Maximizing the Holidays and Minimizing Waste

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Every year, we talk about the impact the holiday season has on our waste stream. From Halloween through the New Year, Americans ramp up their spending—on decorations, food celebrations, gift exchanges, and gift-wrapping supplies.

We all get to choose the way we embrace an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Some of us choose to bike to work, while others choose to ride public transportation. Some abandon plastic saran wrap, while others switch to reusable containers with lids. For me, the holiday season is all about striking a fine balance between celebrating abundantly and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. If you’re following my blog posts here, you’ll know I favor handmade holiday decorations and gifts, but I’m still trying to find my stride with the approaching holidays.

I’ve wondered if there is a “keystone habit” that would set me up for sustainable success. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, coined this phrase to describe an activity that is correlated with other good habits—in other words, making one good choice can have a domino effect on the rest of your life. For example, those who exercise tend to eat better. Those who eat family dinners tend to benefit from lower food costs, better nutrition and health, healthier marriages, and academically successful children.  

With the holidays approaching, I’ve developed a list of keystone habits to guide me through the season. 

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Cook Smaller Meals at Home (Skip the Leftovers!)

Most of the time, I cook a larger dinner meal that results in leftovers that I take to work for lunch or stretch out on nights I don’t want to cook. During the holiday season, I eat out more frequently and attend multiple parties, so these leftovers are harder to consume before they turn. Food waste constitutes about 20 percent of our waste stream, and I’m doing my part in December by making my grocery trips smaller and focusing on cooking food that can be eaten in two meals instead of four. I also shop for special meals (Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day dinners) separately from my everyday shopping, because it helps me keep track of what I anticipate being eaten. Otherwise, I end up tossing things in my cart and thinking, if we don’t eat it on Thanksgiving, we’ll eat it later in the weekend, which inevitably results in over shopping and food waste.  

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Give Fewer and More Meaningful Gifts

This year, my family members collectively fessed up and admitted we have too much stuff and don’t need anything. Our Santa lists are shorter and include a handful of things that we would really appreciate. Some of us are pooling resources to buy larger gifts, while others are choosing to buy experience gifts like cooking lessons and tickets to a Broadway show. I’ve also decided to focus on buying high-quality jewelry for the women in my life rather than costume jewelry. I may give fewer pieces, but nice jewelry is usually more timeless than this season’s trends and much less likely to end up in a landfill in a few years. I’m also compiling photos into a special picture book, which has a lot of sentimental value and will be cherished for years to come. And don’t forget to check out my blog entry on Reusable Holiday Wrapping.

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Decorate with Compostable Decorations

This year I’m channeling my inner Colonial Williamsburg, Little Women craftswoman and heading to the orchard rather than the craft store for inspiration. Early American Christmas decorations consisted of fresh greenery, fruit, nuts, pinecones, and spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise pods. This year, I’m aiming to dry orange, grapefruit, and apple slices for wreathes, garlands, and ornaments. At the end of the season, I can toss these decorations into the compost pile.

As the holidays unfold and my schedule gets busier, it takes a little more effort to keep sustainability in mind. But I’m armed with a plan and keystone habits to guide me through the New Year. What kind of keystone habits will you put in place?

— Christina Files
Posted on Dec 11, 2017

Summary: Every year, we talk about the impact the holiday season has on our waste stream. From Halloween through the New Year, Americans ramp up their spending—on decorations, food celebrations, gift exchanges, and gift-wrapping supplies.