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Greener Holidays – Celebrate the Season in Sustainable Style

Happy holidays from Seattle Public Utilities! While this time of the year is full of generosity and gratitude, there is also a lot of unnecessary waste. Did you know that on average, people in the U.S. produce 25% more waste during this time of year? Between presents, packaging, and those big, shared meals, it adds up! Here are some of our favorite zero-waste tips for the holiday season. If you see something you like, try it out, and pass it on! When it comes to reducing waste, every bit counts!

Gift Giving

Finding the perfect gift for special people in your life can be difficult. Sometimes, this doesn’t come in the form of a physical object! Many of us already have more than we need, and adding more to our homes can feel like a burden. Consider getting someone an experience rather than an object –this could be something you do together like a nice meal at a restaurant they’ve always wanted to go to, or something they can do by themselves. You can offer to pay for a shared experience, or buy them a gift card for…

  • Their favorite restaurant
  • A play
  • Ice skating
  • A gift card for your local bookstore
  • Passes for your local athletic club
  • Museum passes
  • The zoo
  • A movie
  • A concert
  • A sporting event
  • Ski lift tickets
  • A cooking class
  • A day pass at your local spa
  • A seasonal share from your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • A membership at the local co-op
  • A theme park

Shop Locally and Mindfully

If you’re in the market for a tactile gift, the holiday season is a great time to support local businesses! Plus, buying gifts that are built to last means your loved ones won’t have to replace them. The end of the year is a critical time for many small businesses when they make a lot of their yearly revenue. Instead of ordering gifts that require long-distance shipping or are made from lower-quality materials, consider buying meaningful, long-lasting gifts for your loved ones from your local…

  • Pottery store – beautiful handmade cups, plates, and similar items. can last a lifetime. Or you can pay for a class where family and friends can create something themselves!
  • Bookstore – what have they been into lately? Check out your local bookstore and find a book about it! Bookstores often have other great gift items like notebooks and keychains.
  • Jeweler – sterling silver or gold adornments are timeless. Jewelers often have a wide price range from earring studs and charms to chains and bracelets, so you can find something that fits in your budget.
  • Thrift/consignment store – you may find a perfect, pre-loved shirt, jacket, or accessory for your loved one. Buying used isn’t taboo – they’ll love it, and so will the earth!
  • Cooperative grocery stores – Seattle’s local co-ops offers great re-usable items and local or handmade goods ranging from practical to aesthetic. They also offer cooking classes!
A pre-loved shirt knit shirt form a thrift or consignment store as a holiday gift idea.

Gift Wrapping

Wrapping gifts is a fun and important part of holiday traditions, but it can be wasteful and even expensive. Consider alternatives to buying new wrapping paper.

  • Use brown paper grocery bags. You can add your own designs on them too!
  • Use a nice piece of cloth. Many vintage and thrift stores have cloth-like colorful scarves or vintage cotton napkins that are perfect for wrapping gifts and can be reused!
  • Create a challenge within your family: who can find the most creative, reusable material to wrap gifts in?
  • Ribbons, bows, and tissue paper can be reused. Save your favorites from the past and pay them forward! Collage pages together from newspapers or magazines and make a one-of-a-kind gift wrap.

Holiday Meals

Sharing meals with friends and family connects us with each other and our traditions. However, there is often lots of food waste that comes along with these meals –from prepping the meal, half-eaten plates, and leftovers. Not to mention all the dirty dishes! Here are some tips for making the meal run smoothly and preventing unnecessary waste along the way.

  • Keep scraps for compost on a plate or in a small bin on the counter while you prepare food –everything from vegetable skins to bones! This way you don’t have to go back and forth between the counter and your big green bin.
  • Consider using all reusable plates and utensils for the meal. You can find dishes, serving spoons, utensils, and cups for extremely discounted prices at your local thrift store. Store them until your next big meal or party!
  • If you’re going to purchase single-use items, consider buying compostable ones. Check for certifications like BPI or TUV, which will have “compostable” printed on them.
  • Have people serve themselves buffet style instead of pre-plating food for guests. People are more likely to finish what’s on their plate if they can choose what’s on it.
  • Send people home with leftovers! You can send guests off with leftovers in those old take-out containers you’ve been accumulating, or ask guests to bring their own.

Know that your mindfulness around gift giving makes a difference, and benefits everyone involved. Happy holidays and New Year from Seattle Public Utilities!

Maric Kusinitz is an intern for SPU’s Solid Waste Line of Business, focusing on single-family and school recycling and composting.