Large Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas gift-wrapping and decorating, and New Year’s celebrations… the most wonderful time of the year is in full-swing!

But with all that fun, the holiday season also comes with a whole lot of waste.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day we see about a 25 percent increase in volume or about 1,000 pounds of extra waste per household. Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills. While these numbers may seem to dull the spirit of the season, there are many easy and effective ways you can lessen (or completely eliminate) your holiday waste that will keep you on the “nice” list. Here are our best tips for the holiday season:

Know your 5 R’s

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.

The Five Rs give us a new framework for dealing with waste in our lives, in part by helping us acknowledge the habits that lead to more waste and more trash. Understanding how to use the 5 R’s correctly can help deter tons of holiday waste, that is often mistakenly done incorrectly.

Here is a holiday waste cheat sheet to make sure you are using your 5 R’s best:

Things that are OK to go in your Recycling Bin:

  • Cardboard and paper boxes for gifts and shoes
  • Wrapping paper that’s plain (sans glitter and embellishments)
  • Plain paper gift bags
  • Holiday cards and envelopes that don’t have embellishments like glitter and glued on decorations
  • Sticky gift tags are not recyclable by themselves, but they are acceptable if affixed to an envelope or wrapping paper
  • Metal cans for soup and vegetables are usually recyclable unless they have an insulated interior coating.
  • Hard plastic containers and jugs for eggnog and cream are recyclable.

Things that you should NOT put in your Recycling Bin but in your Waste Bin Instead:

  • Plastic bubble wrap, air pillows and all types of foam packaging
  • Ribbons and bows because the material and size are not suitable for recycling
  • Gift bags that are laminated, coated, dyed or glittered
  • Cellophane wrap

Things that you should NEVER put in your Recycling or Waste Bins:

  • Batteries (check for local E-Cycle events near you)
  • Holiday lights or other Holiday electronic equipment (check for local E-Cycle events near you)
  • Organic food waste (let it ROT…compost!)
  • Clothing and shoes (donate or recycle with a hard-to-recycle station, if possible)
  • Put plastics to the poke test. If you can easily poke your finger through any given plastic material, it’s too thin and flexible to be recycled curbside. These flexible plastics (think grocery bags) can be taken back to participating stores and retail outlets for recycling.

A few tips to keep it simple: The fancier the bags or the paper, the less recyclable it becomes. If you can’t reuse or donate these items, put them in a waste container, not your recycling bin. Less will always mean more when it comes to your zero-waste impact.

Consider the Source

 Whether you want to make in impact with the food you’re serving or the gifts that you are giving, here are a few ideas for keeping a “green” mind during the holidays.

Think Colorado Local:

  • When grown locally, the crops are picked at their peak of ripeness versus being harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed to your local retail store. Also by purchasing locally grown foods you help maintain farmland and green and/or open space in your community.
  • Shopping local supports area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts.
  • Focusing on local experiences, rather than wrapping and shipping. Share event tickets, museum memberships, gift certificates, and local business events.

Rethink Single-Use Items:

  • Holiday shopping usually means tons of plastic shopping bags! Reusable bags are not just for groceries, avoid plastic bags altogether and bring your reusable shopping bags to get all of your holiday shopping done.
  • Consider a potted tree that can be replanted, or a red cedar slated for removal during habitat/farm maintenance. You can also consider replanting, mulching or composting your live tree.
  • Rethink the single use wrapping paper by reusing maps, comics, newsprint, kid art, or posters as gift wrap. Wrap gifts in recycled paper or a reusable bag. Or skip the wrap completely!
  • Choose items of value, purpose, and meaning – not destined for a yard sale or the landfill.

Plan Ahead!

Make a List and Check it Twice:

  • Consolidate your shopping trips to save time, fuel, and aggravation. You’ll have more time for careful gift choices.
  • Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years.
  • Reuse packing and shipping materials. Save ribbons, bows, boxes, bags, and décor for the next holiday.
  • Do the research to know where the best places are to donate outgrown clothes, old toys, and unwanted gifts.

We can all use a little bit of holiday cheer this year! As we’re coming to learn on our journey of becoming more sustainable, make it a goal to create traditions that are less wasteful. Happy Zero-Waste Holidays!