How to Trim the Tree and the Waste
Ridwell CEO: Sustainability doesn’t have to be perfect. It just requires intention.
By Ryan Metzger November 24, 2023
As we kick off the holiday season, it may not surprise you to learn that the most wonderful time of the year is also the most wasteful. People in the United States create 25% more garbage between Nov. 1 and New Year’s Day, which adds a staggering 4 million to 5 million tons to the landfill.
It can feel like an impossible choice between celebrating and sustainability. Thankfully, we don’t have to choose, and can avoid sending excess holiday waste to the landfill with a few simple actions.
Gift More Sustainably
Start by shopping local as much as you can. And no matter where you shop, avoid buying with the mindset, “if they don’t like it, they can just return it,” so you’re not contributing to the 9.5 billion pounds of returned items that end up in landfills every year.
If you don’t know exactly what somebody wants, there are still plenty of ways to gift more sustainably.
Consider Gifts That Give Back. 1% for the Planet has certified more than 5,400 businesses that commit 1% of annual sales to vetted environmental organizations. Locally, TisBest is a Seattle startup that supports causes your recipients care about and reduces your gifting footprint.
Buy circular products. Choosing goods made with reused materials is becoming more mainstream. A few of our favorite brands that embrace circularity are Patagonia’s Worn Wear, Pela Case, Refugee Artisan Initiative, and Refleece (two of our partners). At Ridwell, we introduced Green Friday Goods by Ridwell this year, our first collection made from thousands of pounds of materials our members saved from landfills.
Go with a gift card. These days, gift cards are more than stand-ins for physical products—they’re a way to give experiences, try out new services, or support worthy organizations. Locally, we love gift cards to Pike Place Market (good for any vendor), Kitchen and Market for the treat of handcrafted meals to your doorstep, Intentionalist to support small businesses and diverse communities, and of course Ridwell for the gift of wasting less.
Get Tree Smart
If a tree is part of your holiday tradition, you’re probably aware of the debate between artificial and live. Which is more planet-friendly? It really depends on what you do post-holiday.
If you go with an artificial tree, reuse it for at least 10 to 12 years. That’ll equal the impact of buying a live tree every year.
For live trees, the key is responsible disposal. The carbon footprint of a tree that goes to the landfill is quadruple that of one that gets recycled or composted.
In Seattle, composting is super easy. Put trees cut to 4 feet with your regular yard waste, and drop off trees up to 8 feet at transfer stations. Potted trees are an increasingly popular choice if you don’t mind having a tree inside for a limited time (recommendation is about two weeks). You can even rent from farms that plant them at the end of the season.
Rethink Shipping and Packaging
This is the perfect time of year to make sure you know which materials go in curbside recycling, and which don’t.
Paper is recyclable curbside. Look carefully at paper shipping envelopes. Many are layered with metal or plastic, which makes them unacceptable curbside.
Wrapping paper is often recyclable. Earth911 estimates that 2.3 million pounds end up in landfills yearly. As a rule of thumb, if paper stays crumpled when you squeeze it into a ball, it’s probably recyclable. Steer clear of glitter, metallics, flocking, and glossy coatings.
Plastic shipping envelopes, bubble wrap, and air pillows aren’t recyclable curbside because they get caught in machinery, like hair in a vacuum cleaner.
Styrofoam isn’t recyclable curbside because it breaks into tiny pieces that are difficult to separate from other materials.
Ridwell members can recycle these plastic items and Styrofoam, thanks to our specialty recycling partners.
It’s Not About Perfection
Small actions add up. Do what you can to reduce your impact with steps that feel doable for you, without adding more stress during this busy time of the year. By creating new habits of wasting less, you’ll make a big impact and might even inspire others to do the same.
Ryan Metzger is CEO of Seattle-based Ridwell, which he co-founded in 2018. Not satisfied with existing options for getting rid of hard-to-recycle items around his home, Ryan and his son Owen started a project in Seattle helping their neighbors see how easy and fun it could be to waste less. Now, more than 85,000 Ridwell members in seven states have saved more than 17 million pounds of stuff from the landfill.