Canadian Manufacturing

Waste less: 7 ideas for creating less waste while we celebrate the season

There are lots of small changes we can make at home to make a difference


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PHOTO: elenabdesign/Adobe Stock

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, family get togethers, cozying up on the couch for some rest and relaxation – and accumulating record amounts of waste.

Canadians already produce a lot of waste – an average of 720 kilograms per person per year (that’s more than the average Holstein cow weighs!), according to the Conference Board of Canada. But during the holidays, says a Vancouver-based advocacy group, our output increases by about 25%.

Zero Waste Canada has said the waste produced over the holiday season is equal to about 50 kilograms per person and includes 2.6 billion greeting cards, 3,000 tonnes of foil (that’s about 800 hippopotamus’ worth) and six million rolls of tape (enough to go around Earth almost five times).

Because of my job ad the lead on Export Development Canada’s cleantech team, I spend a lot of time learning about the Canadians who are creating clean technologies with the goal of creating new business models and reducing industry and individual contributions to climate change.

I’m endlessly impressed by the entrepreneurs EDC cleantech team meets; they think outside the box, create disruptive products and services and, I’m sure you can tell, the team and I are proud of the work we do each day to support them on their journey to exporting success.

As I’ve written before, however, you don’t have to work with EDC’s cleantech team or be a business owner to have a positive impact on the climate crisis.

In fact, some municipalities have been sharing tips to help their citizens curb waste this year. Halifax, for example, suggests using reusable plates, cutlery and napkins when entertaining (or, if that’s not possible, to use compostable items) and making decorations from reusable or compostable materials like popcorn.

Edmonton, meanwhile, suggests planning feasts to limit the amount of food waste, and donating unwanted items to a local charity or thrift store.

My office recently hosted a holiday party for employees’ children where we could see some of these tactics in action. Drinking water was poured from reusable jugs into reusable cups, most creative activities used compostable materials like cookie decorating or paper-based arts and crafts, and employees attending were encouraged to bring winter clothing or toys to donate.

There are lots of small changes we can make at home to make a difference.

Here are some ways my family and I have found to go greener over the holidays:

Shop local – According to export.gov, 19.8 million Canadians embraced online shopping in 2018, and another five million are expected to join them by 2021. Online shopping is very convenient but all those packages that show up at your door have to get there somehow – usually by plane, train or automobile. Instead, try to find local stores to purchase your gifts and support small businesses that make their products close to home. You might not be able to buy as much, but these kinds of gifts often have more of a story to them, which the receiver might appreciate. Plus, you can feel good about supporting a small business owner.

Focus on experiences over gifts – Let’s be honest, most of us have too much stuff to begin with. And yet, we still feel this struggle to find the perfect gift to give to somebody special in our lives. Instead of another scarf, tie or toy, how about a ticket to a show, a dinner out, or a pass to a local museum? The memories of these moments will long outlast a trinket.

Reduce, reuse, regift – As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Before the holidays, take stock of the items in your house that you don’t need and consider whether you can either regift or donate them. As more people become concerned about the environment, the second-hand goods industry has grown. Remember: it’s the thought that counts more than whether it comes in new packaging.

DIY – If you have the time and even a small amount of talent, consider making something for those special people in your lives. I personally love to bake. At this time of year, it has become tradition with our family to bake special holiday treats we don’t normally have time to make and hand-deliver them to friends, family, and neighbours. It’s a great way to spend time as a family.

Ditch the wrapping paper – Most gift wrap is not recyclable. Instead of using paper that will be torn to shreds and tossed, why not use (and reuse) gift bags, a piece of material (cloth wrapping has been used for more than 1200 years in Japan), newspaper, or the kids’ artwork?

Buy quality decorations – Whether it’s lights or indoor décor, shop for items that can be reused for a long time, so they don’t end up in the trash after a single use. Put lights on a timer so they aren’t on too long. If you are hosting a big meal or party and want to use disposable dishes, look for ones that can be composted or recycled.

Lower expectations – Talk to friends and family about the expectations you have of each other. The holiday season often brings on a lot of stress. We don’t want to miss anyone on our list, we want to get the perfect gift, and make the perfect meal. You might find those around you are happy to change things up and reduce stress for everyone. Maybe you can all buy less and stress less.

Changing up the way you do things over the holidays might do even more than just help you reduce your environmental impact; it might also help you and yours refocus attention toward family, friends or whatever immaterial things bring you joy.

Happy Holidays from Export Development Canada.


This article was submitted by Lynn Côté, Cleantech Lead, Export Development Canada.

EDC is a financial Crown corporation dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage. As international risk experts, we equip Canadian companies with the tools they need – the trade knowledge, financing solutions, equity, insurance, and connections – to take on the world with confidence. Underlying all our support is a commitment to sustainable and responsible business.


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