5 Tips to Reduce Your Holiday Waste

Did you know that household waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years Day? Yikes!  Click here to see an infographic about reducing holiday waste.


That equals an additional 1 million tons a week that is going into our landfills.


If that makes you as upset as it does me, here are some ways you can quickly AND easily reduce your holiday waste:



1. Be conscious of your wrapping materials.

Instead of buying new wrapping materials each year, reuse shipping boxes, wrapping paper and ribbon whenever possible. Old magazines, newspapers and other papers can also be repurposed to make fun and unexpected wrapping.


If you do need to purchase new supplies, look for wrapping paper or bows made from recycled materials. The more you can reuse materials each year, the more you will cut down on waste and save money. Who doesn’t like a win win?



2. Rent or invest in reusable tableware.

It may seem more convenient to pick up disposable decorations and dinnerware, but weigh the convenience with the long term impact of this choice. How long does it really take to do an extra load of wash and load the dishwasher or even do the dishes by hand?


Just because YOU don’t want to do the dishes, doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone at your gathering who DOES. They may even be looking forward to hanging out in the kitchen and getting some quiet time at the sink.


And in most holiday movies, you always see the best conversations happening after dinner when a few people are in the kitchen cleaning up, so … enough said.


I have a bunch of hand-me-down linen napkins and tablecloths. They dress up ANY table and it’s just as easy to toss them in the washing machine as it is to buy a package of paper napkins and then toss THEM in the trash.


And while there is still some impact from the load of wash, it is smaller than the loss of a tree and more plastic.


And if you still don’t want to use your own dinnerware, remember that you can always rent linens, dishes and even holiday decorations!


So there’s no excuse for buying disposable materials given that they will only ever end up in a landfill.



3. Use rechargeable or solar batteries.

Batteries are usually needed in high quantity when children’s toys are involved.


Make sure to grab some rechargeable or solar power sources before the unwrapping begins.


Few experiences will disappoint a new user more than not being able to actually USE the new device when it’s opened just for the need of a battery.


Some toys or video game controllers come with rechargeable battery packs and charging stands that can be purchased separately, so see what’s available when buying the gift itself.


This reduces waste and also passes on the principle of rechargeable batteries to the recipient.


Another double win.



4. Give quality handmade gifts and experiences. 

I know that size matters and there can be a lot of pressure, both from friends and family and internally, to have lots of gifts under the tree or ready to share on the holiday.


How about bucking tradition or expectations and, instead of striving to have the most gifts this year, you really think about the gifts you are giving and their value after the initial blush of opening them passes.


If cost is not the driving factor in your choice of gift, you can usually spend the same amount as you would on an advertised best-selling toy or gadget (that won’t get played with after the first week) as you would on an amazing experience that will supply many wonderful memories, year after year.


And you don’t have to wrap an experience.


We often reflect on this AFTER the holidays when trying to figure out what to do with all this new stuff … why not really honor your environmental values and your love for your friends and family by giving them experiences that mean something to them and reduce your carbon footprint BEFORE you buy another thing.


If you do purchase gifts, put more thought and investment into the quality of the gift, rather than on the number of boxes or quality of the wrapping paper.


Handmade toys, clothes and other items will last much longer and offer a much deeper connection with you as the giver as well as the possibly unknown creator of the item. Often the recipient’s curiosity about the origin of the item sparks investigation and possibly even a new relationship with the maker.


And when it comes to flowers, I always send fresh cut flowers in paper so I can spend more money on the flowers AND the recipient doesn’t have another cheap glass vase they either feel compelled to keep (for sentimental reasons) OR recycle.



5. Buy less food, and keep track of leftovers.

Food waste could be a whole post by itself. In fact, it is several.


Check out these links to read more about:


Food waste and the Quran


Food waste and The Bible


Zero waste grocery shopping


Love Food, Hate Waste


It is easy to buy way more food than needed when celebrating, especially if you have a large number of people attending your event.


Sit down and calculate how much food you will actually need, and keep your food options simple. Check out this handy site for an easy online calculator.


Whole Foods also offers these calculations.


Whichever tool you use, planning your next event gives you an opportunity to look at your need to be the perfect host and how you may be making short term choices that conflict with your bigger values.


I know my ego puts up a big fight when I resist indulging in behavior that involves trying to control what other people think of me and leaving that up to chance.


Of course, people will still judge me, and you, regardless of what we do.


So take this chance to soften your judgments of yourself and give yourself the gift of honoring your bigger values of not being wasteful, especially at this time of year when those who have less feel that absence the most.


And here’s a bonus: your guests may appreciate you more for living your values than for just loading the table with food that will sadly go to waste before it gets eaten.




For any of us who have more than we need, the holidays gives us many chances to really live our values and make smart, environmentally sound and deeply human choices about how we want to celebrate and honor ourselves and our loved ones.


The holidays do NOT give us a free pass to consume more than we need and then tell ourselves one of our 200 Lies that we can clean up our mess later AND just do better next year.


So move slowly and carefully consider each choice you make now so you have no regrets and less to clean up tomorrow.


There are so many ways you can enjoy this time of year without undermining your overall happiness and spending money, even if you have plenty of it, in ways that will only make you feel bad or foolish in the coming days.


Here’s a bonus download of my 10 suggestions to save time AND money over the holidays.


Scroll to Top