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Guide to waste-free holidays

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can increase stress levels—but it doesn’t need to increase landfill levels at the same time. Here are a few simple guidelines that can make your life easier while cutting waste out of shopping, decorating, or throwing a holiday party.

When shopping & decorating

Photo by brickset
Photo by brickset

Keep reuseable shopping bags in your car (and visible!) so you don’t forget to use them.

Shop for experiences. Studies have shown that experiences—as opposed to physical objects—generate greater satisfaction over a longer period of time. Bonus: They generate less waste. Need inspiration? Read our gift-giving guide to not giving a thing.

Wrap & pack gifts with reusable or recyclable material. Choose regular, uncoated wrapping paper (which can be recycled) instead of plastic-, glitter-, or foil-coated paper (which can’t). When packing items to ship, use old newspaper, shredded paper, or cardboard scraps instead of packing peanuts or bubble wrap.

Use natural garlands to festoon your home instead of plastic decorations that end up in the landfill. You can bring those natural decorations to any CSWD Drop-Off Center for composting after the holidays. If wreaths, garland, or other natural decorations are held together with wire or plastic, that has to be removed before composting.

Choose a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one. After the holidays, you can bring it to a drop-off location, where it will be used as fuel to light & heat local homes. Stay away from spray-on snow and tinsel: Both are nearly impossible to remove and, when the holidays are over, you’ll have to send the tree to the landfill.

When opening gifts

This simple step has a dramatic effect: Place a sort station in the room where you’re opening gifts.

Three containers are best: one for trash, one for blue-bin recycling, and one for reusable items. Sorting stuff at the source makes your job a whole lot easier when it’s time to clean up—and helps make sure everything ends up in the right place.

Where does it all go?

Ribbons & bows: Reuse or Trash. These get very little wear & tear, and can often be saved & reused next year. If you really want to get rid of them, they belong in the trash.

Wrapping paper: Blue-bin recycling (probably). Most regular wrapping paper can go in your blue bin as paper. Some “deluxe” wrapping paper can’t: If it’s plastic-coated, Mylar, foil, or covered in glitter, then it belongs in the trash.

Cardboard: Blue-bin recycling. Flatten cardboard boxes and put them both in the bin.

Plastic packaging: Blue-bin recycling. Remove paper inserts from plastic—both can be recycled separately. Plastic packaging can go in the recycling bin if it’s hard (no plastic film).

Styrofoam: Trash. Styrofoam is not recyclable in Chittenden County.

Bubble wrap: Reuse or Trash. A number of local stores (like UPS) will take your bubble wrap & packing pillows for free, and put them to reuse (see Packaging Reuse Options). If you must throw it away, any kind of filmy plastic belongs in the trash. Read Beware of Blue Bin Busters for more on how to properly get rid of plastic bags.

When throwing a party

Pair the bins. If you do only one thing, make sure you have a clearly marked set of recycling and trash containers. (Bonus points for a food scrap collection container!) You’ll be amazed at how little trash you have afterwards. Check out what ends up in the trash and make a note to find an alternative for your next shindig!

Child washing silverware in the sink.

Go reusable. Reusable foodware has the highest waste-free score compared to the alternatives. Don’t have enough dishes? Pick up a stash at a local reuse store, then wash and “return” them as a donation when your party is over.

If you are using single-use plastic plates, cups, or bowls, remember that those items are recyclable only if they are rinsed clean. Plastic utensils are NOT recyclable.

Get rid of the trash can altogether by using only certified compostable foodware. Then, bring those compostable dishes and food scraps to any CSWD Drop-Off Center and we’ll turn them into rich, beautiful compost!

When the holidays are over, check out our guide to getting rid of almost any holiday-related item, including string lights and batteries.

Happy waste-free holidays from your friends & neighbors at CSWD!

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Marketing & Communications Manager at CSWD
Jonny joined CSWD in 2014 after several years abroad where he ran websites, film projects, classrooms, and half marathons. Originally from Virginia, he was drawn to Vermont's strong sense of community, apple cider, and the search for Champ.