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Reduce Holiday Waste, Before and After Christmas

Christmas is right around the corner, and some of you may have already had holiday celebrations with friends and family.  I love this time of year, and I think I’m almost as excited as my three year old for Christmas morning, but probably for different reasons.

As wonderful and joyous as our celebrations are, they can also leave us a little stressed and overwhelmed trying to deal with all the cleaning up once the holidays have passed.

There are a few things we can do ahead of time to help make our post-celebration clean ups easier for us and on the earth. 

Reduce Waste Before Christmas

We can begin by striving to reduce the amount of disposable products we use for our holiday celebrations which means there is less waste to fill up garbage bags and landfills afterward.

Parties and Dinners

If you are hosting a holiday party or dinner, use real dishes, silverware, glasses and cloth napkins.  Consider borrowing from a friend if you don’t have enough place settings to cover the number of people you will be hosting.

Or if you often host larger get-togethers and use disposable products, consider investing in an inexpensive set of dishes or silverware to use on such occasions.

Photo by Emily McClements

Wrapping Gifts

Katie already gave us some great ideas for eco-friendly gift wrap, so if you’re anything like my family and haven’t wrapped your gifts yet, be sure to check out her post and use reusable, recycled or recycleable materials to wrap your presents this year.

My favorite way to wrap gifts is with fabric gift bags that my sister made me as a gift a few years ago.  No scissors, cutting, folding or tape necessary. Just gather the top together and tie with a ribbon. Simple, easy and beautiful.

A few other great last-minute gift wrap ideas are using a bandanna or large scarf to wrap around a present and tie the ends together at the top. Or you can even use a pillowcase as a fabric gift bag in a pinch – just add a festive holiday ribbon to make it pretty enough to sit with other presents under the tree.

Reuse After Christmas

We can also plan ahead with ideas for saving, reusing and repurposing items to help us deal with the post-holiday mess.

Packing Materials

Make an effort to keep and reuse as many packing and wrapping materials as you can.  Boxes can be saved and reused to hold miscellaneous gifts year after year. One of the jokes on Christmas morning when I was growing up was unwrapping a box for all-beef hamburger patties and exclaiming, “Oh, this is just what I’ve always wanted!” although not actually knowing what the present was inside the box.

Tissue paper can be folded and reused to wrap around gifts again.  Paper gift bags can be passed on until the handles start to fall off or the bottom gives out.

Reuse bubble wrap (that hasn’t been popped yet by little hands) as an insulator for your windows. With our old, drafty windows, I’m hoping to get some extra bubble wrap from my extended family to fill in the ones in my kids’ and master bedrooms.

Packing paper is great for arts and crafts, and you can even have your kids paint or draw on it and then use it to wrap a gift next Christmas.

Photo by WordRidden

Christmas Cards

Katie also has some great ideas for what to do with Christmas cards after the holidays that she shared at Green…Your Way.  There are even more ideas in the comments, my favorite one is cutting the fronts off of traditional cards and using them as a post card for a thank you note. The card gets used twice, and you save on buying thank you notes and on postage!


Give new life to holiday decorations that you may be growing tired of, and find new inspiration for decorating your home next year, by hosting a decorations swap with your friends after Christmas. Instead of packing up all your decorations again, invite a few friends over and ask everyone to bring several decorations they don’t really use, or aren’t their favorite, to exchange.

When everyone gets together and displays all of their unused or unloved decorations, you may find the perfect tree-topper, or table runner, or candle arrangement.  And someone else may love that garland or wreath that you just couldn’t find a good spot for in your home.

Hosting a decorations swap can help to keep holiday decorations out of the landfills, saves you money on buying new decorations, and keeps you from holding onto decorations that you don’t really use, and end up just cluttering your house.

We can be kind to the earth during and after the holidays by being mindful of the materials that we use for our celebrations, as well as the ways we can reuse and repurpose items instead of just throwing them in the trash.

How do you reuse and repurpose holiday items?  What do you do with your old Christmas decorations?

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  1. Sarah

    I love to save the Christmas cards that I get every year and love to use them as my festive decorations every year. I love that they store flat and don’t take up much room at all. I hang them on the wall grouped by theme. Also, when I was little, my mom would take the pretty Christmas cards, draw a circle on the front with a glass and cut out the circle. Then she would glue two of those circles together, thread on a string through a little hole in the top and voila! A beautiful, 2-sided unique Christmas ornament!

  2. Rebekah from Simply Rebekah

    I always save boxes to use the next year. This year as I was wrapping up a gift card I picked out the perfect little box from my stash. I just happened to notice that this box was from a store that closed in my home town in the late 90s!! I had to laugh thinking about how many times this one little box must have been passed back and forth in my family!

  3. Alicia

    Wonderful tips. Thanks!

  4. Miss T @ Prairie EcoThrifter

    Great post. We reuse gift bags that we have been given. It seems that I haven’t had to buy my own for quite a while.

  5. Nikki Moore

    These are great tips. I always wrap in fabric — people seem to love it, and if they don’t care about keeping it, I collect the cloth from amongst the mountains of paper rubble post-gift-unwrapping. So I can use it many times. Sometimes I just cut strips of coordinating/contrasting cloth to use as ‘ribbon’ to tie the package together.

    Also, about the actual giving of gifts…I like to shop antique stores! You can find some wonderful gifts there (vintage magazines, old costume jewelry, lovely little plates and mugs and teapots, vintage postcards to frame), and they don’t come packaged in multiple layers of trash like most everything else you buy.

  6. Visty

    Cereal boxes are my favorite. They are the same thickness as the shirt boxes for sale in stores. They open differently, sure, but nobody seems to mind.

  7. green

    We like to give consumable gifts. Homemade jelly (prickly pear this year), frozen homemade dinners for the great grandparents, homemade granola bars and homemade lotion bars, microwave potato bags…. and to fill in, yard sale finds and used books. It’s a lot more work, but folks like it. Especially the frozen dinner recipients. And, we also save gift bags from previous years and make fabric gift bags that are re-used each year. Another thing is that we take ornaments and turn them into reusable gift tags… To Mike Love Mom. The fabric gift bag and tag both have to be returned… but it always comes back the next year!

  8. Kathryn

    Our family’s big thing is reusing gift wrap, tags, and bags. It’s become something of a game to see how long we can keep a particular piece of wrapping in circulation. If we have to get new gift tags, we cut the fronts off old Christmas cards and use those.

  9. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

    Love the decoration swap idea! That would be such a fun pre-Christmas party to hold for some girlfriends!

  10. Jessie

    Good tips! I have to admit, to me part of the fun of Christmas gifts is tearing and watching other people tear into the wrapping paper! I think its okay to not want to give that up. The Sunday comics are great for that — you get to tear into some paper, and you can throw it in the recycling when you’re done, like you were going to anyway! 🙂

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