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Whether you are hosting, traveling home to family, or visiting friends, the holidays can be a stressful time of the year. And with that stress, it’s easy to push aside concerns about the significant problem of food and environmental waste. 

Just last week, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, some 200 million pounds of turkey meat was estimated to be thrown out over the Thanksgiving holiday week. The organization points out that the resources that went into that wasted poultry are equal to 100 days of water for New York City. And the Thanksgiving meal is only part of the problem: annually, about $218 billion of food goes uneaten, while more than 40 million Americans will not have enough food at some point in the year.

It’s not just food that goes to waste. Americans throw away 25% more trash, or about 1 million extra tons per week, during the holiday season than at other times of the year, according to Stanford University. That trash may end up in landfills, but sadly a lot of waste, especially plastics, ends up in oceans

Fortunately, all of us have the power to make sure we’re not contributing to the current waste climate during the holiday season. Here are some tips and tricks to be an impressive green champion in a trash-riddled world.

1. Skip the plastic bags

Most eco-conscious consumers have a few reusable totes (or if you’re like us, a drawer stuffed with them) somewhere in their home—use them! This way, you won’t need to use plastic bags for your holiday haul. Every second, about 160,000 plastic bags are used, adding up to a staggering 5 trillion plastic bags per year. To bring that number closer to home, the NRDC says that “the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.”

If you’re new to reusable bags or looking to add to your collection, we have some suggestions:

2. Mind your utensils

No one likes doing the dishes, but reusable silverware is significantly better for the planet than single-use plastic utensils, which pretty much never break down. If you need some disposable options (FYI: so-called recyclable pieces cannot be recycled once soiled with food), we recommend this compostable cutlery set and these plant-based plates that are sturdy and stylish.

3. Buy only what you need

Nothing says the holidays like a table filled with an abundance of food, but indulging in this tradition can lead to a lot of unnecessary waste. Start your own tradition of preparing just enough by using this serving size calculator. It’ll help you streamline your purchasing amounts so you buy only as much as you need for the mouths you have to feed.

4. Store leftovers to last

Even with the best preparation, you’ll likely still have leftovers. Store the leftovers in environmentally-friendly wrapping for yourself or your guests with bee’s wax paper, cloth wraps or containers from Stasher. If you’re freezing food, make sure to portion it out so you only reheat what you can eat and reduce what typically goes to waste.

5. Give scraps and leftovers new life

Don’t toss those carrot and beet tops! Even gizzards and cheese rinds can be made into tasty dishes with these no waste recipes. As for your leftovers, you don’t have to settle for the same holiday meal for a whole week. You can whip up something new with these repurposed recipes from Save the Food and Epicurious.

6. Clean with the planet in mind

Did you know you’re supposed to replace your sponge every two to three weeks? Some sponges are more sustainable than others, and there are also concerns about using real sea sponges. We recommend this sponge made of walnut and cellulose from Grove Collaborative. You can also grow your own sponge

For cleaning liquids, it’s best to avoid those made with harsh chemicals that can wind up in waterways, or your bloodstream. Our preferred brands are Method and Mrs. Meyers.

7. Be a good green guest

If you’re not hosting a holiday meal, there are favors you can bring to your host that show you care not only about them, but the environment as well. If you’re bringing wine, this is a bag every host will love. There’s also this ethically-sourced black marble bowl or a cutting board made from hardwood reclaimed from 18th and 19th-century building-stock that will delight your host and the other guests.

Let’s make this holiday season a safe and happy one, while also protecting our planet. Happy holidays!

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