Celebrate plastic-free: Expert shares tips to minimize holiday waste

Plastic is seemingly everywhere these days, including many items we see or use during the holidays.

Headshot of Florida Sea Grant agent Maia McGuire
Maia McGuire

Maia McGuire, UF/IFAS Extension associate director for Florida Sea Grant, is an expert on plastic waste and microplastic pollution. She says there are ways to cut down on plastic usage during the holidays. Below, she offers a few easy ways to be mindful of this goal.

1. Party with less waste

Wherever and however you’re celebrating, McGuire advocates for using real utensils, flatware, glasses, etc. These items can also be used year after year, as opposed to single-use plastics. “If you’re hosting, encourage your guests to bring their own reusable containers to help keep the leftovers – and there usually are leftovers – from going to waste or taking up your space,” she adds.

2. Speaking of reusables

McGuire says one of the least wasteful gift wrap options is butcher or craft paper tied with string, but you can also look for opportunities to reuse wrappings, especially gift bags. Many gift bags are plastic-coated, but they can be used over and over again. Even paper-only gift bags can be used more than once. “Saving what can be reused also keeps your trash from overflowing on Christmas morning,” McGuire said.

3. Steer clear of glitter

The holiday season tends to bring about an abundance of glitter. But, McGuire notes, these microplastics can reach our waterways the same as any other. Try to find the greeting cards, wrapping paper and decorations that skip the extra sparkle. The holidays twinkle on their own!

A beeswax wrap makes a great companion gift to homemade food. (Credit: Maia McGuire)
4. Make homemade gifts and decorations

Outside of the real-or-fake-tree debate – “I bought a fake Christmas tree 20-plus years ago, and I still use it,” McGuire shared – nature can inspire decorations. “One year, I was asked by one of my friends to collect sweetgum pods because she and her kids were going to make snowmen out of them.” Natural confetti can be made from colorful leaves, and pinecones are festive on their own. Now an avid crocheter, McGuire says crafted items can make great decorations or gifts. But the craft can be even simpler, she adds: “When I was a kid, we used to make paper chains.”

And another waste-free gift idea, per McGuire: “People often gift homemade food. Instead of wrapping it in cellophane, you can buy or make your own reusable beeswax wraps, and then it’s two gifts in one.”

5. Gifts don’t have to be objects

Experiences allow the gift-giver to spend time with loved ones and, McGuire says, make memories that may outlast any object.


Posted: December 19, 2022

Category: Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension, Work & Life
Tags: Environmentally Friendly, Green Holiday, Holiday, Holidays, Maia McGuire, Microplastics, Plastic

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