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Monday Mission: Decrease Holiday Disposables

In order to be good stewards of what we have, I’ve brought you healthy holiday school parties and non-toy gift ideas. Today, we’ll be exploring baby steps to decrease your holiday disposables. Make these habits part of your holiday family traditions

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to find a way to reduce your holiday waste.

Why You Should Reduce Holiday Waste

T’is truly the season for multiplying garbage bags on the curb, is it not?

After our extended family Christmas celebrations, I’m always appalled at the amount of waste generated by people who love each other getting together to eat and exchange gifts. Between the disposable plates, bowls, cups, napkins, and silverware, the packaging from purchased food, and the mountains of wrapping paper, you would think someone held a corporate convention.

Did you know that the months of November and December get the prize for the most trash of the year? And not just by a few tons, but 25% more, to the tune of a million extra tons per week!1

There’s got to be a better way.

Anything at all that we can do to reuse once, twice, or a dozen times before throwing away a disposable is a big help. Just think: using the same napkin twice or tearing one in half for two meals results in HALF as many napkins thrown in the trash on your account. A 50% improvement is worth noting in any book, and so simple!

This December, choose at least one way to make the holiday a greener one as your gift to the Earth. Here are some ideas:


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. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.2

Perhaps you already have a stash in the basement of ribbons and bows.

Perhaps you’re like my dad, who painstakingly peels off each piece of tape and folds the wrapping paper instead of tearing gleefully into each package…even though my mom tells him she doesn’t want to store the paper. When you grow up in a family of 9, some habits die hard.

Many Americans used to save and reuse wrapping paper religiously. Perhaps some of those habits shouldn’t have died off at all.

Our grandparents’ generation was as “green” as many crunchy tree-huggers today without even realizing they were being “environmentally conscious.” They were just being frugal and not wasteful. Let’s practice that spirit this year, especially as so many are struggling with finances in our current economy.

Try saving and reusing:

  • wrapping paper
  • tissue paper
  • ribbons and bows
  • gift boxes
  • mailing boxes (some post offices will accept your boxes to help ship items for seniors or servicemen if you can’t use them all)
  • packing materials used for padding when mailing, especially styrofoam peanuts
    • No space to store this stuff? Check out for a site near you that will reuse or recycle styrofoam peanuts.
  • gift bags (these have to have done some good for the disposable world as most people reuse instead of throwing away)
  • decorations – don’t buy the disposable kind, but those that last and can be used for years
reduce holiday waste ribbon


Christmas Cards:

I save all the fronts of my Christmas cards because there are some great crafts that utilize the images on Christmas cards.

Last year we cut stars out of 4 cards, glued two pairs back to back, then stapled those together at the center vertically. You can then fold each in half outward and get a beautiful star of Bethlehem style ornament. It made a great gift from my son to his grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Another idea for a Christmas card decoration is to make circles and string them together as a garland or vertical hanging decoration, with or without other colors as mats behind. Don’t forget the classic chain-link garland possibility!

Christmas presents wrapped in craft paper

Wrapping Paper Alternatives:

How many alternate ideas can you think of for wrapping boxes other than wrapping paper? Here are a few:

  • road maps
  • calendar pages
  • Sunday comics
  • newspaper ads
present wrapped in cloth
  • cloth, preferably something old
  • old baby blankets
  • gigantor packing paper with children’s handmade drawings on it3

Using traditional wrapping paper no matter what? Try running the used stuff through your shredder to make pretty packing material if you mail a lot of gifts, or for stuffing in a gift bag.

wrapping bag

Boxes and Containers:

Not sure what to package gift X in for Aunt so-and-so this year? Try these ideas for a greener holiday:

  • Pringles style chip cans store cookies fabulously, especially for mailing (ask a neighbor if you don’t stock chips in your house)
  • Use cracker or cereal boxes
  • Have a box that is too printed up for the U.S. mail? Open it all the way and put it back together inside out. Tada! A clean, brown surface for the postal service to admire. 🙂


