This article is part of HuffPost’s Reclaim campaign, an ongoing project spotlighting the world’s waste crisis and how we can begin to solve it.
People create an insane amount of garbage over the holidays, but they don’t have to.
From the ridiculous quantities of food prepared for a holiday feast, to the huge pile of gifts placed under the tree, a lot of stuff gets bought for December festivities, only to be unceremoniously tossed by New Year’s.
Americans generate about 25 percent more household waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than the rest of the year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about 1 million extra tons of trash.
In the spirit of holiday goodness, here are a few ways to be less wasteful:
1. Don’t Over-Shop
Every host’s worst nightmare is to have guests leave their home hungry, so people tend to purchase and prepare far too much for large meals, leading to mountains of uneaten leftovers.
When grocery shopping, pre-plan your list to make sure you don’t over-shop. If you have some vegetarians, opt for a smaller turkey. If there are a lot of kids, try making something picky-eater-friendly, like mashed potatoes.
Most of all, prepare food that makes for good leftovers: There’s nothing like a cold turkey and cranberry sandwich. But day-old fondue? Not so much.
2. Don’t Toss Odds And Ends Of Veggies While You Cook.
Those small bits of zucchini or carrot left over after you chop may not look great on your meticulously Instagrammable entree, but they are good for other things: Use veggie bits to make dishes like vegetable stock, veggie omelets or quiche.
3. Let Guests Serve Themselves
This is just practical, since whoever prepared the huge meal is probably too exhausted to serve each and every guest. But more importantly, if you lay food out buffet style, people can select only what they really want, and there is less chance of food getting left uneaten and tossed.
4. Don’t Lose The Leftovers
If you have too much food left, bag some up for guests to take home. Otherwise, put it all in tupperware to eat for lunch over the next couple days. And if you honestly can’t take the sight of another cold turkey sandwich or pea soup, just freeze what’s left for future use.
5. Donate Non-Perishable Food
Any non-perishable items that weren’t used ― such as canned cranberry sauce and gravy, or powdered mashed potatoes (I won’t tell your mother-in-law you don’t make it from scratch) ― can be donated to your local food bank.
6. No Matter How Excited You Are, Don’t Rip Wrapping Paper
Tossing wrapping paper after one use takes a toll on the environment. Yeah, half the fun of getting gifts is violently tearing them open on Christmas morning ― but try to encourage kids to unwrap gently so the paper can be reused. Even better, opt for recycled alternatives like newspapers or brown bags.
7. Regift Any Clothes You Don’t Want
Got another ugly sweater or awkward pair of socks from your least favorite uncle? Don’t toss them: The average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing each year ― and 85 percent of it ends up in landfills, where it decomposes, releasing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Instead, regift it to someone else, or just donate it to your local Goodwill.
8. Give Less Altogether
Instead of having every person buy presents for every other person in the family, try a gift-swap instead.
With games like Secret Santa or White Elephant, each person walks away with only one gift. Secret Santa presents tend to be selected with the specific recipient in mind, and White Elephant lets players trade gifts with the group for something else they want.
9. Get The Right Kind Of Christmas Tree
Is it better to buy a real tree you’ll use once or a fake tree you can re-use for years? It turns out, the reusable one might be worse for the environment.
Fake trees are often made of toxic, non-recyclable materials and will end up in landfills once they’re tossed. What’s more, the vast majority are imported from China, meaning they have a major carbon footprint from shipping.
If you get a real tree, make sure you buy local and dispose of it correctly: Experts recommend replanting or recycling it. If you’re lucky enough to live in an eco-friendly city like San Francisco, you can just leave it by the street and it will get recycled. In New York City, you can bring it to select city parks to get it recycled into mulch to nourish other plants.