No-waste holiday

Holidays should be exciting and joyful. But do you sometimes feel that the time to share with family, friends and the people you love is lost to shopping, decorating, preparing food—and feeling stress? Are you feeling "holidazed"? Instead of the hustle and bustle of the mall, maybe it's time to take a deep breath and start a new tradition—a holiday focused on the things important to you and not on stuff.

In the spirit of giving, we've gathered some holiday gift ideas that will help you create less waste and more memories.

Buying a costume to use once and toss is a waste of the costume, and all the energy and natural resources it took to make it. Plus, textiles are a fast growing segment of the waste stream. Here are some better alternatives:

Halloween costumesMake your own costume. Raid your closet and unleash your creativity. (Grandma and grandpa's or a friend's closet works just as well). Kids love to make things, you’ll spend quality time with your child and teach some useful self-reliance skills too.

Swap it. Did you know that if you were to swap the costumes of only half of the children who celebrate Halloween you would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons, equivalent to the weight of 2,500 midsize cars. And that doesn't even address adult costumes. For ideas for how to organize a local kids’ costume swap in your community visit the National Costume Swap Day website.

Shop thrift stores. If you don’t have a costume to swap, try visiting one of your local reuse stores for great Halloween costumes that are unique, inexpensive and creative.

Rent a costume. CostumeRentals is a combined project of the Guthrie Theater and The Children's Theatre Company offering a truly unique collection of over 30,000 theatrical costumes.

More green Halloween ideas

  • Use non-toxic face pencils to draw on your child’s face.
  • Consider handing out recycled-content pencils instead of candy.
  • Use a pillow case or reusable bag to collect your trick-or-treat goodies.
  • Limit your decorations to a few, long-lasting favorites.
  • Find a pumpkin for carving or eating using the Minnesota Grown Directory.
  • Don’t throw away the pumpkin seeds or any uncarved pie pumpkins – cook and eat them!  For delicious recipes visit, All About Pumpkins.
  • Compost your pumpkins after Halloween.

The cost of giving thanks

Food in refrigerator

A lot of effort goes into preparing a Thanksgiving meal, but have you thought about how much effort goes into the food before it reaches your table? The growing, processing, and transportation of food uses significant amounts of chemicals, energy, water, land, and money ($165 billion/year) — all lost if the food is not consumed.

The average household wastes almost $130 worth of food every month. This is bad for our wallets — and for the environment. According to the U.S. EPA, more than 34 million tons of food was thrown away in 2010. In fact, food is the single largest component of waste going to landfills and incinerators. And, 2 percent of US greenhouse gases come from the food we waste.

Serving up a zero-waste Thanksgiving

With a little planning you can prepare a delicious zero-waste meal that’s good for your wallet and the environment.

Who’s coming to dinner? Knowing how many people are coming can help you plan your portions. Find an online portion planner to help you choose the right amount. Ask your guests about dietary needs and adjust recipes as needed.

The grocery list. Create a shopping list and use it. Using a shopping list when you go grocery shopping has many benefits:

  • Reduces impulse purchases
  • There no need to stress about figuring out what you may or may not have at home
  • Helps you spend less time wandering the grocery aisles or having to go back to the store later.

Buy directly from local farmers. You'll get fresher food and keep your dollars local. Find local foods and farms: HTML icon Minnesota Grown

Store it smarter: Keep your food fresher and longer by storing them properly. Here are some tips to help reduce your grocery bill and wasted food:

  • Most vegetables keep longer in a humid environment, such as a crisp drawer in the refrigerator.
  • Keep apples, bananas, citrus, and tomatoes away from other produce – they give off ethylene gas that causes other produce to spoil more rapidly.
  • Keep your refrigerator between 37F – 40F, and your freezer between 0F-2F (when freezing, remember to label container with contents and date).
  • Store food in a glass container; it retains the cold and can be easily seen through. Plastic can release harmful toxins when storing and heating food in it.

For more tips, visit Eureka Recycling’s A-Z food storage tips.

Use up your leftovers. The Love Food Hate Waste website provides recipes that use small amounts of common ingredients. When searching for leftover recipes, look for ones that are flexible and allow you to use whatever vegetable is in the refrigerator.

Compost. Rather than toss your peels and wilted leaves, compost your vegetable scraps in a backyard compost pile or worm bin.

Season's green-ings

On an average day, a typical Minnesotan creates roughly six pounds of waste. But between Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day added food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons adds up to an additional 1 million tons a week to the nation's garbage piles.

And it's not just trash. The average American spends more than $800 on gifts over the holiday season. Think about your time, energy, and money spent driving around town looking at and purchasing so much stuff, wrapping piles of gifts and planning details for a family trip. It's no wonder that so many people get stressed out during the holiday season!

This holiday season consider a new tradition. One that creates less waste, less stress, and more memories.

image of gift certificatePDF icon Gift certificate Print your own gift certificate.

Give more of what really matters

This year, why not try giving time, energy, talent, and unique repurposed items instead of store-bought gifts? You will perhaps find out that the stress, environmental impact, and financial burden of your holiday are lessened while the meaningfulness and joy from your gifts blooms.

Gift-giving alternatives

A lot of people would like to try new things, but won't spend the money on themselves. A gift certificate might be just the thing for someone who would like to begin a new hobby or polish the skills they have already learned.