  • Send Christmas picture postcards (saves half the paper of a card plus the envelope, plus the photo inside a regular card).
    • Added Bonus: We’ll save $ on the postage, too! We ordered postcards from Vistaprint for FREE with a $4.99 photo upload fee. (You have to search for “free postcards Vistaprint” to find the deal. You can even get a $15 rebate on shipping by signing up for a program, then canceling before the 30-day trial period ends.)  We print a short note on the back directing folks to our family website. It’s a lot less expensive and less material resources than our old method of card + photo + 1-page update!
  • Put family updates in an email or on a website/blog instead of copying them on paper.
  • Send e-cards instead of mailed cards.4
  • Give fewer gifts, period.
  • Try a gift of charity instead of a wrapped gift.

As much fun as it is to tear into gift wrap on Christmas morning, “my” Santa never wrapped anything, and it was just as much fun to run in and see STUFF under the tree that wasn’t there the night before!

We used to practice our self-control by always going to the stockings first and avoiding the temptation to even look at what was under the tree. It was all part of the tradition, and that’s what really matters when it comes to Santa. If you have young children, it’s not too late to start a “Santa doesn’t wrap” tradition.

real christmas tree


  • Real Christmas trees
  • cardboard and plastic packaging – it takes a little extra time to sort it out, but it’s got to be worth it, especially if you have kids. Those toy packages use up so many resources!
  • Christmas cards and envelopes

Just don’t give in to the temptation to skip the recycling just because it’s a big family event and more of a hassle to keep recycling organized. When it’s a big event and creating a lot of waste, that’s the perfect time to be strict about recycling!

See all the Decreasing Disposables in December series here.

Reduce your…

Some other ideas for reducing holiday waste:

How will you reduce your holiday waste?


  1. Frequently Asked Questions: Holiday Waste Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Frequently Asked Questions: Holiday Waste Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Doran, G., & Kidwell, J. (December 21, 2016). Retrieved from
  4. Reduce Waste Generated During the Holidays. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

33 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Decrease Holiday Disposables”

  1. Swathika Menan

    Now a day’s using the disposable palm leaf plates are increasing in restaurants. Inventing of disposable dinnerware is really very good idea. That is really good for environment health. No plastic pollution and it are easily disposable and compostable. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. I do gift tags that can then be hung on the tree as ornaments. I use white “clay” made from baking soda and corn starch, roll it out on top of a lace doily to get a nice pattern on one side, stamp the person’s name and the year on the other side and put a hole in it to hang a ribbon. they look great and are super easy. We make them as one of our advent activities.

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  4. Many family get togethers take place mainly at one sisters house. Years ago she started writing the names of guests on plastic disposable party cups. After the party she washes them and stores until next get together.

  5. About 5 years ago, I bought 20 plain white ceramic plates from Ikea for $1 each. I got a set of flatware for 12 people from a tag sale for $10. I keep them for my “fancy” set! I feel like a caterer! I’ll never buy disposable plates or utensils again! Everything goes right in the dishwasher, it’s really no extra work. If I need glasses, I use the everyday ones, or the “good” crystal. If I have more than 20 people, they use dessert forks as dinner forks, or I do a quick wash before dessert, or I use my every day set as dessert plates and appetizer plates. It makes for a more formal and special party, at no extra cost. I figure I’ve saved a ton, between Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays…to say nothing of the environmental benefits!
    I also found reusable gift bags at Michael’s for $1.50. They’re black and white, so they’re holiday neutral. And they’re part of the gift, since they’re reusable!
    Keep up the good works!

  6. Pingback: Recycling Christmas Cheer « The Earthling's Handbook

  7. We only buy 1 roll of wrapping paper a year, and if we run out we use the comic section of the newspaper, it makes for a more fun wrapping, especially if you can center a favorite comic on top.

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  9. Katie, I saw your guest post at Problogger. What a great job you did! Then I popped over because your blog’s name appealed to me. I too am a Christian mom (but Protestant). I like the concept for this blog and will be subbing via RSS.

