Keep It Classy, Not Trashy

Weekly holiday waste-reducing tips from our team of educators. | December 12, 2021

Oh, the holidays! That most wonderful time of the year when we come together (perhaps virtually this year) with our communities, spread some cheer and… increase our waste.

Not to be the bearers of bad news, but from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the U.S. generates 25 percent more waste than any other time of year. That’s one million extra tons of waste going into our landfills PER WEEK. Kind of a bummer during what should be a joyful season, right?

Here’s the good news: it only takes a little shift in the way we think about our holiday season to drastically reduce our impact. And if we’ve learned anything from this tricky year, a little shift in the way we think is no sweat for this resilient community. But we want to make it especially easy to lighten the load on the planet—every week leading up to the holidays, we’ll add a tip to this page that helps eliminate or reduce waste. Now that’s something to raise a glass to, eh?

Tip 1: Rethink Before Clicking ‘Proceed to Checkout’

We don’t mean to get all sappy on you, but, ‘tis the season to support our local economy. During the pandemic, our community has come together to make masks, PPE, feed those in need and offer support to neighbors and strangers alike.

Now more than ever, our local shops, farms, restaurants, bakeries, breweries, boutiques, museums, bookstores, cafes and artists need our support. We can’t have a sweet local community without some sweet local patronage—especially during such a difficult year.

And our favorite part of buying local? It comes with lots of planet and community-supporting goodness. Compared to big chains and corporations, local businesses in Whatcom County make more local purchases requiring less transportation, donate more per sales dollar to local nonprofits, provide the most jobs to residents in our community, and provide a stronger tax base and better use of public services. Buying local is a win-win for our community and our planet.

So this holiday season, if you’re feeling tempted to scroll through the endless options online offered by large corporations, consider instead putting your money back into our local economy to support our friends and neighbors. The old, steadfast pillars of sustainability (reduce, reuse, recycle) have some new friends—rethink, reimagine and reinvest.

Need some new gift ideas?

  • Buy gift certificates from local establishments. Did you know you can buy a single gift certificate that works at many of your fave Whatcom retailers, restaurants, services and entertainment? The RE Store is participating too!
  • Browse any of the aisles of a local bookstore to pick up one of the many books recommendations here.
  • Buy a coffee punch card from your favorite coffee shop.
  • Buy seafood caught by Tribal members.
  • Create a gift basket full of hearty vegetables from local farms.
  • Check out consignment and secondhand stores for a cozy sweater.
  • Make your own six-pack holder and fill it with local cider, beer or kombucha.
  • Gift a bulk order of homemade tamales and hope your friend shares with you.
  • Head over to your nearest Farmer’s Market and find a homemade gift from a local artist.
  • In lieu of a gift, volunteer with a local food bank or other organizations providing food to those in need in the community in honor of your friend.
  • Surprise a neighbor with a fresh baked treat from a local bakery.
  • Support a local musician by having them livestream a session for your friend who misses live music.
  • Donate to music venues so they can reopen when it’s safe.
  • In honor of your friend, make a donation to the many nonprofit organizations doing the good work in the community.
  • When in doubt, purchasing a gift certificate to any local business will greatly help them through this difficult time.

P.S. – Many local shops and food establishments offer COVID-safe, easy ways to pick up or deliver your goods. Spread the word!

Tip 2: Recycle Those Lights

Not to sound like an infomercial, but has this ever happened to you? You’re digging through those boxes packed away in the attic, getting ready to light up your house with some festive cheer, when you plug in that string of lights and…nothing happens. Somewhere in that string of 300 bulbs, there’s a burned out filament or a disconnected wire and, well, that string of lights is done bringing holiday cheer.

But don’t reach for the trashcan. Those lights can be recycled if you live in Whatcom County. All you have to do is coil or bundle up the strands of dead lights and tie with a string, rubber band or twist tie and place them next to your recycling bins for pick-up. That’s it!

Tip 3 : Have a food waste-free holiday meal!

How many people could you feed if you had 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes? According to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation that’s how much Americans throw away every Thanksgiving. Plus 172 million pounds of turkey, 38 million pounds of stuffing and 3.5 million pounds of butter goes out to the trash every year.

What’s the issue with all this food waste?

Food is a precious commodity, when we waste food, all those resources like energy and water that was used to grow and transport the food is wasted as well. Another problem is when the food is thrown out and goes to the landfill, that food will produce greenhouse gases as it decomposes, which are harmful to our environment.That food could have gone to feed others or feed animals instead.

So what can you do this holiday season to reduce your food waste?

Before planning your Thanksgiving or other holiday dinner, take a look at these guidelines from the Whatcom County Health Department on having a COVID-safe Thanksgiving.

