Green Holidays

Exercise Your Imagination to Reduce Your Holiday Waste

‘Tis the season to “shop ‘til you drop,” “party hearty” and catch up on the latest “How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday Season” best-seller. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is also the season when more than 1 million tons of additional waste is generated by Americans each and every week-an increase of 25% over the remaining 11 months of the year. (Food waste, alone, triples during that time). As a matter of fact, if you wanted to give the Earth as a gift, you could tie it up-bow included- with the 38,000 miles of ribbon that is thrown away each year-that is, if you could find it beneath the 4 million tons of discarded wrapping paper that are also synonymous with the holidays.

All of this extra “stuff” is filling up our landfills, using up limited resources and costing you $$$$$$$. Fortunately, there is one resource that is available in limitless supply that you can put to work for you to reduce your holiday waste, save you money and even garner some “oohhs” and “aahhs” from family and friends. I’m referring, of course, to your imagination.

Ideas for a Greener Holiday

To get you started, here are a few ideas I gleaned from a variety of organizations for greening up the holidays. For those of you who prefer a deeper shade of green, I’ve added some links at the end of this column where you can get additional tips, including suggestions for reducing water and energy use.

To help organize these ideas, I’ve listed them according to the waste management heierarchy, also called the 3Rs of waste management-reduce, reuse, recycle. Reducing waste uses fewer natural resources and results in less pollution than reusing, which in turn has less negative impact than recycling.


  • Give gift cards or gift certificates for favorite stores, theaters, sports events, a gym, music lessons, massage therapy, Yosemite or state park entrance fees, restaurants, etc.
  • Make coupons for jobs-a back rub, washing the dishes, vacuuming, feeding the dog, etc and put them into a decorated jar. During the year, the giver has to do whatever is on the that the recipient pulls out of the jar.
  • Give a donation to a favorite charity in someone else’s name.
  • Give practical gifts that will, in turn, encourage less waste-compost or recycling bins, reusable shopping bags, cookbooks for leftovers, rechargeable batteries and charger, handmade kits for  making “recycled crafts” (for example: a clean milk jug, paints, old corks, felt scraps, buttons, etc. with instructions for making a piggy bank).
  • Buy “recycled” crafts made by local artists-or make your own.
  • Use reusable shopping bags as gift bags or make your own fabric gift bags that can be passed on from one person to another over the years. Don’t sew? Go to Eco Friendly Gift Wrap for a quick tutorial in the elegant no-sew Japanese foroshiki style of wrapping gifts using a colorful square of fabric, such as a shawl or small table cloth, tied with a few knots.
  • Update your mailing list or send E-cards (About 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year. If everyone sent one fewer card, 50,000 cubic yards of paper would be saved.)
  • Use reusable shopping bags for your purchases.
  • Replace worn-out incandescent lights with LED lights, which last longer and use less energy. (You can take the old strands to the Landfill for recycling.)
  •  Make the wrapping part of the gift-putting cookies in a flower pot, jewelry in a pair of gloves, a set of sheets in a pillowcase, etc.
  • Use washable rather than paper plates; cloth rather than paper napkins and tablecloths.
  • Carefully plan meals, stick to your shopping list and serve family style to avoid over-filling plates. Go to Use Less Stuff website or Portions and Planning for a portion planner and get more ideas for reducing food waste.


  • Buy a living Christmas tree that can be planted or kept in a large pot and used again.
  • Have a holiday decoration swap with friends.
  • Shop at antique and thrift stores and used book shops for one-of-a-kind gifts and additions to collections or put together an assortment of such items as ribbons and trims for seamstresses or dress-up clothes for kids. Thrift stores are also good places to find unusual gift containers like baskets, tins, fabrics, pots and pans, covered dishes, etc. Let your imagination go wild.
  • Save used boxes, foam peanuts, newspaper, and other packing materials to ship gifts.
  • Put leftovers in reusable plastic containers and send them home with guests.
  • Compost food scraps.
  • Cut up old cards to use as gift tags.
  • Replacing old items with new? Donate the ones you no longer need to a thrift store. Be sure they are clean and in good condition.)


  • Provide recycling bins for your guests at holiday parties. Portable bins are available at no charge at the Landfill. Find out more about Special event bins.
  • Before you throw it away, remember that the Landfill accepts a wide assortment of materials for recycling, including: paper gift wrap, all types of batteries, strands of worn-out Christmas lights, glass bottles and jars, electronics, food-grade plastics, metal and aluminum, clothing and linens in good condition. Click here for a more detailed list. Check out the websites below for more green holiday ideas:

Happy holidays!