I'm trying to have a less wasteful holiday season. I've asked for no new gifts, and I'm decorating with natural things.

  • It's estimated that Americans generated 23% more tons of waste in December.

  • I'm asking family and friends not to buy anything new for my kids.

  • We are also decorating with natural elements instead of buying plastic decorations.

The holidays are a time of tradition, joy, and connection. Unfortunately, the commercialism that's taken over the season takes a tremendous toll on the planet. Americans spent $936.3 billion on holiday-related purchases in 2022. All of those novelty gifts and decorations are produced, packaged, and shipped using fossil fuels, trees, and other natural resources.

A 2021 analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity found that Americans generate 23% more tons of waste in December than in other months of the year.

This all became jaw-droppingly apparent to me when I had kids. Suddenly, the holidays morphed from a string of cozy celebrations with friends and family into a smorgasbord of plastic toys, plastic packaging, plastic decor, and plastic everything.

Despite my best efforts, every holiday season I struggle to keep a stream of unwanted stuff from entering my home. But through trial and error, I've learned some skills that have helped my family make the holiday season less wasteful but no less fun.

Sustainable gift-giving

My kids want nothing and need very little, but they're showered with gifts during the holiday season. While I'm grateful for the generosity of family and friends, I'm also all too aware of how bad our overconsumption is to the planet.

So, I've settled on a happy medium. I let gift-givers know that it's OK, and actually preferred, to give my family secondhand gifts. I point them in the direction of Buy Nothing groups, which are ripe with used kids' toys and clothes, and Back Market, a reputable website for buying used electronics. Thrift stores are stocked with used children's books and clothes.

Another approach that works is to ask family and friends to buy a small gift for the kids to open — like a colorful lollipop or a sheet of stickers — and put the money they would have spent on a more expensive gift into a college fund or a savings bond.

Toys don't last, but memories do, and giving experiences instead of stuff is a great way to make the holidays more sustainable. Museum passes, tickets to sports games or the theater, or a day spent hiking, camping, or just walking around town together sipping hot cocoa are all fun experiences that take a smaller toll on the planet.

If the people in your life simply aren't receptive to giving secondhand or waste-free gifts, ask them to avoid gifting toys with lots of small parts that are usually made of plastic and almost always lost before the new year arrives.

I use natural decorations and serve plant-based meals

It's not just the gifts and wrapping paper that harm the environment. The cheaply made plastic holiday decor on sale this time of year is tough on the planet, too. Luckily, there are plenty of festive alternatives.

I let nature do the work by decking the halls with greenery clippings and pinecones. Paper snowflakes look beautiful when taped to windows, and popcorn still works great as a garland. The best part is that the kids can participate in foraging, crafting, and decking the halls.

If you're hosting this holiday season, serving plant-based meals or a plant-based main course with meat as a side has a positive environmental impact since animal agriculture is a huge source of greenhouse gas pollution. My kids can't get enough mashed potatoes with plant-based gravy, vegetarian stuffing, and sweet potatoes with brown sugar.

Finally, sticking to a pre-planned menu will help avoid food waste and save money too. Using reusable dishes, utensils, and napkins may result in more washing but can save a lot of unnecessary waste. Ask guests to bring reusable containers so they can pack up leftovers.

With a few intentional tweaks to our holiday traditions, it's possible to celebrate more sustainably.

Kim Dinan is a mom of two and a communications professional at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Read the original article on Business Insider