12 Tips to Reduce Waste at the Holidays

Gift wrapping items: wrapping paper, gift bags, boxes, and bow

Americans produce a staggering amount of waste. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, we collectively produced 254 million tons of trash, an average of about 4.4 pounds per person per day.  (That’s much higher than the global average, though other wealthy, developed countries aren’t far behind.) The upside is that we recycled and composted about 34% of that waste, but that still left a lot of trash headed to landfills or scattered as litter. There are about 2,000 active landfills in the US, and simple math leads to the conclusion that we will at some point run out of space for all of our trash. In addition, properly managing municipal waste is expensive, and both landfills and incineration can pose serious environmental and health concerns. Moreover, think about all the resources we are wasting by throwing so many things away rather than using them to their fullest potential.

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Becoming a More Conscious Consumer

A square still-life painting of vegetables and fruits.
Farmer’s Market Finds, 2012. Private Collection.

Over the past year, I’ve made a few significant changes in my purchasing habits. These changes weren’t part of any resolution or major life overhaul. They came gradually as I educated myself on certain issues and decided I no longer wanted to contribute to certain problems. I changed what I buy to support positive practices and avoid supporting negative ones.

Now, I don’t mean to be preachy. I don’t judge people who haven’t made these changes, because it wasn’t very long ago that I changed my ways. I also understand that I am privileged to be able to make these choices. I am paid a good salary and can afford to choose more expensive products that align with my values. I realize not everyone has that luxury. Some people must accept what is available to them. With those caveats in mind, here are three steps I’ve taken toward building a better world with my dollars.

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