Image of presents wrapped in cloth

An Environmentally Friendly Holiday Season

Dear Sam,

I look forward to the holidays each year, but then I feel disheartened by all the waste created in conjunction with our celebrations. With a busy holiday season approaching, do you have any advice on reducing holiday waste?



Dear Jack,

There are many simple and achievable ways to reduce your waste footprint this time of year but it all starts with recognizing how much waste is generated and committing to reduce it.  Thanks to the internet and social media, there are abundant resources on how to have a meaningful holiday of giving without all of the garbage and waste. All of these ideas have one thing in common–reduction.

Here are some simple ways to reduce waste in gift giving:

  1. Gift experiences, not things.  This is an especially relevant tip this year when supply chain issues will be plaguing our holiday season! Theater or game tickets, activity passes, online subscriptions, and memberships to museums are meaningful, thoughtful, and personal. Think outside the box here:  passes to a climbing gym,  a pottery class or even a pickleball lesson are original and sure to bring joy to the recipient.  
  2. Shop secondhand for gifts. By shopping secondhand, you’re avoiding packaging, preventing items from ending up in the landfill, and saving money! Buying used kids books is a great way to avoid the large plastic toy section at retailers and finding that perfect vintage piece for your trendy friend could be the best present of the night.
  3. When gifting things, choose gifts with little to no packaging or in packaging that is easily recycled like cardboard and paper boxboard. Be sure to have 2 garbage receptacles on hand when opening gifts – one for recyclables like cardboard and paper and one for trash that can’t be recycled.  Enlist your family and guests in helping to ensure it is sorted correctly.  
  4. Try something new this year and forego traditional wrapping paper and bows.  These are often not recyclable and generate a LOT of garbage for the very short amount of time the wrapped present is appreciated. (Note:  gift wrap with metallics or glitter are not recyclable!)  Instead, use wrapping that is reusable, such as sturdy reusable gift bags, old maps and newspapers.
  5. Or learn how to wrap presents using reusable decorative cloth. Fun holiday fabrics are inexpensive and plentiful at places like JoAnn Fabrics and you can reuse the cloth year after year.  Find inspiration on Instagram by searching for the hashtags #scrapthewrap and #furoshiki. Learn the unique art of Furoshiki gift wrapping on YouTube.

But gift giving isn’t the only area that generates excess garbage during the holidays.  Meal celebrations with family and holiday decorations can be extremely wasteful.  Here are some ways to reduce the waste generated at your celebration.

  1. A lot of food waste can be eliminated just by being conscientious about planning your meal.  
    • Share your desire to reduce your food waste with your family and friends when planning your holiday meal and invite them to assist.  
    • Plan your menu and share it with your guests.  
    • Have a sign up for those who are bringing food to avoid duplicates or too much of something. 
    • Communicate a head count to everyone contributing and use a portion planning calculator like to help figure out how much food is really needed, including just the right amount of delicious leftovers. 
    • When you do have leftovers, a simple online search of “Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers” comes up with lots of ideas including this list from Food Network.
  1. Use reusable plates, silverware, glassware, and serving pieces. If you don’t have enough for all your guests, ask a guest to bring their silverware, plates, and glasses instead of food. Or rent dishes and glassware from a local party rental shop.
  2. If you have to use disposable, choose BPI- or Cedar Grove-certified compostable and place them in your Minneapolis curbside organics bin for collection or use a nearby drop site
  3. Ask your guests to bring their own reusable containers for bringing home leftovers or instead of recycling your yogurt tubs or take out containers leading up to the holidays, save them for leftovers. 
  4. If you’re planning decorations, consider organic decorations like branches and flowers which can be composted. Or get creative by reusing cardboard and paper from your recycling bin and turning them into decorations like cut out snowflakes. You can also shop secondhand for decorations, most thrift stores are well stocked with holiday decorations this time of year.  

If you have ideas on ways that you reduce your waste around the holidays, please share them with us!  We love to hear from folks about all the creative and ingenious ways they are adopting to live more sustainably.  And be sure to register for and attend our workshops on living a low waste lifestyle.  Fill out a commitment card and find our schedule of events here. Our next event, will feature founder and owner of Tare Market presenting How to Transition to a Zero Waste Lifestyle: Bulk Shopping on December 1st.  Join us!


Sustainability Sam