Six tips for sustainable shopping around the holidays

Grace Dickens

Household waste from food, wrapping paper and other holiday shopping list items increases by an estimated 25 percent, or about one million tons per week, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. To help solve this problem, students across campus share their tips and tricks for being more sustainable this holiday season.

1. Avoid disposable items at holiday parties

Rachel Aaronson, Green Events Project team leader for the Campus Environmental Center, is in charge of trying to make meetings and events zero waste for student organizations at UT. In addition to providing recycling bins, the organization provides compost bins to reduce food waste.

“At parties and holiday events, use reusable plates, cups, dishes and silverware,” Aaronson said. “Try to avoid plastic especially, but disposable items in general.”

2. Make sure you eat the food you make

The National Resource Defense Council estimated that about 40 percent of all food is wasted in America. Aaronson said you should make sure to eat your leftovers.

“It’s just about trying to not make too much food,” Aaronson said. “Make the amount that you’re going to eat. And if it’s possible and you do have compost, have a way for food not to go to the landfill.”

4. Give lasting gifts

Aaronson said she tries to find the perfect gift for the person she’s buying for, and makes sure it’s an item that they will want to hold on to for years to come. She said buying gifts without a reason or meaning can create more waste.

“I try and give gifts that are more meaningful than just giving a gift to give a gift,” Aaronson said. “I want it to be something that will stay there and that they will keep in their life for a while. Or sometimes, I’ll give a present that’s not really a physical thing, like to hang out or spend time with that person doing something else.”

4. Reuse or repurpose gifts

It’s estimated 35 percent of Americans have a Christmas present sitting unused in storage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sophomore psychology student Madison Boothe said she reuses or repurposes those gifts for friends and loved ones to save money and resources.

“Sometimes there will be a gift I get that doesn’t really fit my style, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it,” Boothe said. “Holding onto it and regifting it next year means it’s one less gift I have to worry about.”

5. Get creative with wrapping papers

According to the CDC, if every American family used reusable materials to wrap three presents, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Nutrition sophomore Brooke Clay said she tries to wrap her gifts in creative ways.

“I try and find new ways to wrap presents — think old newspapers, scarves, reusable tins and that kind of stuff,” Clay said. “It saves paper, which is a big part of waste during the holidays.”

6. Try a real tree or DIY decorations

Real Christmas trees are estimated to have less of an impact on climate change and resource depletion than artificial trees, according to an article from The New York Times. Boothe does her part with some DIY fun.

“My family used to do popcorn garland every year, and the best part of it was that we’d get to eat it once we took it down,” Boothe said. “We’d also make lots of homemade ornaments for the tree. We still has most of them now, and we still put them on our tree every year.”