Reduce That Holiday Trash!

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day, Americans alone throw away a million extra tons [900,000 metric tons] of garbage each week, including holiday wrapping and packaging, according to Robert Lilienfeld, co-author of the book Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are.

How can we make sure this trash doesn’t build up? Here’s a few tips to make less holiday trash!

Gift Wrap:
Use bags for wrapping instead of paper whenever you can. They can be reused each year! I keep mine in an air tight container up in the attic. Save your plastic ribbons too!

Still really want to wrap those gifts? Look for recycled paper gift wrap and avoid wraps that include foil and plastic. You can always recycle or compost the paper later on.

You can also make your own gift wrap with old maps and magazines if you have the extra time and feel like getting creative.

Believe it or not, a lot of this trash can be attributed to broken Christmas lights! It is much easier to throw them out than it is to spend hours finding that broken bulb!

Buying LED lights will keep you from the endless craziness of finding that one little light that ruins the whole line.

Not to mention, according to one U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month.

The savings would be enough to power 200,000 homes for a year, according to Littleton, Colorado-based Holiday Creations, which makes and distributes a popular line of LED light strings.

LED lights also do not burn as hotly as classic Christmas lights, so less chance of fire! You also don’t have to worry about losing the entire strand if one light does out.

But what to do with those old lights? You can recycle them! There are many places that will accept old Christmas lights. Walmart is one of them. Just call ahead and see if they are taking old lights to be sure. Some companies also accept Christmas lights by mail. HolidayLED offers a 25% off coupon for those sending in their old lights. Five Star Holiday Decor offers a 10% discount off their products when sending in old lights. You can also strip them and bring them to scrap metal places for money, because they contain copper!

Gifts Sent From Afar:
Packing peanuts, Bubble Wrap and other gift protectors – If you can’t save them, you can always donate them to local packaging facilities and mailing centers. When I worked for Staples, we were always happy to receive the donated package protectors.

Make your own shipping envelopes for small gifts. We have two tutorials here and here!

Food And Table Stuff:
Food waste makes up a very large proportion of holiday garbage. There are many ways you can make the most of your leftovers and scraps.

1. Compost it! With the exception of meat and bones, almost any food you are going to scrap can be composted, even egg shells! Meat and bones CAN be composted, but the process is a bit more complicated than regular composting. You can find one technique here.

2. Cook it! Obviously this is an idea more for left overs than table scraps. There are many things you can make with left over food from the holidays and even byproducts from the food you cook. Things like turkey soup, chicken soup, split pea (ham) soup, and beef soup can all be made from the left over bones of your meat dinner. If you cook with pumpkin, you can actually peel the skin and use it to make delicious fried pumpkin chips! Don’t be afraid to do an internet search to see if there is a part of a meal you can cook with that you normally wouldn’t consider. You may find you like something new! A fantastic resource for throwing together a meal from leftovers and random food items in your kitchen is the Super Cook Recipe Generator.

Another big trash creator is napkins and containers! Use cloth napkins or un-paper towels with meals and for clean up! Instead of throwing away that Cool Whip container from dessert, use it to send home leftovers!

How do you keep your trash at bay during the Holidays? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. Great things to keep in mind- it does make me sigh when I see all the garbage bags out at the curb after Christmas. Love that you found somewhere to recycle old lights!

  2. Hey if anyone wants to save any colorful tissue paper I will send a label to get it!! I try to re-use tissue paper when shipping out my products.



  3. Nice article – well written and interesting :-)

  4. Nice article -well written and interesting :-)

  5. Great list and ideas!

    Just one thought about Christmas lights is that most of them contain lead and are wrapped in PVC…so you have to make sure kids don’t touch them or put them in their mouths. It kills me to see photos of kids or animals wrapped in Christmas lights.

  6. great source for LED lights!

    I want to find a nice holiday bag that folds over and ties with ribbon instead of needing tissue paper. I always save mine and cringe when everyone else balls theirs up, ready for the trash can! :(

  7. Great post!
    I’ve often wondered how tacky it is to use items I’ve found “in my travels” throughout the year as gifts. Though I would only use things that look like new, without the original packaging the recipient would know I didn’t buy it new. But I really, really hate that hard plastic packaging, styrofoam that crumbles into a mess, and shrink wrap that usually all gets tossed

  8. What a great post. This should be a tenant of the holiday spirit, right up there with giving and being thankful.

    These are all great tips I plan on sharing with friends and family.

  9. Linda Everett says:

    Great post, all wonderful ideas!

  10. Wonderful ideas!! I have small kids who Santa pays a visit to. He doesn’t wrap their gifts at all, so they know which are from him, and I suspect bc he isn’t into waste either 😉

    We are also just trying to cut back on gifts in general this year and focus more on making memorable traditions. When it comes to gifting other family members, especially adults, I’m trying to go for gifts that they will actually use or appreciate, in the hopes that gifts don’t get trashed quickly. Handmade gifts means less waste just from packaging like the stuff you find on a lot of store bought gifts too

  11. Great post!