How to Reduce Waste and Recycle Right During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of joy, celebration, and gratitude, but they can also be a time of excess, waste, and environmental impact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than any other time of the year1. That’s an extra 1,000 pounds of waste per household!

But don’t worry, you don’t have to sacrifice the festive spirit to be eco-friendly. There are many simple ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle during the holidays, and make a positive difference for the planet. Here are some tips to help you have a green and merry holiday season:

1. Choose wrapping paper wisely

Wrapping paper is one of the biggest sources of holiday waste, as most of it is not recyclable and ends up in landfills. To avoid this, look for wrapping paper made with recycled materials and that can also be recycled. Avoid anything shiny, glittery, or flocked, as these are usually coated with plastic or metal and cannot be recycled2. You can also reuse wrapping paper from previous years, or use alternatives like newspaper, magazines, or brown paper bags. For a creative touch, you can decorate your gifts with natural items like pine cones, sprigs, or dried flowers.

2. Recycle your cardboard boxes

Online shopping is convenient, but it generates a lot of cardboard waste. If you order gifts online, make sure to recycle the cardboard boxes and packing materials. You can also reuse them for shipping your own gifts, or donate them to local organizations that need them. Before recycling, flatten the boxes and remove any tape, labels, or plastic inserts3.

3. Shop sustainably and locally

Another way to reduce waste and support the environment is to shop sustainably and locally. Choose gifts that are made with eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, or recycled plastic. Look for products that have minimal or no packaging, or that use biodegradable or compostable packaging. You can also shop at local businesses, farmers’ markets, or craft fairs, where you can find unique and handmade gifts that support your community and reduce your carbon footprint.

4. Give experiences instead of things

One of the best ways to avoid waste and clutter is to give experiences instead of things. Experiences can create lasting memories and happiness, and they don’t require any wrapping or shipping. You can give gift cards, tickets, memberships, subscriptions, or vouchers for activities that your loved ones enjoy, such as movies, concerts, museums, spas, restaurants, or classes. You can also give donations to charities or causes that they care about, or volunteer your time and skills to help them with something they need.

5. Use less plastic

If you host or attend a holiday party, you may be tempted to use disposable plates and cutlery for convenience. However, these items are usually made of plastic or styrofoam, and are not recyclable. Instead, opt for reusable or compostable plates and cutlery, which are better for the environment and for your health.

6. Recycle your holiday lights and decorations correctly

Holiday lights and decorations can add a festive touch to your home, but they can also be a source of waste. Many holiday lights and decorations contain wires, bulbs, batteries, and plastic, which are not recyclable and can harm wildlife and the environment. Because they are tanglers, strings of lights cannot be recycled in your curbside bin. Instead, they must be brought to your local transfer station as electronic waste, which is free for residents. Another way to be more environmentally friendly is to buy LED lights, which are more energy-efficient and durable than incandescent lights, or use solar-powered lights. You can also make your own decorations from natural or recycled materials, such as pine cones, branches, paper, or fabric4.

7. Compost your food scraps and leftovers

Food is a big part of the holiday season, but it can also be a big source of waste. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away about 40% of the food they buy, which amounts to about $165 billion worth of food each year5. This not only wastes money and resources, but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. To prevent this, you can compost your food scraps and leftovers, which can turn into nutrient-rich soil for your garden or plants. You can also donate your excess food to local food banks or shelters, or share it with your friends or neighbors.

8. Make a New Year’s resolution to be more eco-friendly

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on your impact on the environment and make a commitment to be more eco-friendly in the new year. You can set realistic and specific goals, such as reducing your water or energy consumption, buying less or buying secondhand, switching to renewable energy sources, or joining a local environmental group. You can also track your progress and celebrate your achievements, and encourage your family and friends to join you in your green journey.

By following these tips, you can have a more eco-friendly holiday season and help protect the planet for generations to come. Happy holidays!


1. Cut down on holiday waste with these recycling tips – NBC News

2. The Ultimate Guide to Recycling During the Holidays in 2023

3. Our Top 10 Holiday Recycling Tips – The Recycling Partnership

4. 8 tips to green your holiday – Earth Day

5. Recycle Right for the Holidays: A Guide for Eco-Friendly Practices and …

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