KATIE FRITZ | December 13, 2016


Unbutton your pants. Get drunk on chocolate liqueurs. Crush potatoes. Forgo buttons of any kind. Wear santa lingerie. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Unfortunately, indulgence has a long, fraught relationship with trash. Every chocolate liqueur has its foil wrapper. According to the EPA, the amount of trash per household increases by 25% from Thanksgiving to New Year's day. Each of the following stats reflect that brief 1.5 month period between the turkey and the champagne:

  • 28 billion pounds of edible food is wasted. That’s actually a conservative number.

  • 1 million additional pounds of waste are added to our landfills per week.

  • Americans buy and throw away 33 million live Christmas trees each year.

  • All of the trash produced by the three above stats contribute to the production of methane-gas in our landfills–the chemical compound that is the greatest contributor to global warming (it’s real).

With those sobering facts in mind, it’s kind of insane that we’re still allowed to have Christmas at all. And it casts our holiday habits into a pretty sharp spotlight: for a time of year that is so calibrated towards quality time and giving thanks for what we have, it’s a bit ironic that we are creating so much waste. So here are four ways that you and yours can be generous and merry without the trash hangover.

Give up on gift-giving

A little fast out of the gate? Not sorry. In Christian religions the tradition of gift-giving was meant to reflect the offerings presented by the wise-men to baby Jesus. Gifts in this tenor were less iPad and more home-baking or needlepoint–and even those tokens were considered quite an event. Whatever your affiliation to holiday presents, giving up on gifts is a great way to lessen your waste output. No giftwrap, no ribbon, no extensive packaging. It’s also a lot less stressful. Spend money on a nice bottle of port to share with your family, and thrift a board game to argue good-naturedly about. If you can’t bear the thought of forgoing gifts altogether, make like this writer’s mother and just do stockings.

Host a clothing swap

Tis the season for holiday parties, where one has permission to flaunt what they got in professional company for one night only. The need for a new dress feels real, but it’s actually just a propagation of the patriarchal consumer complex in which women subconsciously measure their self-worth against their ability to adhere to trends set by multimillion-dollar corporations. Say “nah,” and instead get with your galpals and trade last year’s finds. It’s more sustainable, cheaper, and doubles as a fun hang / fashion show at lunch. Spend your money at the bar instead. We have an economy to uphold!

Thrift gifts

Buying second-hand is a great way to support local businesses, and it cycles cash into business models that champion sustainability and style. Grab a set of vintage glasses from your local church-thrift store, or a cosy scarf from MMC for your pal. It makes for a more unique and personal giving-experience, and it’s a considerably more affordable affair. One note before you race to the salvo: many of the big-name second-hand stores have ties to the aforementioned multi-million dollar corporations that pollute our planet. Beware of big-name chains masquerading as charities and strive to keep it local!

Give up wrapping paper

A beautifully wrapped gift is like an ancient piece of art: we really can’t afford it. About half of America’s paper consumption is used to wrap gifts and consumer products. “But some of the wrapping paper I buy is designed by a local artist,” you say. Well, we are all about buying art. But we’re not about ripping art up and throwing it in the garbage. Instead of buying wrapping paper this season, wrap with leftover newspaper and magazines and tie it up with compostable kitchen twine. Or if you’re sewing-machine inclined, make simple bags out of holiday fabric and use them year after year. Are these gifts as cute as the metallic snowman paper you were eyeing at the grocery store? Yeah, they are. It’s got a real Nelson the Seagull vibe. Go with it.

Maybe the above list stresses you out. It’s okay to feel that way. The earth is in need of a lot of change in a short period of time, and unfortunately that means that we have to change our habits in short order. Change is really uncomfortable: it freaks us out. But it’s also a chance for us to examine our patterns, and see if there’s an opportunity to break free of the things that don’t serve is. So happy holidays from us to you. *clinks thrifted glass that overfloweth with rum to yours*