Tips for a Sustainable Holiday Season

by | Nov 16, 2021 | Food, Lifestyle

A top-down shot of serving trays and plates full of food, with people eating around a table.

The holidays are coming fast, which means large dinners with families and friends! But it also means a lot of waste and a large ecological footprint, so we’ve rounded up tips for a sustainable holiday season.

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans produce 25 percent more waste than the rest of the year? That means millions of pounds of gift packaging, last year’s toys and clothes, leftover turkey, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, and more are dumped into landfills during the holidays alone. And when we throw away food and products, we also throw away the land, water, energy, time and resources used to produce it.

So here’s your challenge this holiday season: get creative with reducing your holiday waste and make it a personal act of conservation this year!

Don’t know how to get started? We’ve got you covered with tips to use all parts of your meals’ ingredients, reduce holiday food waste, and minimize plastic during the season of gift-giving! 

 Use all parts of your food

An assortment of citrus fruit slices laid oout on a wooden cutting board. The fruits are oranges, limes, lemons, blood oranges, and grapefruit.

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

Lots of food waste is caused by overbuying and forgetting about the food in your fridge until you can sense something rotten. Avoid the spoiled food problem by making a plan to use up all parts of your food during holiday meals (and honestly, these are great tips year round too)!

  • Bread: Thinking of throwing out extra bread that you have lying around from a holiday meal? Think again! Cut your bread into small chunks (ends included!) and put them in the freezer. When you need to make stuffing, croutons, bread pudding or any recipe that requires bread, use your frozen bread chunks. Browse these recipes and never throw away leftover bread again. 
  • Celery: If you’re making stuffing and only use a third of a celery head, what do you do with the rest? Try this perfectly holiday-themed dish: Corn Stuffing Balls! Find the recipe here, along with 27 other delicious recipes by Laurie Dixon that use up your extra celery.
  • Oranges and Citrus: Used a few oranges to flavor your holiday turkey or ham? Don’t throw the peels away! After juicing and zesting for your recipes, fill a glass container with citrus peels, cover in white vinegar, close the lid tightly and store in a dark place. After a few weeks, strain out the peels and voila — a clean, natural, non-chemical, waste-free cleaning product that is healthy for you and the planet! Click here for an easy tutorial.
  • Meat bones and drippings: After your family devours a 20-pound turkey, what do you do with the bones and drippings? Tons of recipes call for a turkey (or any meat) carcass. Zero food waste means using every part of ingredients, so click here for a super-simple, mouth-watering recipe to use up leftover meat bones and drippings.
  • Pie crust: Is it really the holidays if you don’t have pie? Apple, blueberry, pumpkin, you name it! Oftentimes we make or buy too much pie crust, which means leftovers that you don’t know what to do with. Fear not! Whip up these delectable recipes using your extra pie crust for surefire crowd pleasers for the rest of the holiday season. 
  • Pumpkin: Don’t forget about our roundup of delicious pumpkin-based foods we shared last month! If pumpkin pie isn’t your favorite, maybe pumpkin pasta salad or pumpkin seed clusters are up your alley.
  • Veggie peels and leftovers: You can use (clean) peels from onions, potatoes, and more, along with those last few carrots or other veggies hanging out in your produce drawer to make a delicious veggie broth to be used in other recipes like stuffing or soups made from leftovers. Check out this how-to and start your own broth routine!

How to reduce food waste

Food waste is one of the simplest, yet most impactful things we can do to combat climate change as individuals. Wasted food and organic matter doesn’t have the oxygen it needs to properly break down when it’s thrown away into a landfill, so it ends up producing methane gas (which is more potent than CO2!)

Here are some tips to reduce your food waste during the holidays.

  • Try to make “just enough food;” don’t overprepare. 
  • Ask friends and family to take leftovers home. 
  • Put leftovers in the freezer to enjoy at a later time.
  • Make new recipes with your holiday leftovers.
  • Compost your fruit and veggie scraps.

 

You can also look for local farmers to buy your seasonal produce from, to reduce the carbon footprint of your meal even further!

How to reduce single-use plastic consumption 

A glass mason jar filled with small cookies, with a blue ribbon tied around it.

Photo by Travis on Unsplash

Single use plastics have their merits, but whenever possible, opt for long-term reusables to reduce your dependence on plastic. Reducing plastic means reducing individual pollution and (we hope!) reducing demand in the marketplace for single use plastics to lower corporate pollution as well.

Here are some easy ways to reduce plastic use during the holidays:

  • Save glass jars and reusable containers to pack up leftovers for friends and family (and yourself!) — and avoid throwaway plastic, plastic wrap, plastic bags, plastic altogether. Just don’t forget to remind everyone to bring them back, so you can use again next year!  
  • Skip plastic plates, cutlery and cups. Did you know that every year, 6 million tons of non-durable plastics, like spoons, forks and knives, are discarded? The simple solution to this problem: purchase affordable, sustainable dinnerware! With this incredible list of sustainable dinnerware brands, you won’t have to sacrifice style or your wallet. 

Tips for low-waste gift-giving

A faraway shot of two people in kayaks on the water, with mountains in the background. The people are in silhouette and the sun is overhead.

Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

When you think of the holidays, one thing that probably comes to mind is presents. In showing your love, we don’t need to contribute to the 25 million tons of packaging garbage created every year, which contaminates our oceans, water supply, food, and air. Easily and affordably reduce your plastic consumption with reused gift bags and holiday ribbons, newspaper or paper bags wrappings, handmade gifts, and more.

Here are our top tips for low-waste gifting.

  • Give sustainable presents like refillable thermos bottles, books, bars of soap, and more. Take inspiration from this list of low/zero-waste ideas, or check out the Zero Waste Outlet’s gift suggestions.
  • Give experiences instead of material things to create a memory that will last a lifetime — without plastic or packaging that will live in a landfill for several.
  • Wrap presents in sustainable materials. Use old cloth, vintage scarves, newspaper, brown paper bags, and more that you have on hand to make your gift-wrapping green

 

The holidays are a time to unite with friends and family, eat delicious food, share gifts of all kinds, and spend quality time with those you love. Remember that anything you do, whether cooking or gift-giving, has an impact on our shared home. So let’s make that impact a good one.

Happy Holidays! 

 

Author

  • Meredith graduated from Stony Brook University in May 2021 where she studied Environmental Studies and Psychology. She has always been passionate about the environment and influencing the people around her to practice sustainability in their everyday lives. She is thrilled to be an intern at Turning Green, and is very excited to see how this experience will shape her future in environmental work! She loves to travel, and her dream is to live in as many countries as possible during her lifetime, all while advocating and educating others about how to live an environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Some of her favorite things to do are travel, cook plant-based meals, go on nature hikes, continue to learn about the environment, and read Harry Potter, Nicholas Sparks, and John Green books!