Then, make a plan. Even though it’s just your household this year, plan out what dishes you are going to make and coordinate with your friends or family so you aren’t making the same dishes (unless you want to of course!)

Then, make a list (after checking your fridge and cupboards) of the ingredients you will need. To help you decide how much food you will need, try out this Guestimator. When you reach the store, only buy the items on your list, and if possible buy produce that is imperfect.

When deciding what dishes you would like to make, think about other dishes you can make that uses the scraps of your ingredients. For example, you can make delicious vegetable broth with your scrap veggies.

While filling your plate up for dinner, use smaller plates so that you are taking smaller portions. Taking smaller portions can also minimize the amount of food that gets thrown out, and you can always go back for seconds.

After your family is full and happy, save your leftovers. Think ahead and have empty Tupperware containers to use to store your leftovers, or if you used an ingredient that comes in a reusable container like yogurt, save that container and use it for storage. Label all your leftovers as well so you know what you have in your fridge or freezer.

You can also make a variety of new meals out of your leftovers. Like this leftover turkey and pumpkin pie curry, or you could use your extra stuffing to make homemade croutons.

Lastly, if there is food that is inedible, try and compost it or put it in a Food Plus container to be picked up. Even the bones from your turkey can be composted with Food Plus. In the compost, your old food can be reused one more time by providing much needed nutrients to soil.

Happy eating!

Tip 4: Homemade holiday gift ideas!

Anyone else out there been preparing and cooking their own meals more than ever lately? It’s empowering to cook from scratch and it can be pretty fun. Why not take things a step further and cook up some of your holiday gifts this season? It’s good for you, the planet and your bank account.

Use your creativity to make homemade gifts to wow your friends and family, reduce packaging waste and carbon emissions, and keep it simple for the holidays this year. Given the fact that the U.S. has a plastic problem, a great place to start is to reduce single use packaging that accompanies online ordering. Out of all the countries in the world, we produced the most plastic waste in 2016. When you make gifts, be creative with packaging—reuse a jar or wrap it in fabric or recycled calendars, maps or junk mail. And since the gifts are made by your own hands with love, they won’t need to be transported from the manufacturing plant to the distribution center to your address by planes, trains or automobiles.

Need a little inspiration? Here’s a quick list to get you started:

Tip 5: Find Alternatives to Purchasing Brand New Holiday Cards

Save money and resources this holiday season by not purchasing brand new holiday cards. 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold each year in the United States. That could fill a football field 10 stories high! If everyone were to send just one card less this year, 50,000 cubic yards of paper would be saved.

One option to save natural (and financial) resources this year is to send e-cards. Check out these free e-cards from Greetings Island or pay a little money to personalize and attach a gift certificate from Don’t want to send an e-card but still want to connect with a loved one? A surprise phone call or video call can go a long way.

If you’re feeling creative, you can make your own holiday cards by using things you already have at home. You can cut out scenic pictures from a favorite magazine, or repurpose images from your 2020 calendars. If you save holiday cards that loved ones send you, reuse them to create brand new cards to send to your family and friends.

If it’s really important for you to purchase holiday cards this year, try to pick ones that are made from recyclable material. Avoid cards made from photo paper, cards with photos attached to them and cards covered in glitter. These types of cards can’t be recycled (or need to be taken apart to be recycled) and will have to go into the landfill.

Tip 6: Reuse materials you already have at home for wrapping gifts!

Americans use roughly 8,000 tons of wrapping paper each year during the winter holidays, which is equal to about 50,000 trees. To save trees this holiday season, choose alternative ways to wrap the gifts you are giving. Instead of buying new wrapping paper, reuse some materials you already have at home!

You could use colorful pages from old magazines or old calendars to wrap your gifts. For a funnier wrapping that will put a smile on your loved ones face, use the comic pages in the newspaper to wrap gifts!

If you would prefer to place your item in a box to be gifted, make a box out of paper bags or calendar pages. Follow these directions, and watch this video on how you can make an awesome handmade box! You could also place your gifts in reusable decorative tins or baskets.

Don’t have any reusable boxes? Use some old fabric or shirts to wrap it up using the furoshiki method! If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields!

Thinking of using ribbon for your gift this year? Think again, and use pieces of fabric or twine instead! Ribbon is difficult (or impossible if it’s made out of plastic) to recycle and often ends up in landfills because of how thin they are, and how difficult it is to separate them from the rest of waste. If every family reused two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet!

If you do end up buying new wrapping paper this year, pick paper that is recyclable. Try not to buy paper that is metallic, wax coated, or covered in glitter. These types of wrapping paper can not be recycled and will have to go in the garbage if it is not reused. But always be sure to save all your wrapping paper and gift bags to reuse in the future. This will save you money and it saves resources!

Stay tuned for more tips next week!