Giving the gift of zero waste

We know the scene over the holidays. It may be the garbage bags stuffed full of wrapping paper by the end of Christmas morning. Or the bowl of artichoke dip left over from your holiday gathering. Or the wooden clementine boxes stacked in the corner of the kitchen. There’s no doubt that the holiday season can come with a hefty side of waste.

However, perhaps you’re thinking about greening your holiday efforts this year. After all, Toronto City Council has adopted a strategy to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Toronto to net zero by 2040. One way to contribute is by managing your holiday waste, including food waste that creates methane, a GHG. Here are some ways to give your holidays an environmental makeover.


“This can start with being more conscious about waste and moving toward making memories not waste,” says Charlotte Ueta, project director, solid waste management services for the City of Toronto. This might include giving a membership, for example, or a gift certificate from a local restaurant, rather than “things”.

Reducing waste also extends to decorating your home. Rather than buying new decorations, bring the outdoors inside and decorate with pinecones, plants and boughs to give your indoors a lovely outdoor look.


“While we think about reducing first, you should also incorporate reusing wherever possible,” says Ueta. That may start with opting for real dishware and cloth napkins for holiday events rather than disposable plates and cutlery. You could also incorporate reusing into your gifting by tapping into the popular trend of ‘thrifting’ items to give as presents this year.


You can also get creative when you wrap gifts. “You could reuse an old calendar or magazines or fabric for gift wrapping to extend their lifespan,” says Ueta.

READ MORE: TransformTO: An inside look at a net-zero home in Toronto


When disposing of waste, Ueta says proper sorting is critical to ensure the items sent for recycling are not contaminated with items that should not be put in the blue bin. Not sure whether the parchment paper used to make sugar cookies can be put in the bin? Head to the city’s Waste Wizard page or download the TOwasteApp.

The problem with food

We can’t forget about the food waste incurred over the holidays. “Sixty three per cent of the food that is put into our garbage or green bin is avoidable,” says Joanne Gauci, senior advisor, Metro Vancouver and the National Zero Waste Council and campaign manager for Love Food Hate Waste Canada (LFHWC). “It’s not the banana peels or egg shells, but the leftovers that didn’t look as appetizing the next day or the produce that got slimy. This is a compelling starting point for change.”

So, while restaurants and grocery stores are criticized for food waste, the reality is that households are also wasting food. “There is also an economic cost to that food waste. It’s about $1,300/year/household.”

READ MORE: Toronto offering zero-interest loans up to $125K for green home retrofits

There are easy ways to trim back that food waste and it starts with proper planning. “Make a list of what you need at the grocery store and stick to it to curb impulse buys,” says Christine Tizzard, an ambassador for LFHW and author of Cook More, Waste Less. “Many people aren’t realistic about what food they are going to get through in two to three days, especially now with more people cooking at home. Also educate yourself on how to properly store food. Make your freezer your best friend.”


Planning for leftovers — storing them properly or encouraging guests to bring containers so they can take them home — is another way to reduce waste. As is creative thinking on how to give new life to that cup of leftover cranberry sauce. Make them into muffins! Need more ideas on reducing your food waste? Love Food, Hate Waste Canada has a variety of tips around reducing food waste from how to determine portions to ways to waste less with kids.

These small changes can make a big impact. By not producing waste in the first place or by keeping items you buy in circulation longer, you can give the gift of helping to create a zero waste future.

To learn more about how to reduce your holiday waste, visit To learn more about the City of Toronto’s TransformTO Net Zero Strategy and how everyone can contribute, visit


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