“Did you know…at least 28 billion pounds of edible food are wasted each year – or over 100 pounds per person? Putting one less cookie on Santa’s plate will reduce his snacking by about 2 million pounds.” (www.use-less-stuff.com)
More waste is created between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time. 25% more to be exact, with 6 million extra tons of garbage, 38,000 miles of ribbon and an astounding 2.65 billion holiday cards (source: CalRecycle).
If you’re not smart about how you manage holiday waste it can spill over into wasted energy, increased waste removal costs, and frankly, some missed opportunity for your business to operate more environmentally friendly and build good will during the holiday season.
Here are 7 ways to reduce waste and save money for your business without sacrificing festivity during the holiday season, in your gift giving and at your holiday parties.
1. Use Recycled or Electronic Holiday Cards or Party Invites
Each year 2.65 billion holiday cards are sold in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. Many of these cards become excess waste once received because of generally poor waste removal habits.
It is common that businesses send holiday cards or party invitations to employees or clients and prospects during the holidays. Rather than contribute to this holiday waste, buy holiday cards or party invitations made from recycled paper or using your email marketing program to send out electronic invites or automated holiday greetings.
Although sending season’s greetings electronically may seem informal you can upload handwritten signatures and customize individual messages, with more ease than handwriting cards. Plus there is no hassle with postage, envelopes or logistics of sending hand written letters.
2. Mind Your Lights
Christmas lights are one of our favorite things about the holiday season. If you’re not careful however, they can put a big drain on your energy consumption at a time when heating costs are already rising.
When purchasing Christmas lights, buy LED’s, which have a longer lifespan than traditional lights (not to mention they are more vibrant). Also purchase light strands that are wired in parallel. If one bulb goes bad the rest continue to light, so you won’t be throwing away “bad” strands. Lastly put your lights on a timer. If you forget to turn them off you’re covered. Smart light usage will prolong the lifetime of the bulbs and keep you off the naughty list when it comes to the energy bill.
3. Get Creative with Gifts
Think through the gifts you’re giving to employees or clients and how you can make them more thoughtful and less wasteful. A great way to do this is giving the gift of experience. Intangible things like music lessons or lessons for a new hobby, a massage, or tickets to a sporting event or play are always a nice surprise and incredibly personal. These gifts can be given with minimal or no wrapping or packaging waste.
Another fantastic idea gaining popularity is giving a monetary donation to a local charity in all of your clients’ names. This builds good will with clients by giving to those less fortunate in true holiday spirit.
A third way to give a gift with no waste is to find a way to give your time, not money or tangible gifts. Volunteer a day of your businesses time to a client’s favorite charitable organization.
4. Donate Unwanted Decorations and Gifts
Donating money is not the only way to help those less fortunate during the holiday season. You can recycle old decorations by donating them to a thrift store rather than the landfill. This can extend even further to your employees, by starting a program that encourages them to bring in old decorations from their homes. Smart waste removal practices aren’t always about saving money; sometimes they’re just about doing what’s right.
The same goes for unwanted gifts. There is no need to toss that ridiculous sweater from the aunt who hasn’t seen you in 5 years. Encourage donation or even re-gifting whenever possible.
5. Use a Re-plantable Live Tree
Approximately 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in North America every year. Most of them end up on the curb, but yours doesn’t have to. If you’re going to decorate the office with a Christmas tree but don’t want to sacrifice that classic pine smell, find a local grower that offers trees that can be re-planted.
If you can’t find re-plantable live trees, look to recycle your tree rather than sending it straight to a landfill. Check with your community solid waste department and find out if they collect and mulch trees. Your town might be able to use chippings from mulched trees for hiking trails, beachfront erosion barriers or the local park.
6. Gift Wrapping (and unwrapping!)
Disposable shopping bags and wrapping paper are big holiday waste culprits. Some easy ways to create minimal waste when giving and receiving gifts are:
- Use reusable shopping bags when purchasing gifts for clients or employees
- Purchase wrapping paper that is responsibly made and includes high recycled content
- After you’re done giving gifts and delighting employees, have a plan in place to recycle the paper
- Avoid bows and ribbons; instead decorate with sprigs of live evergreens or other holiday-themed garnishes.
- Reuse newspapers, magazines or other industry publications that populate your lobby or reception area all year long to make your own wrap or as package stuffing.
- Collect and reuse gift bags, ribbons and bows. It may seem tacky but the wrapping is more of a formality anyway.
Planning ahead is the best way to reduce waste. Plan to use just what you need. Food is by far one of the biggest waste items during the holidays. Almost 40 percent of all food purchased is wasted.
Avoid this by carefully planning your holiday party needs and sending employees home with leftovers or donating them to homeless or emergency shelters. Plan to use reasonable portions. Santa won’t mind if there’s one less cookie on his plate.
With Small Changes Each Year You Can Make a Big Difference
There are a lot of suggestions in this article, some of which will take time to create and implement processes for. Don’t try to undertake an overhaul of your holiday waste control and reduction practices all in one year. Instead implement a few changes year to year. Small changes each year will add up over time.
Valerie Paquin is manager of energy services at Cost Control Associates. Since 1999 she has developed her utility-cost expertise for energy, water/sewer, telecom and waste removal. She earned the designation of project executive in 2012. Valerie received her ABA in accounting from State University of New York-Adirondack. Learn more.