  • Lessons
  • Passes to a museum or membership to a community center or park.
  • Tickets to a play
  • Teach someone the secrets behind your special talents
  • Cook some meals, or offer to help shop or clean up
  • Create a book of family recipes

Give an experience is also a great gift idea for children who want to give family gifts. Let them know that what you really want does not have to come from a store—their time is even more valuable to you. Maybe helping shovel snow this winter, or vacuuming the house is really the present you are looking for.

What's your favorite gift?

Having a hard time thinking of low-waste, sustainable gifts for everyone on your list? We surveyed some green gift-givers and asked, "What is your favorite gift to give or receive?"

As their answers reveal, the most treasured gifts we can give are our time, love, and energy. Here are their suggestions:Face

Breakfast treat of the month. “Several years in a row I gave my grandparents a one-year “breakfast treat of the month.” Once a month I made sweet bread, muffins, or coffee cake and brought it to their house. It ensured we would get over there for a visit.”--Colleen

Top-10 book list. “My grandma and I share a love of reading. So last year I put together a “Top 10” list of books that I’ve read and enjoyed and thought that she too would enjoy too. I did buy her one of the books, but suggested that she get the remaining books through the library.”--BrianFace

A special experience. “Our granddaughter reads and reads and loves to write stories. We gave her a week-long summer writing camp at the Loft in Minneapolis. She thought she was so cool. Other people might like concert tickets, a cooking class, or other membership to a museum.”--Phyllis

Jar of love. “My son gave me an empty food jar filled with little notes. Each note listed an activity that he’ll do with me. He included experiences like bike ride, canoe, cross country skiing, see a movie, and go to a park. What could be better?"--Madalyn Face

Felted potholders and coasters. “I make potholders and coasters out of old wool sweaters by felting them in the washing machine and cutting them out. The potholders are nice and thick. You can cut out the coasters in lots of shapes.” --Theresa

Green gift options

If you are looking for something to wrap up for the holidays, here's some suggestions that go easy on our planet.

  • Minnesota State Parks Permit: Provides unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks.
  • Metro Transit bus passes: Save money on gas, take the bus or train.
  • Minnesota Ski Pass: Access to ski in Minnesota's State Parks or Forests, or on State or Grant-in-Aid Trails.
  • Give unique secondhand collectibles, vintage wear, or antiques
  • Hand-knit or home-sewn items
  • Give LED or energy-efficient light bulbs: LED is one of today's most energy-efficient lighting technologies. ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs use only 25% of the energy, and last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace.
  • Locally made or Minnesota grown products
  • Reusable shopping bags

Gift wrapping

Did you know that our national annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons? And did you know that if every family just reused two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet? This year, why not try a new way of wrapping that is elegant, fun, and green? Try Furoshiki!

furoshiki wrappingFuroshiki: an eco-friendly wrapping cloth

Furoshiki is a way of wrapping cloth that was first originated from Japan. Using techniques similar to origami, it can be used for gift wrapping, grocery shopping or simply as decoration.

It is easy and fun. There are a lot of different Furoshiki wrapping techniques that you could use to wrap up your gifts. And you could always use your creativity and figure out your own way of Furoshiki wrapping.

Other resources: A gift registry that encourages the giving of homemade gifts, charitable donations, secondhand goods,experiences, time, day-of-event help, and more.

Buy Nothing Day, held the day after Thanksgiving, challenges you to switch off from shopping for a day.

Small Business Saturday, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, promotes shopping at local small businesses.

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers, candle-lit dinners, cards, gifts? Each choice you make can have a better environmental footprint. This year why not plan a pink, red, and green Valentine’s Day.

Green blossoms

Flowers are the classic symbol of love but did you know that conventional flowers can have 50 times more pesticides on them than is legal to have on food?  This year show your green romantic side.

  • Choose organic and fair trade-certified blooms. You’ll make sure the flowers you give show love for the earth and respect for those who grew them.
  • Consider giving a potted plant or home-grown blooms (maybe an indoor herbal garden). They will last much longer than that plastic-wrapped bouquet.
  • Keep your love local and buy from a Minnesota Grown farmer.

Visit your local library to find ideas on handmade fabric flowers or origami flowers, or pressed flowers or leaves. It costs you less money but brings more romance on this holiday.

Sweets for your sweet

We all love chocolates and candies, but the story of chocolate production, which can cause critical environmental problems is a bitter one. The good news is that with the increasing availability of organic and free trade chocolates give sweets to our loved one while being sweet on the environment.

Avoid overindulgence: Consider buying a few pieces of the best quality, rather than too much of the conventional stuff.

Have a romantic, and green, evening at home

Make dinner for two, not ten
Prevent food waste by planning for right amount of food and making a shopping list beforehand. When you include more vegetables and less meat in your meal you’ll lower the meal’s environmental impact significantly.

Sustainable wines
Wine from grapes grown, pressed, and bottled locally lowers transportation impacts. Find a local wineries from the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. Organic wine lowers the amount of chemical fertilizers used, and boxed wine lowers the footprint of the wine vs. wine in a new glass bottle.

Set the scent of romance with better candles
All candles can give off fine particles into the air of your home. When you add fragrances, dyes, and petroleum such as are found in many scented conventional candles air quality can be further impaired. This year, light up the darkness of winter and your sweetie’s heart with soy or pure beeswax.

Valentine's Day coupons
Use Sierra Club’s Valentine's Day Coupon for a romantic and earth-friendly gift