Last Minute Tips to Minimize Waste This Holiday Season

Trash is a problem year-round but did you know that Americans generate 25% more trash during the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Years than any other time of year?  Between dodging ubiquitous and impossible to recycle gift wrap and avoiding ill chosen gifts fated for the landfill, we’ve got some ideas for how to minimize waste this holiday season.

Tip #1: Be clever with the gift wrap

Most typical gift wrapping is not recyclable or compostable.  We’ve got some ideas for keeping your gift wrapping out of the landfill. 

Reuse items you already have

An inside-out paper grocery bag can become chic minimalist gift wrapping.  Newspaper as gift wrapping can add a fun aesthetic touch.  

Make the gift wrap part of the gift

Gift a reusable tote bag or drawstring bag that doubles as the gift wrap, or wrap a present in a cute bandana, handkerchief or head scarf. 

Regift your gift wrap

What happens when someone gifts you something wrapped in that dreaded non recyclable/compostable one-use gift wrapping? Reuse it! I have a space in my linen closet where I keep refolded gift wrap and gift bags for when I need to wrap something.  Sure, it might end up in the landfill eveeeentually but at least this way you can get one more use out of it (and who knows, maybe your gift recipient will do the same). 

Tip #2: Give the Gift of Food

One of the largest contributors to holiday waste is unwanted gifts.  An estimated 4% of holiday gifts given in 2019 went directly into the landfill.  Need to get a gift for someone but don’t know them well enough to pick something meaningful?  Invited to a holiday dinner and don’t want to come empty handed?  Give the gift of food!  

For several years running I have been making assorted home baked cookie boxes to send home to family members.  Keeping dietary restrictions and allergies in mind of course, generally speaking edible food gifts are less likely to go to waste.  This year I made the NYT gochujang caramel cookies.  I was able to easily veganize them with vegan butter and egg replacer.  They were spicy and delicious and disappeared almost immediately.  A much more satisfying gift to give than an ugly christmas sweater.  Of course, with gifting food there is still the risk of food waste which leads us to Tip #3. 

Tip #3: Make use of the leftovers

Part of the joy of homemade holiday meals is having holiday leftovers for days following, however, sometimes a little creativity is required to keep food from going to waste.  

My family are big fruit-eaters.  We all love a fruit as a snack, after meal dessert, or even as a quick small meal as is.  After my family was in town for Thanksgiving, I was left with a comical amount of fruit.  Even with my large fruit eating appetite I wasn’t able to finish it all off before the apples went a little mealy and the oranges got a little hard and weird.  There are of course, the classic recipes to draw from (banana bread for too-ripe bananas, pies, tarts and crumbles for basically any other type of fruit) but this large amount of fruit on my hands went even a little past being good for use in baked goods.  Enter what I lovingly like to call trash butter.  It’s essentially a jam/fruit butter made from whatever fruit you have on hand.  Bonus: it’s super easy.  Basically, add your trash fruit to a pot (a slow cooker or pressure cooker can make this recipe even faster and easier if you have one) and add a little water and a decent amount of sugar and let it reduce for… a while.  Until it starts looking like jam.  Once it’s sufficiently jam-like in appearance, you can add lemon or apple cider vinegar (for a little brightness), and/or sugar to taste.  If needed, you can add a thickener to alter the texture but I find if you let the water boil out of it for sufficiently long enough, you probably won’t need it.  Store it refrigerated and eat it on toast or however you would normally eat a jam/fruit butter. 

Similarly, vegetable scraps can be used for broth that you can then freeze for later.  Slightly stale cookies can become homemade cookie butter or pie crust and stale bread is perfect for french toast.  Old dry mashed potatoes make delicious savory potato pancakes and old rice can be revived in a lugaw.  

If you’re not familiar with lugaw, it’s a savory rice porridge that is amazing for this time of year.  Another super easy recipe, it’s just rice and broth with generous amounts of garlic and ginger that you let simmer until it’s a thick oatmeal-ish texture.  The bonus with lugaw is that you can top it off with just about any other savory leftovers you might have in the fridge.  Some of my favorite lugaw toppings are five spice tofu, kimchi, toyomansi and green onions, but I often throw in whatever vegetables I have around or leftover dumplings.  

What I’m trying to say is: think of your leftovers as an exercise in creativity.  If you end up devising any good recipes, send them our way, we would love to hear them!


Bratskeir, K. (2020, December 9). It’s Officially Time To Ban Gift-Wrapping Paper. HuffPost.

Frequently Asked Questions: Holiday Waste Prevention | Land, Buildings & Real Estate. (n.d.).

Sweeney, E. (2021, December 28). How Holiday Gift Waste Impacts the Environment. Discover Magazine.

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