6 tips for a low-waste holiday season

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With all the bows, baubles and boxes that the holiday season brings, the amount of waste we produce can increase – but that doesn’t have to be the case.

“There are lots of ways to make memories, not garbage, this holiday season,” says Karen Storry, senior project engineer with Metro Vancouver’s Solid Waste Services.

“Even doing one thing differently can make a difference [for the environment].”
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Here are six ideas to get you started, presented by Metro Vancouver.

Give the gift of an experience

Give an experience this holiday season. This can be movie tickets for your friends, a visit to the museum with your mom or even a trip to the local ski hill with your family. These gifts can be more meaningful and memorable than another sweater or tie.

Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, published a study in 2017 specifically about the benefits of giving experiences rather than material gifts.

“An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it… and is more intensely emotional than a material possession,” she says.

Her research also shows that these types of gifts can strengthen relationships.

Give gifts that last

It can be tempting to buy the latest gag gift, but trends pass and poorly made items can end up in landfills. If you want to give a tangible present, consider something with staying power such as a cast iron pan or a collection of classic kids’ books.

You can also go in on a parcel with other family members that will get lots of use, such as a tablet for grandma or a bike for the latest little rider. Think of gifts that are made with sustainable materials that can be recycled, donated or repurposed at the end of their lifecycles.

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Shop used

Shopping online is convenient, but it comes at a cost to the environment. Think of all that packaging and the kilometers travelled for each custom order.

Transportation overtook power plants as a top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in 2016, Vox reports.

Nearly a quarter of that pollution comes from medium- and heavy-duty trucks, with an increasing impact coming from what’s called “the last mile” – the commute between a distribution centre and your home.

Think about buying secondhand clothing instead. Forbes estimates that “if one in 100 American households shopped resale, they could collectively save over $1.6 billion and 1.1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions annually.”

Decorate wisely

Resist the urge to splurge on single-use decorations and try to avoid trimmings that can’t be recycled. Invest in quality decorations you can use annually, and take care of them when packing them away so they don’t break.

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Metro Vancouver recommends we borrow from nature. “Many decorations can be found by looking no further than your backyard,” they note on their website. Use greenery, pine cones and branches to craft a stunning centerpiece. Also think about these five ways to “green” your gift wrapping:

Use up leftovers

After spending money on food and hours in the kitchen, you don’t want your culinary creations to end up in the landfill.

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About 27 per cent of household waste is food scraps. As that waste decays in landfills, methane gas is produced – a major contributor to global warming.

With a little planning, you can be sure to enjoy every last scoop of mashed potatoes. Start by mapping out your menu and resist the urge to buy too much, especially when it comes to perishables.

Don’t be shy to send guests home with doggy bags—very few people are going to refuse a ready made meal during the busy holiday season.


At the end of the holiday season, you may not know how to recycle items like an old iPhone or a burnt out string of lights. Electronic waste (anything with a battery or a plug) can be recycled by taking them to a depot. Find the location closest to you at

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For more tips on reducing your waste this holiday season, visit Metro Vancouver’s “Create memories, not garbage” page.


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