5 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon is! This time of year is especially exciting for me. I always look forward to spending time with my family, sipping on hot chocolate, decorating, and of course gifts!

aerial view of feet next to tree and presentsHowever, this time of year does contribute to an increased amount of waste. Throughout my childhood and later years, I remember seeing all of our post-Christmas wrapping paper piled on top of each other before being thrown in the trash. Then, even more waste would be accumulated when I would go through my gifts and tear off all the packaging.

In fact, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which equates to 7 million pounds of extra waste that is being sent to the landfill.

I’ve always wanted there to be a different way to make the holiday season more eco-friendly, but had no idea how. Since starting my zero waste job, I have been trying to be more aware of the waste I produce and how I can combat it. This is why I compiled a list of my favorite ways to reduce waste during the holidays and beyond!

Wrapping Paper

hands rolling out brown wrapping paper

It’s no doubt that wrapping paper contributes to a huge amount of waste. It is generally used as a single-use item and thrown away as soon as a gift is unwrapped. Luckily, there are many alternatives out there to wrapping paper.

Some of these include:

  • Torn up magazine pages
  • Old maps
  • A scarf (that can be a gift as well!)
  • Skip wrapping paper altogether with: reusable boxes, tins, or baskets
  • Use recyclable paper (the kind without the shiny plastic)
  • Or… if you must use regular wrapping paper, make sure to unwrap carefully so that you can reuse them for next year!
  • Reusable cloth bows instead of plastic bows

Gift Ideas

There are many different options for getting someone a gift that won’t contribute to waste production such as:

hands cutting dough

  • Gift certificates
  • Homemade baked goods
  • Memberships (gym, museums, health spas)
  • Classes (like painting, cooking, photography, etc.)
  • Trips/experiences like movie or concert tickets, BnB’s, money for travel, skydiving, etc.


Side note: I personally love “experience” gifts way more than physical gifts. This Christmas, I was so tempted to tell my family all the material things I wanted, but whenever someone asked, I told them to get me money so that I can save up for my next trip abroad! Plus, many studies have shown that experiences lead to more long-term gratification than material possessions anyway. However, it is a good idea to have some alternative gift options on hand! Okay. Rant over.

Don’t Trash It

There are many items that people put in a landfill every year during the holiday season. Some are unavoidable, but many others can be recycled or reused!

Some things you can reuse are wrapping paper, gift boxes, and cloth bows. You can also recycle non-plastic wrapping paper (the brown kind). However, the two most common things I see get tossed out during the holidays are cellphones and trees.

Here are some ways you can divert these two items from a landfill:

close up photo of christmas tree

Christmas tree

Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in landfill. Instead, you can cut the tree loosely to fit in your yard waste bin or leave it curbside for pick-up! Check out this site for more ways to recycle your tree.

Old cellphones

The holidays are a notorious time for getting a new phone, and with Apple ensuring a new phone for sale every 2 years, it’s no wonder there is so much e-waste. Instead of throwing away your old one, or stuffing it inside an old drawer to never be seen again (guilty…), recycle it!

Drop it off at your nearest Staples store or sell it to an online buyback program!

orange reusable water bottle on green hilltopPurchase Eco-Friendly Gifts

Getting your loved ones some eco-friendly gifts is a great way to be more sustainable during the holidays! Not only are you supporting earth-friendly products, but you are also ensuring that others are contributing to this way of life as well! Some of my favorite eco-friendly items are:

  • Reusable water bottles
  • Glass Tupperware
  • Mesh produce bags
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Bulk food items (like assorted nuts and dried fruit to make a homemade granola)

Just Say “No”

When buying gifts at the store, tell the cashier that you don’t need a bag. This will reduce the unnecessary waste created with single-use plastic bags.

Another thing to consider is the amount of packaging a product has with it and try to look for items with minimal to no packaging.

Okay, so technically you’re not saying “no,” but buying LED lights for the holidays is a great energy saver! It actually uses 90% less energy than conventional lights and can save you more than $50 on your utility bills! Woo hoo!


Overall, there are many ways that we can lessen our waste during the holidays or any gift-giving season for that matter. I hope that this list was helpful to you in some way and that you can use one of these options during your next gift exchange! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and create a more sustainable world!

2 Replies to “5 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holiday Season”

  1. Hi Ashley. Great article. I reduce waste by not purchasing stuff that people don’t really want! I know many people will not like me for saying this, but the best way to help our world is not to buy gifts just for the sake of giving someone something. If we don’t buy a gift we don’t have to worry about the energy used to produce it, transport it, store it, advertise it, sell it, wrap it, and then eventually dispose of it.
    The amount of rubbish that we produce and then have to dispose of each day is astounding! You are right when you say that we shouldn’t use single-use plastic bags and we can cut down on waste by reusing the packaging over again.
    It is also a good idea if we do not purchase items that contain too much unnecessary packaging, and then the manufacturers will actually stop producing them.
    If we, as ‘the most intelligent species on the planet’ do not start considering the consequences of our over-consumption, we will very soon find ourselves on a planet that is no longer capable of supporting us!
    Keep up the good work spreading the message about sustainable living.
    Best of luck to you.

    1. I 100% agree with you on not buying some gifts in the first place, Andrew! I really only buy someone something that I know they will like/use, otherwise I think it is a waste of my money and resources. Hopefully more companies will start to use less packaging on their products as well.

      Ashley says:

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