Starting Friday, December 13th we’ll be posting a tip each day on reducing your waste during the holiday season. Follow us our Facebook and Instagram to see our tips, connect with others who are going plastic or waste-free, and let us know your favorite tips for a sustainable holiday!

#1. Real or Artificial Tree?

Real or artificial Christmas tree? The most environmentally friendly Christmas tree is a real tree. Go to a local tree farm and choose one from a responsible farmer, purchase a permit from the Forest Service to cut down your own, buy a tree you can replant after the holidays, or get creative and use an indoor conifer, like the Norfork Island Pine, as your Christmas tree year after year (this would be the best option!). To manufacture an artificial Christmas tree, you need PVC plastic, steel and aluminum, plus cardboard for the packaging and the resources to ship the trees from Asia, where most of them are made. If you really want an artificial tree bring home a used one from a second hand store and use it as long as possible. There isn’t data on how long the average person keeps an artificial tree before disposing of it, but estimates suggest it would take 9 years of use for an artificial tree to be a better choice than buying a real tree every year.

#2. Make the Switch to LED Lights

LED Christmas Lights use light-emitting diodes, rather than filament to produce light, making them more efficient and longer-lasting than fluorescent incandescent lights. In fact, incandescent or regular lights are being phased out entirely due to their inefficiency. The greenhouse gases that incandescent bulbs produce have a bigger environmental impact, contributing to issues such as climate change. LED bulbs emit fewer greenhouse gases than incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs also require less wattage to run so you’ll use less electricity to power the same number of lights over standard string lights. LED bulbs also last around 50,000 hours compared to standard bulbs, which only last 1,000 hours. From a durability standpoint, this means that you’ll get 50 times the amount of usage out of a string of LED lights than a string of regular lights. So, while LED lights are more expensive to purchase than incandescent lights, you’ll actually save over the lifetime of the bulbs in energy costs and replacement bulbs. In addition, try to buy outdoor light strands that are wired in parallel. If one bulb goes bad, the others still work, so you won’t be throwing away whole strands because of one bad light. Also consider putting all your lights on timers for energy savings and peace of mind while you’re away.

#3. Embrace Alternative Wrapping

While the United States celebrates the holidays, Americans produce an additional 5 million tons of waste, 4 million of the 5 million tons consisting of wrapping paper and shopping bags alone! If that’s not bad enough, a lot of wrapping paper can’t be recycled due to how thin and saturated with ink it is. But do not fear, there are some really fun alternative methods to wrapping gifts besides purchasing traditional wrapping paper. First, consider using what you already have at home like newspaper, old maps, or unused sheet music which can add character to your gift. Stamp, draw, or write on brown paper bags to make them festive. You can reuse these over and over and they are 100% compostable. You could also make your wrapping part of your gift and use a scarf, hand towel, or t-shirt to wrap. The art of fabric gift wrapping, or Furoshiki as it is called in Japan, has been around for centuries. So, if that favorite old fabric is too tattered to wear, don’t toss it. Instead hold on to it those great textiles for a unique wrap on a special gift. Finally, for small gifts, consider wrapping in an inside-out chip bag. Chip bags are not recyclable, so you can help expand their lifecycle by flipping a chip bag inside out to reveal their shiny silver side, wash out any salty residue, and wrap your gift using that.

#4. Know Where to Drop Your Styrofoam

After the holidays you may be left with packages and peanuts ready for discard, and likely, Styrofoam you’ll need to dispose of. If you follow us, it should be no secret to you that Styrofoam is extremely harmful to the environment. It’s made of styrene and benzene both classified as known hazardous substances. Because Styrofoam is so light and crumbles easily, it often ends up out in our woods, rivers, and oceans. Once it’s there, it’s there to stay. Styrofoam will break down into microscopic styrenes and other harmful chemicals, and they will linger in the soil and water for centuries to come or be ingested by our aquatic and marine species. Unfortunately, although Styrofoam can be recycled you cannot recycle Styrofoam in your recycle bin at home, but will need to find a drop-off location in your area or wait for a city StyroFest event. Here are a few locations.

#5: Repurpose Your Holiday Cards

This time each year, more than 1.6 billion cards are sold and sent. And while greeting cards and envelopes can be recycled in your curbside container, opting for cards with minimal glue & glitter will minimize clogging in our recycling facilities. You can also skip extra purchasing next year by reusing your holiday cards in a number of ways. You can make gift tags, wreaths, bookmarks, notepads, framed decor, or glue the front of the card onto plain paper bags to create gift bags. If you can’t find a way to reuse your holiday cards you can also donate them to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children who accept new and used cards all year round through their Recycled Card Program.

#6: Try a Secret Santa Exchange

The prospect of every family member getting a gift for every single other family member can feel overwhelming. Try creating a Secret Santa exchange to reduce waste. Names are put into a hat, and each person gets one name – the person they buy the present for. Some people do this for adults only; other families with lots of nieces, nephews, or cousins, might choose to put other family members into the hat. The upside of this (aside from the reduced financial strain) is that if there is only one present to buy, it is much easier to put thought into it, and find something that is suitable and appreciated instead of feeling like you have to get a gift to fit a social norm and as consequence, give something your recipient may donate or throwout later. You can use this Secret Santa Generator to simplify your process, just put in all the names, also allows you to build your Christmas list so your Secret Santa knows exactly what you’d like!

