How to cut back on holiday waste

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The holiday season is a joyful time of year. But the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day also tend to be very wasteful, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimating that household waste increases by more than 25 percent during the holiday season.

Reducing waste come this time of year does not mean celebrants have to forgo big family meals or beautifully wrapped gifts. In fact, there are several ways to reduce waste without spoiling the spirit of the season.

Give eco-conscious gifts. The environment may not be the first thing that comes to mind when holiday shoppers are looking for gifts for their loved ones. But giving reusable gifts can have a positive, long-term impact on the planet. Reusable coffee mugs or water bottles can dramatically reduce waste over time, and such items make great stocking stuffers. Shoppers also can look for items made from recycled materials which run the gamut from home furnishings to calendars to clothing as eco-friendly alternatives to gifts produced without the environment in mind.

Reuse holiday-specific items. Many people only use gift wrap, gift boxes and gift bags during the holiday season. Such items are oftentimes discarded after Christmas morning. But these items can be reused to cut back on holiday waste. Reusing wrapping paper from year to year can be especially beneficial to the environment. That's because wrapping paper tends to be dyed or laminated, and many wrapping papers contain non-paper additives that cannot be recycled. Reusing wrapping paper, purchasing only recyclable paper or wrapping gifts in old newspapers or magazines can help holiday celebrants reduce their carbon footprints.

Prepare less food and donate any leftovers. The Worldwatch Institute notes that, during the holiday season, celebrants generate three times as much food waste as they do during other times of the year. Large family meals are a tradition of the holiday season, but hosts who routinely find themselves discarding leftovers can plan on preparing less food this year. Consider how much guests are likely to eat and plan meals accordingly instead of buying enough food to feed a small army. Donate leftovers to nearby shelters so nothing goes to waste.

Recycle live Christmas trees. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25.9 million real trees were sold in the United States in 2015. Trees put out on the curb for collection after the holiday season typically end up in landfills, but some communities recycle Christmas trees each year. Real tree enthusiasts can contact community officials to determine if they can recycle rather than discard their trees.

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