can be fluffed and reused over and over. Ultimately, these materials will break down over time, but getting ten uses out of a gift bag is much better than one.
Plus, if you’re bold, you can rescue gift bags from the trash and build your collection!
The best option is durable, reuseable materials like tins and jars that will last for decades. For the crafty folks, consider learning about Furoshiki — the Japanese art of wrapping presents with fabric. It may take some initial investment, but your fabric wraps will outlive gift bags and tissue paper.

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