Image of presents wrapped in cloth

Low Waste Holidays

December 2018:

Dear Sustainability Sam,

The holidays generate so much garbage!  What can be recycled and what are some ways I can cut down on generating so much waste?



Dear Keri,

This is a timely and important question! From leftovers that don’t get eaten, to the large garbage bags filled with wrapping and packaging, holidays do indeed generate a lot of waste. 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 4 simple ways to reduce waste this holiday season:

  1. Gift experiences, not things. Theater or game tickets, activity passes, online subscriptions, and memberships to museums are meaningful, thoughtful, and personal. Last year I gave my son a membership to a climbing gym. Not only did he love it, but it was a great way to burn the energy of a tween boy in the cold winter months! One of my own favorite gifts from a few years ago was a pottery workshop at Northern Clay Center.
  2. When gifting things, choose gifts with little to no packaging. If packaged, choose packaging that is easily recycled like cardboard and paperbox board. And don’t forget your reusable bags when you’re out shopping–they’re not just for groceries! In addition, scrap the traditional wrapping paper and tissue which often contain mixed materials (like glitter and foil) and therefore are not able to be recycled. Instead, use wrapping that is sustainable and reusable, such as sturdy gift bags, old maps and newspapers, or a reusable decorative cloth and ribbon (pictured here). Find inspiration on Instagram by searching for the hashtags #scrapthewrap and #furoshiki. Learn the unique art of Furoshiki gift wrapping on YouTube.
  3. Reduce food waste by planning ahead. Share a menu with your guests and 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. It’s good for the planet, your wallet, and your waistline.
  4. Use reusable plates, silverware, glassware, and serverware. Ask a few guests to bring silverware, plates, and glasses instead of food. Rent dishes and glassware from a local party rental shop. If you have to use disposable, choose BPI- or Cedar Grove-certified compostable and place them in your Minneapolis curbside organics bin for collection.

Have a wonderful, warm, and waste-free holiday!


Sustainability Sam