#7: Skip the Paraffin Candles

Candles have been used as a source of light and to illuminate celebrations for more than 5,000 years. The Egyptians used animal fat, the Chinese used recycled whale fat, and beeswax candles were first used in Europe during the Middle Ages. Then came the industrial revolution and, as with many household products, biodegradable natural ingredients were replaced with by-products of petroleum. By the 1850s, parrafin- a byproduct of oil production- was being used to make cheap candles. Paraffin candles remain the most common form of candle available today, yet they are not biodegradable and in fact, slightly toxic. When candles are burned, they release carcinogenic toxins (benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein). The majority of these harmful substances come from colors, scents and fragrances (especially dangerous synthetic fragrances) which are added to the candle wax or wick.

Although various studies conflict in their determinations of how toxic paraffin candles are to our health, their environmental impacts are less ambiguous. Crude oil, being the origin of paraffin wax, is considered highly unsustainable due to it being a non-renewable resource. Crude oil has been the cause of a slew of environmental calamities, in oil spills, damage of natural habitats and climate change which is why we’ve been working to minimize crude oil export in Washington state for nearly 50 years. This holiday season, make your own soy candle or purchase beeswax or soy candles (see a buying guide) or skip candles altogether and opt for a candle warmer or diffuser. Stearin wax candles are also an alternative but only if their ingredient list says made from coconut oil or animal fat: some are also made from palm oil, which is a major contributor to deforestation, species extinction, & climate change in Indonesia.

#8: Host a White Elephant Party

The White Elephant gift exchange is a fun way to bring in holiday cheer with friends, family, or coworkers without the burden of purchasing. In the exchange, everyone brings a gift; something unused, unwanted, or otherwise no longer needed from home, while purchasing new is discouraged. All gifts are put in the middle of the circle and participants one by one pick a gift and unwrap it, when it’s your turn you’re allowed to steal other people’s gifts or pick a new gift until all the gifts are gone. The game creates a fun atmosphere where we’re reminded that gifts don’t need to be brand new to be great. It is so fun to see all the unusual and quirky gifts that people bring to regift. As in the old adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

#9: Say No to Plastic Bags

On a global level, humankind uses around 160,000 plastic bags every second. In America, we use around 400 billion plastic bags every year. Plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources, they never decompose but only break into smaller pieces, and very few of those ever get recycled. In Washington, only 12% of plastic bags are recycled and when they are, they often clog recycling facilities costing state money and putting workers in danger. When littered, plastic bags can end up in our water bodies where they’re mistaken for food by marine life. It’s estimated that 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.

There are 29 cities in Washington who have banned thin plastic bags. The Washington Legislature debated a bill last year that would have banned single-use plastic bags statewide. It passed in the Senate but never made it to the House for a floor vote. This bill is one of our legislative priorities this year and if you want to see this bill enacted in our state, we need your voice. Please consider joining us for our 2020 Clean & Abundant Waters Lobby Day on January 15th. Learn more & register now!

#10: Don’t Ditch the Leftovers

When cooking for holiday parties and large family gatherings, it’s easy to overestimate the amount of food you will need. Online resources like Save The Food can help you estimate meal quantities to keep guests happy and yield leftovers you can handle. But even with the best planning you’re likely to end up with leftover food. Instead of throwing it out, there are lots of ways to better plan for leftover use. First minimize what you have by inviting guests to bring reusable containers to take leftovers home. Love Your Leftovers is a free cooking app that allows you to enter your leftover ingredients and it will help you find recipes that incorporate those items. Here’s a great resource on recipes for using up holiday leftovers like using leftover pumpkin puree for a cracker dip or adding stuffing to eggs for a morning meal. Some of the best homemade soups are concocted using little portions of leftover vegetables and meat from the holiday dinner table. If you’re not going to make soup right away, freeze leftover items in individual containers until you have more time.

Store your leftovers properly in relatively small containers to reduce the chances of bacteria growth. Place fruit and vegetables in separate compartments or containers, since they give off different gases that can interact and cause faster deterioration. And never refrigerate anything in an open can. It leads to faster spoilage, and the metal can will leach into the food and leave a metallic taste. It’s important to know how long your holiday leftovers typically last in the fridge to know what to use first, follow this link to view how long things like turkey, gravy, green bean casserole, or cranberries usually last. If you can’t save or reuse it in another recipe, compost it!

Tip #11: Purchase for Lasting Change

If you’re still looking for a gift for those last few people on your list, consider giving the gift of an experience like tickets to an upcoming event or purchasing a fun class. Instead of a material item, you can donate to a local non-profit with a mission your recipient would care about like the gift of a Puget Soundkeeper Membership. Our members enable us to advocate for stronger policies to protect clean water, clean up our waterways and preserve critical habitat for wildlife, and push industrial polluters to do better and follow the regulations put in place by the Clean Water Act. Members also get invited to exclusive events throughout the year and access to Experticity Prodeals- offering incredible discounts on hundreds of outdoor brands. Your donation supports our monitoring & enforcement programs, our stewardship and citizen science efforts, and our policy & civic engagement toward the protection and preservation of Puget Sound waterways. Is there an orca lover in your life? A boater, kayaker, or swimmer that seems to have everything? Every cent goes to clean water and as always, your gift is tax-deductible! Purchase a membership here.

Tip #12: Take Stock & Plan for Next Year

As with any challenge or endeavor, it’s a great idea to check in afterwards and self-reflect on your own successes and opportunities for growth. After the holidays, plan to look in your garbage, recycle, and compost bins and see where you might reduce waste next year and make mental or physical notes to yourself to remember. Did you wish you had collected fabric for alternative wrapping throughout the year? Or plan better to minimize food leftovers? For anyone who wants to help the environment by reducing their waste, remember it’s a journey – fortunately you’re not alone! Join a Zero Waste group in your community to find tips and connect with others all year round!

We hope your holidays are full of love, laughter and joy!