The 15 Best Ways to Reduce Holiday Waste

reduce holiday waste

We already throw away too much stuff, but during November and December, the problem is almost ridiculous. According to Use Less Stuff, Americans throw away one million extra tons of trash a week!

Sure, maybe some things you think you HAVE to throw away. But what if you didn’t have all that trash in the first place? To help you out, we teamed up with GD Environmental to pull together the 15 best ways to reduce holiday waste. We organized them into three categories: paper and plastic; electronics; and food. You should be able to do every one of them.

15 Best Ways to Reduce Holiday Waste

Reduce Paper and Plastic Waste

eco fashion1.Use your own shopping bags. A big source of waste is all the plastic shopping bags you bring home when you shop. If a regular reusable bag you use for groceries may not be big enough to accommodate your gift purchases, stop by TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and pick up a couple of their large reusable bags. They’re only 99 cents. They’re decorated for the holidays, and can hold most of what you’ll buy.

Need reusable holiday shopping bags? We like these.

2.Skip wrapping paper. We used to sit next to our Christmas tree with a special bag for all the wrapping paper we’d throw away after opening presents. That is a total waste! Now, we “wrap” gifts in reusable bags and boxes. The gift bags include shopping bags that can be used all year reusable wrapping’round as well as holiday gift bags. We also wrap gifts in scarves and decorative towels, and maybe even tuck something into a pair of socks! Says Stanford University, “If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Here’s a reusable cloth wrap you can use for holidays, birthdays, and other special events.

3.Reuse ribbons and bows. “If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet,” says Stanford University.

4.Use cloth tablecloths and napkins. Skip throwaway paper products, even if they’re made from recycled paper. Over the years, we’ve accumulated an array of holiday-themed cloth napkins and a couple of tablecloths that we use over and over. They’ve become part of our holiday decor, and we look forward to getting them out every year.

5.Opt for reusable cutlery and “china.” We’ve shopped the sales for dishes and extra cutlery we can use during the holidays. It may mean an extra round or two in the dishwasher, but it really cuts down on trash. I’ve gotten the best deals on holiday-themed dinnerware in late December and January. Rather than get complete place settings, I opt for dinner plates and salad plates that are particularly good for a buffet.

ENERGY STAR-certified clothes dryers6.Replace plastic cups with small, washable glasses.  Again, a dishwasher makes this choice both practical and far less wasteful. I have shopped holiday sales to get 6-8 oz. glasses, rather than flimsy plasticware that has to be thrown away after using it once.

7.Discontinue catalogs. Catalogs start to pile up over the holidays, then will keep coming all year long. The most effective way I’ve found to stop the flood of catalogs is to call the customer service number using their 800 number and ask to have your address removed right then and there. If you still want to get coupons and promotions, get them online.

8.Recycle delivery boxes and wrapping. Most delivery boxes are made from paper that can easily be recycled. If the boxes contain Styrofoam packing peanuts, put them in a bag and take them to a nearby postal mailing center; they can often use them. If you do have wrapping paper waste, don’t trash it. Recycle it, or save it for next year.

holiday gifts that make a difference9.Give experiences, not a lot of stuff. Skip wrapping altogether by giving (and asking for) the gift of experiences or contributions to your favorite charity, rather than more stuff.

Use the “So Kind” Gift Registry to Choose Gifts That Make a Difference

Reduce Electronics Waste

Energy Efficient Holiday Lights10.  Use LED holiday mini lights. LED lights use far less energy than regular holiday mini lights. But just as importantly, they are far more durable. If one breaks, the others in the strand keep on working. You can find them in our own Big Green Purse holiday store, or at your local hardware store.

11.  Recycle old holiday lights. I hate it when I get out the Christmas lights and they don’t work. But rather than trash the broken lights, I recycle them, either online here, or at my local natural foods grocer.

Recycle Electronics12. Recycle all electronics. There’s no reason to let old electronics pile up. Every big box store now accepts computers, printers, screens, tablets and phones. Wherever you buy new electronics, you can recycle the old ones. Swipe them clean of your personal data before you recycle them.

Here’s our short guide to “Recycle Electronics to Avoid E-Waste.”

Reduce Food Waste

13. Buy less food. It’s easy to get carried away buying all the yummy foods and treats grocery stores showcase during the holidays. But in reality, we often buy more food that we can cook and eat. I’ve started making less, not more food, during the holidays, though I might increase the variety a bit. This Thanksgiving, I actually threw no food away.

14. Keep track of leftovers. Store leftovers in serving-size containers that you label with the contents and the date. It helps to put the most perishable foods in the front of the refrigerator so you can keep an eye on them. Plan to eat leftovers in the same week in which they were cooked. Otherwise, store them in the freezer.  Keep a list on your freezer door to remind you what’s inside.

Buy in bulk15. Compost what you can’t eat. I automatically put peelings and other kitchen waste in a bowl I keep on my kitchen counter while I’m prepping food and cooking. After a meal, we simply scrape leftovers we can’t eat into the same bowl. That makes it easy to take it out to the compost bin after clean-up is done.

Here are the “10 Best Foods to Buy in Bulk & Reduce Waste.”

What do you do to reduce holiday waste? Please share! We’d love to learn from you.

GD Environmental: Wales’ Leading Waste Management Company, GD Environmental, plays a vital role in helping larger companies achieve their green missions by operating an environmentally friendly waste management company which recycles 96% of waste and diverts 100% of waste from landfill to recycling. If you’re based in Wales, and looking to improve the sustainable performance of your business call GD Environmental today on 01633 277755 or visit 

References: Use Less Stuff, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Stanford University

3 Responses to The 15 Best Ways to Reduce Holiday Waste

  1. Irma Woods March 24, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Amazing post! There is so much useful ideas about how to reuse some stuff and to reduce waste. I like such a creative ideas. Thanks!!

  2. Diane December 28, 2017 at 11:22 am #

    Thanks for sharing your suggestions!


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