Sustainability Tip: Reduce waste this holiday with mindful gifting and creative thinking |

Sustainability Tip: Reduce waste this holiday with mindful gifting and creative thinking

Nina Waysdorf
Sustainability Tip
If you're the type of person that gets sick of leftovers, use turkey bones to create stock, and search the internet for ways to repurpose everything.
Getty Images | E+

The holidays come with some sustainability challenges. Stanford University reports that Americans throw away about 25% more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Consider all the single-use wrapping paper, the shipping and packaging, the food, the trips back and forth to the store…it can really add up.

Since I work in sustainability, I can’t help but get nervous about the impending mountain of waste. Despite that, I love the holidays and I love giving gifts (and receiving gifts, if any of my loved ones are reading).

My goal this year is to go into the holiday season with a plan to reduce waste and get creative with gifts and packaging so I can enjoy this time of year without too much guilt. If this has been on your mind as well, here are some ideas to get you started:

Give experiences rather than things. Take a friend to a new restaurant, cook them a nice meal, gift tickets to a concert or movie, or make plans for a ski date, maybe with après after. Donate to an organization or nonprofit in a friend’s name.

Get creative with wrapping and packaging. Wrapping paper is often only used once and then thrown away. Use newspaper instead, which can be recycled after. Plus, if you use the Vail Daily, it’s free. Save boxes from online purchases and reuse to package gifts. Better yet, wrap gifts in something reusable, like a tote bag or a cloth sack for bulk goods. That’s like an extra bonus gift.

If you’re sending gifts to long-distance friends and family, order from businesses local to where the gift is going. This will not only support small businesses in other communities but reduce transportation emissions as well. Gift baskets from a local cheese or wine shop make great gifts.

Donate before throwing away. There are Thrifty and USAgain textile donation bins at the community drop sites throughout the county and at the landfill in Wolcott, where you can donate usable clothes and shoes. Organize a clothing swap with friends for a wardrobe refresh. Utilize the drop & swap area at the landfill, where you can leave usable items like skis, grills and furniture. The town of Vail also has a ski drop area at the community drop-site. Download the Eagle County Waste Wizard app to discover more opportunities in our community.

Think beyond gifting to reduce waste. Food waste in landfills is a major contributor to methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, and both contribute to warming global temperatures. Instead of throwing extra food away, think strategically to reduce waste from your holiday feasts. Be realistic about how much food you need. Plan ahead by encouraging guests to bring Tupperware to share leftovers. Less glamorous parts of holiday meals (think turkey carcasses) can be used for stocks and broths. Some foods like soups, cookies and breads can be frozen and enjoyed later. I have been told there is a limit to how many leftovers one can eat — based on how many leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches I ate this year, this is news to me. If you are someone gets sick of leftovers, get creative. Try repurposing before tossing. The internet is full of recipe ideas to spark inspiration: some great resources include Bon Appetit, Epicurious, The New York Times Food and of course those Tasty videos on Facebook.

If you’re hoping to reduce waste this holiday season, start small. There are lots of ways to lessen your impact while still enjoying everything fun and festive. It might actually take some holiday stress off your shoulders.

Nina Waysdorf is sustainability programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. Her favorite part of the holiday season is having potlucks with friends. She can be reached at

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