“Greening the Holidays” – Seven Tips to Reduce Our One Million Tons of Holiday Waste

Shannon Callaham, WELL AP

Sustainability Project Manager

As you prepare to celebrate the holidays, you’re probably thinking about your family, cultural or religious traditions. Mazzetti-ites are talking about how to keep the spirit of these traditions alive – while inspiring a thoughtful, sustainable holiday experience.

CAUTION: Scary fact about waste… Did you know between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate an additional one million tons of household waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To put this in (some perspective), ONE MILLION TONS stacked in standard pallets, would stack the height of 2,579 Empire State Buildings or the weight of 142,857 African Elephants!! (Needless to say, one million tons of waste is substantial.)

We’ve compiled our top seven tips (some new ideas, some new variations on “old” ideas) for greening the holidays…

1. Travel Smarter

If you travel for the holidays, consider carpooling and public transportation where possible, or carbon offsets programs (note: some airlines have their own). Check out the fuel type and efficiency of the airlines you use – biofuels cut greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Eat Greener

Try to buy local, organic, in-season, whole foods through your local market, CSA or grocery store. Read up on the certification labels. Choose your meat carefully (look for grass-fed, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free). Use reusable dishes and minimize food waste with thoughtful planning. Be creative with leftovers!

My family is taking turns making healthy homemade meals this year for each other. It’s a fun way to share recipes and inspire a little competition.

 – Shannon Bunsen, Sustainability Project Manager

3. Get a Living Tree

If you celebrate Christmas with a tree, consider a living tree or rosemary plant this year. If you can’t replant it on your property, find out if your community has a replanting program for restoration areas. Read up on how to care for your living tree. Don’t want a living tree? Get creative with a DIY tree that isn’t a tree.

In Portland, we have a program that helps save trees post holidays. Essentially, they deliver trees in pots, to families like mine and yours… Post holidays, they collect the trees and plant them in watershed restoration projects. OR, you can pay extra to keep your tree and plant it yourself. (I opt for this route!)

– Seth Francis, Mechanical Designer

4. Use LEDs

Decorate with ENERGY STAR qualified LED lighting (for greater efficiency and longer life) and plug into a timer. Before you toss those old lights, use a bulb tester (don’t forget about the resources that went into that existing set). When you’re ready to toss the old ones, check out to find a recycling program.

5. Give Better Gifts

When shopping, buy local, bring your own bag, and minimize packaging. Consider handmade items or those already in the materials stream (like antiques). Be conscious of the resources that went into making and transporting the products. Be thoughtful to durability and usefulness of gifts, as well as disposal at the end of their useful life.

We decided to avoid plastics in presents this year as we’ve been reading a lot about micro-plastics in the ocean. We also decided to get spices for $5 white elephant gifts in an effort to give something useful.

– Shannon Bunsen, Sustainability Project Manager

6. Ditch the Paper

Make the wrapping part of the gift, like scarves, reusable bags or containers. Make the wrapping yourself with recycled and recyclable materials like old newspapers, calendars, music sheets, or maps. Check out some of these ideas for crafting homemade holiday wrapping paper here or here.  For a little more fun, ditch the wrapping altogether and hide your gifts with clues throughout the house—who doesn’t love an interactive scavenger hunt?!

And last, but certainly not least in terms of quality gift-giving…

7. Give the Gift of Time and Experience

However you choose to spend the holidays, be sure to take time for slowing down and being present with the people you love.  Enjoy all the small moments and experiences together and make memories that revitalize and bring joy to you and those around you.

I am giving my wife a one day, your choice, adventure coupon, with lunch, dinner, and travel to places of your choice for $100 total 😊   

– Seth Francis, Mechanical Designer

Share your own “Greening the Holidays” ideas (or use one of ours), by posting a photo to your social media channel of choice, using #GreeningtheHolidays

Our Mazzetti+GBA family wishes you a very happy (greener) holiday season.

Adam Sachs, PE

Associate, Mechanical Engineer

Amy Pitts, MBA, BSN, RN

Medical Equipment Project Manager

Andy Neathery

Technology BIM Specialist

Angela Howell, BSN, RN

Senior Associate, Medical Equipment Project Manager

Anjali Wale, PE, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Senior Electrical Engineer

Austin Barolin, PE, CEM, LEED AP O&M

Senior Associate, Senior Energy Analyst

Beth Bell

Principal, Chief Financial Officer

Bilal Malik

Associate, Senior Electrical Designer

Brennan Schumacher, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Lighting Design Studio Leader

Brian Hageman, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Plumbing Discipline Lead

Brian Hans, PE, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Brian J. Lottis, LEED AP BD+C

Associate, Senior Mechanical Designer

Brianne Copes, PE, LEED AP

Senior Associate, Mechanical Engineer

Bryen Sackenheim

Principal, Technology Practice Leader

Carolyn Carey

Medical Equipment Project Manager

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