Holidays = 5 Million Extra Tons of Waste. We can make a difference!

Via Lynn Hasselberger
on Dec 14, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Ho Ho Ho. Boo Hoo Hoo.

Photo: |frances comarino

In the U.S., an additional 5 million tons of waste is generated during the holiday season (from Thanksgiving to New Years Day). 4 million tons of this is wrapping paper and shopping bags. Need I say more? Well I will.

* Food waste increases 25% — 28 billion pounds of edible food wasted (100 pounds per person)!
* 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high!
* if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
* Each year, 50 million Christmas trees are purchased. Of those, 30 million go to the landfills.
* And what about all that packaging gifts come in before you even wrap them up? Plastic, cardboard… oh, and those crazy wire things that hold toys and all the tiny toy parts to the packaging… Ooph.

Photo: | m_bartosch

I know, we’ve heard it all before. Use newspaper; re-use kraft paper grocery bags (which you shouldn’t have in your possession, because you use a reusable shopping bag, right?) and decorate with paint or markers–get your kids involved; place gifts inside of other gifts. Wrap it up in old maps. An eco-chic tote makes a nifty gift bag! Send e-cards. blah blah blah. Everyone will be talking about your ingenuity at the egg-nog bowl.

We can make a difference!

Not at your holiday gathering, you say? You’ll be ridiculed? Oh, come on! You can stand up to that nonsense–-think of the trees and the landfill space you’ll help to save. Take it from me. I know. It’s hard at first. But after a while, they’ll get used to what I’m sure my family calls, ‘odd eco-ideosynchracies’. Who knows, maybe you’ll even inspire them!

Okay, if you are just unable to gamble your holiday reputation on homemade gift wrap and e-cards just yet, at least go for recycled paper. Even better: recycled with soy based inks. Baby steps to earth-friendlier living are very commendable.

What about the wrapping paper on gifts we receive?

I say, make it a game to unwrap gifts as carefully as possible–-the ones who’ve ripped their gift wrap to shreds get KP duty. Here are some clever ways to reuse gift wrap/cards…

* donate it!
* cut up and put in an album along with your holiday photos
* use as drawer liners
* cut out pictures from the paper for future gift cards
* use scraps as decorative accents on another gift instead of bows or ribbons
* matte pictures with it
* create your New Year’s outfit, ribbons and all (kidding)
* wrap another gift, of course!

Whatever you do, don’t feed the paper and cards to your blazing fire.

Many decorative papers actually contain lead and other toxins and the last thing you want to do is poison your holiday guests (or, more importantly, your children). And not all wrapping paper is recyclable. If it contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver colored shapes, glitter, plastic, etc., it is destined for the landfill. Be sure to remove the tape before tossing it into the bin.

Giving is one of the most joyous experiences during the holiday season and year-round. Giving up wrapping paper, holiday cards and ribbons is a way to give back to the planet, lasting well into future generations in the form of trees and open space (free of landfill).

How do you celebrate the holidays with less waste?

photo credit:


About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger is co-founder of GDGD Radio; The Green Divas Managing Editor; and Producer of The Green Divas Radio Show. She's also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, lead-free chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things. In her rare moments of spare time, she blogs at and A treehugger and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr @GreenDivaLynn & @myEARTH360), instagram and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.


11 Responses to “Holidays = 5 Million Extra Tons of Waste. We can make a difference!”

  1. helene_rose says:

    Thanks Lynn! We sometimes wrap gifts in fabric or playsilks.

  2. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    You're welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting. Great idea (what are playsilks?)

  3. Jenn Karns says:

    I've been thinking about wrapping in Kitchen towels and trying to find an alternative to ribbon to tie it up??? I sometimes use shoelaces as bows too. BTW – Playsilks are silks for kids to use in creative dress up – try the chinaberry catalog. My kids are too old now but they loved them when they were little. Also – what about an alternative to the clear plastic that covers a gift basket??? Any suggestions?

  4. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Great idea with kitchen towels. Raffia tie is eco-friendly. Otherwise, the only thing I can think of is old shoestrings(LOL). Thanks for the clarification on playsilks. Not sure about the eco-friendly clear wrap… Good question!

  5. […] The rest of this article appears in my column at… […]

  6. Jenn Karns says:

    Do you ever shop on I found a vendor there who produces recycled t-shirt yarn. I thought this would make great ties for packages. She had some green around Christmas time and now she has pinks – perfect for Valentine's! The shop is called "greenatheart"

  7. […] is expected to be spent on food for The Big Game.” This means that it will be second only to Thanksgiving when it comes to the physical consumption of food for any event in America. (After writing this, I […]

  8. akintogreen says:

    I came across your article that has some interesting statistics. I am particularly interested in the number of christmas trees you say end up in the landfill. I assume you mean real trees. I did some recent research on real christmas trees myself and never saw such a number. I did come across the statistic that there are 4,000 christmas tree recycling programs across the U.S.. I also came across a Sierra Club article that said approximately 10 million trees end up in landfills, which is much less than your number. article is here

    So I was just curious as to where you got you info. from. To check out some information I collected check out my blog oh holiday trees here

  9. learningcurvesblog says:

    Wow! So amazed at the amount of waste "we" produce! It's good to be reminded of these things because may of us think that since we have a small family we don't have THAT much of an impact…but we do…and every little bit counts. Thanks so much for the post…and thanks EJ for reposting to Facebook so I could find it!

  10. Asha7 says:

    I remember as a child finding annoying that we were to gently unwrap the gifts as my mom would save them for later use. We had wrappings and decorations from years back. As a child growing up i only wanted to ripmopen the presents. Lol. Now, as an adult I appreciate my moms intentions…..

  11. Jennifer says:

    We use gift bags and reuse and reuse and reuse them till they are falling apart then we recycle what we can. We have 10 yr old gift bags sometimes. We also go tot he dollar store and buy that brown packaging paper that biodegradable.