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Make Holiday Memories—Not Holiday Waste—With These Sustainable Tips

Last Update: March 16, 2023

This holiday season, you may find yourself spending the day in the kitchen preparing a meal for your whole family or cozying up around a fire to exchange gifts with the people you love. But during those memorable moments, you may also feel distracted by the crumpled-up wrapping paper on the floor, the discarded plates on the table, and the overwhelming amount of excess stuff that seems to pop up during the holidays. 

How do you enjoy your holiday season while still prioritizing the planet? Here are some sustainable holiday tips that will help you to cut down on waste and keep things in perspective during all your celebrations. 

Tips for Sustainable Holiday Gifting 

Wrap gifts with reusable materials… If the idea of buying wrapping paper only to have it torn up and thrown away seems crazy to you, you’re not alone. Make gift wrap more special (and more sustainable) by using fabric scraps, newspaper, packing materials, or a festive tote bag.

…or save and reuse gift wrap. Save any gift wrap, ribbon, bubble wrap, and gift bags you receive to reuse for wrapping your own gifts. Start collecting these wrapping materials early and you may not have to buy any wrapping paper this year. 

Repurpose jars for DIY gifts. Save mason jars to make your own gifts for foodie friends and family. (A few ideas: fill a jar with dry ingredients for a batch of homemade cookies; cocoa, marshmallows, and other add-ins for homemade hot chocolate; or dried herbs, flowers, and spices for your own batch of seasonal potpourri.) 

Shop sustainable and low-waste gifts. From personal care products made with organic ingredients to luxe food items ethically sourced with care, try gifting only goods that align with your values this holiday season. 

Ask loved ones what they really need to avoid wasteful gifting. If you’re uncertain about what someone may want as a gift, don’t buy something just for the sake of giving a gift. Instead, be transparent and ask what that person really needs—you may be surprised to find that they’d appreciate a massage, a homemade dinner, or even some help cleaning their house. 

Cut down on bulky gifts if you’re traveling. If you or your loved ones are traveling for the holidays, use that as a reason to give gifted experiences rather than material goods. It’s often difficult to pack gifts after the holidays are over, so opt for gift cards, fun outings, or even a reservation at their favorite restaurant. 

Buy from brands that give back. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of spending and splurging, so when you’re shopping for gifts, look for the brands that are also giving back. This year, Thrive Market is providing healthy food to those in need by matching all member donations at checkout up to $200,000 as part of our Great Holiday Give Back (and our larger goal to donate $10 million in healthy groceries by 2023). If you shop with Thrive Market for your holiday gifts, you can make a difference for more than 1.7 million parents, children, teachers, first responders, veterans, and others who really need it.

How to Host a Low-Waste Holiday Gathering 

Decorate a houseplant rather than a tree. Holiday trees are beautiful, but unfortunately, they can be pretty wasteful. Instead, decorate a houseplant that you either already have or plan to keep all year long. Things like fiddle leaf fig trees, ferns, or cacti all make sturdy options for displaying your holiday ornaments (and, of course, a few strings of lights). 

Make a wreath of herbs. Don’t buy an artificial wreath you’ll likely toss when the holidays are through; make your own fragrant wreath from fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. 

Source decorations from the outdoors. Instead of splurging on disposable holiday decorations, forage your decor from outside. Things like pine cones, fallen branches, twigs, and berries all make beautiful centerpieces or garland for your mantle. 

Stock up on secondhand decor. If you really want to make your home feel festive with decorations, hit your local thrift store. You’ll often find high-quality decorations that others have tossed aside, and buying secondhand prevents these items from heading to a landfill.  

Use reusable plates and silverware. It may be tempting to use paper or plastic dinnerware when hosting a large group, but using single-use plates, cups, and silverware is unnecessarily wasteful. Instead, use your holiday gathering as an excuse to set a beautiful table with those plates you reserve only for special occasions. If that’s not an option, stock up on compostable plates and silverware

Make it easy for guests to recycle. If you only have one large trash can for the whole party, folks will likely toss everything inside—including recyclable cans, bottles, and plastic containers. Encourage people to recycle by clearly labeling your recycling containers and separating glass, plastic, and paper according to your area’s guidelines.

Use scent to set the scene. Make your own diffuser, simmer pot, or clove oranges to get guests in the holiday spirit with little to no waste. 

Buy snacks from brands that care about the planet. Instead of simply heading to the grocery store and grabbing your groceries, put some thought into where those items come from. Make a charcuterie board with organic meats, cheeses, and crackers; set out ethically sourced, seasonal sweets; find diet-friendly snacks for everyone on your guest list, and buy only the highest quality baking ingredients for all your festive treats. 

Reuse games and activities from year to year. Instead of buying new party favors or games, pack these items away and use them again the following year. This is also a great way to create new traditions in your family, as your guests will look forward to that card game (or your karaoke machine) every holiday season. 

Consider supporting a cause. If you’re gathering with a group of like-minded loved ones, a holiday party is a great time to pool your resources and give back to a good cause. Consider asking everyone to bring a canned food item for a local food pantry, a warm winter coat for a coat drive, or some pet food for your local animal shelter. 

Eco-Conscious Holiday Cooking Tips 

Purchase only ethically sourced meats and seafood. Make sure your main course is ethically raised and sustainably sourced. Thrive Market meat and seafood comes from only vetted suppliers who put animal welfare first. 

Buy your produce locally (or organic when possible). For things like vegetables, salads, fruit desserts, and other side dishes, prioritize shopping fresh and local whenever you can. If you aren’t able to source fresh produce nearby, opt for organic produce instead. 

Bake with a silicone baking mat. Instead of parchment paper or tin foil, use a reusable silicone baking mat for things like cookies and other desserts. 

Use beeswax food wrap for leftovers. Cut down on single-use plastic waste by using beeswax food wrap and reusable silicone bags to keep leftovers fresh in the fridge or on the counter. 

Use your freezer to prevent food waste. If you have leftovers, freeze them, don’t toss them. Freezing your meats, vegetables, desserts, and other foods can make them last much longer than storing them in the refrigerator. Just make sure to wrap them securely to prevent freezer burn, and keep conscious of how long each item keeps in the freezer. Here’s a handy guide: 

  • Fruits and vegetables: 8 to 12 months
  • Poultry: 6 to 9 months
  • Loaves of bread: 6 months
  • Rolls or buns: 5 months
  • Fish and seafood: 3 to 6 months
  • Ground meats: 3 to 4 months

Get creative with leftovers. It’s nearly impossible to have no leftovers at all, so the next best option is to get creative with how you reuse them. With a bit of luck, your next-day meals may be just as good as the real deal. Here are some ideas: 

Use leftover veggies, potatoes, and herbs to make a vegan shepherd’s pie (or add leftover chicken or beef for meat-eaters)

This article is related to:

Holiday, Holiday Recipes

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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