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The scene is familiar—family is gathered around, there are bits of shiny paper and ribbons scattered across the house, and the kitchen table is overflowing with delicious food. The holiday season is a time for giving, reflection, and being thankful, but it can also easily become a time of excess.

According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the holiday season than they do during the rest of the year—and that adds up to nearly one million extra tons of trash each week.

We all want to enjoy this time of year, and it’s only natural to want to focus on happy thoughts of family and friends, good cheer, and good food. But, just like you don’t want to overdo it on the holiday cookies, there are ways to find balance this season so you don’t overdo it on the garbage you create as well.

Give the gift of less trash.

Think about how much wrapping paper you used last holiday season, plus all of the ribbons, bows, boxes, gift tags, etc. That’s a lot of extra waste you don’t typically make—all crammed into a short period of time.

Wrapping paper sales totaled near $10 billion in 2010—enough to cover over 330 million square feet. And where does all of that paper go? Unless you’re the type to meticulously unwrap gifts and save the paper for later, it probably ends up in a landfill. Due to its shiny, laminate coating, most wrapping paper is not recyclable and takes a long time to decompose.
Instead of having to repurchase wrapping paper every year and watching your money go into the trash, try using one of these environmentally friendly or reusable options.

REDUCE, REUSE.

Do you have extra brown bags from your grocery store visits? Cut along the sides and bottom of the bags, and use them just like regular wrapping paper. Or you could also opt to place gifts in reusable bags for a two-in-one gift.

GIFT SMARTER.

Think outside the (gift) box! For example, you could fill a jar with ingredients for a healthy winter soup, place the pieces of a DIY craft in a decorative basket, or, as a fun idea for kids, hide the gifts and give clues for where to find them instead of wrapping.

GIFT AN EXPERIENCE.

Though family and friends will likely appreciate any gift you give them, it’s hard to beat a gift that they’ll remember forever. If you know there is something they’ve always wanted to do, like learn how to cook or go to a specific event, gift them with this experience. It doesn’t require wrapping, and it’s something meaningful they’ll always remember.

Fight the food frenzy.

One of the biggest parts of the holidays is getting to enjoy great food with friends and family, but this season can quickly dissolve into an opportunity to eat to excess, or it can leave you with piles of leftovers that will inevitably end up in the trash can.

The holidays are one of the most critical times for food donation, and yet it’s also one of the biggest times for food waste. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of solutions to curb not only how much food you consume but also how much food you throw away.

PLAN AHEAD.

Whether you’re the host or are simply making a dish to bring to the party, it’s easy to overestimate how much you’ll need. Here are some helpful serving guidelines per person:

• Six ounces of meat
(e.g., chicken, turkey, pork roast)
• Five ounces of potato-based dishes
(e.g., sweet potatoes, baked potatoes)
• Four ounces of vegetable or fruit sides
(e.g. asparagus, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce)
• One slice of cake or pie

SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY.

It’s near impossible to get serving sizes right when you have to prepare an entire meal by yourself. Assign each of your guests a specific part of the meal, and ask them to prepare something according to their assignment. Encourage them to take home whatever doesn’t get eaten, too, to avoid filling your fridge with all the leftovers or throwing things away.

GET CREATIVE.

There are many uses for leftovers besides simply reheating them. For example, cooked vegetables can be turned into a potpie with unused piecrust, or turkey scraps can be used to make sandwiches. The possibilities are endless, so don’t be so quick to toss things immediately.

No one wants to think about how much waste they create any time of year, let alone a time that is supposed to be reserved for happiness and celebration. But it’s important to consider the facts. If you want to be a part of the solution, not the problem, consider embracing these ideas for making less waste during the season of giving.