    As far as your decreasing disposables challenge, I just want to brag. 🙂 Yesterday we had a Christmas party and we did not use disposable plates or cups. I simply washed dishes and mugs. It’s not THAT time consuming, after all. And it felt far more fancy than flimsy paper goods. And for the gift exchange game, I used repurposed cardboard boxes snatched from the recycling or craft bins– light bulb boxes, a strawberry box, etc. It was hilarious when the guests assumed that I’d given them a light bulb! They caught on to my sneaky wrapping ways quickly and learned to open each gift FULLY.

    1. Jimmie,
      Welcome to KS! I love your “decreasing disposables” party story! It fits perfectly with today’s Monday Mission, in fact. This is the perfect place to “brag” about good things like going green for God. 😉 Katie

  10. This posting is full of wonderful ideas. I have to agree with you that we have way too many disposable items that we use and don’t usually think twice about tossing them out.

    I really do try to analyze the possibility of reusing items in my home and try to recycle when I can.

    Thanks for linking to Make-Do Monday last week. I appreciate your support.

    Have a wonderful Christmas this week.

    Make-Do Mondays @ Practically Perfect Life
    .-= Sharinskishe´s last blog ..Make-Do Monday December 21st =-.

  11. Oh, this is such a great post! Tip: We’ve also re-used old Christmas cards that had no writing on the back of the picture to mail as postcards the following year…super frugal and cheaper postage! 😉

    I’ve also got a link on my current blog back to a post I had done about our disposable choice. You should check it out! But you have some really amzing ideas as well! LOVE IT!!!

    Have a beautiful day!


  12. Sunshine Dexter

    Great tips Katie!! I always thought tossing all those Christmas card in the trash was such a waste! Since I get at least 30 cards. Thought the Christmas ordiament idea was great and the recycling for St. Jude’s was wonderful. Think I will do that as well and I will past the word on. 🙂

    Thanks again~ Sunshine

  13. Confession: we haven’t even bought our cards yet this year. But now I’m glad – I was feeling cheap for considering the price difference on stamps alone if we did postcards. Now I can excuse my stinginess … er… frugality… by calling it a “green” Christmas! Love the free postcard tip, too!


  14. I’m just loving everyone’s ideas and inspiration here! Karen, what a fab gift for Grandma to make. Maybe I’ll put that on our “wish list” for next year.

    Thank you all for joining in on the conversation and accepting the mission! 🙂 Katie

  15. Last year Grandma sent her gifts in reversible cloth bags with matching fabric ties. She used fabric from her ‘stash.’ We use these bags FIRST since they are special from Grandma.

  16. What a brilliant article! Definitely tweeting this out (I’m @GreenSmith, for those on Twitter) One suggestion to help lighten the holiday load, both of trash and toxins, is to use Verterra plates. I’ve reviewed them for blogs previously, and they are that sweet spot of affordably priced, very sustainable, nice looking, and quite durable.

    They’re made from one ingredient: Palm leaves. Leaves which would have been burnt as agricultural “waste”. 15 tons a month currently. Verterra has figured out how to use steam and chilling to shape them nicely, and make them usable in both the regular and microwave over.

    I’ve tried their bowls, with hot soup in them. No problem.

    Somehow in the past year they’ve figured out how to make them half the price they were, while increasing the sustainability, now at zero waste from the leaves (all of it is used, the scraps turned into fertilizer, given back to the Palm farmers. And the employees get treated well, with fair wages and access to health care and school.

    They’re now in hundreds of stores in the US, about 400 when I last checked. You can find out more about them and where to get them local to you, on

    1. Paul,
      At first I was upset by your comment because it’s obviously aimed at getting free advertising/marketing here at KS. I checked out the plates, and they are gorgeous…but super pricey. 300 dessert plates for (drum roll, please) $99! I like to spend about $2 on 100 paper plates that I can compost or burn, and I guess I’m willing to save the earth in other ways with my remaining $94. Sorry, but frugal they are not. 🙁 Katie

      1. Thanks for taking time to dig in. Verterra’s store is aimed at larger events. They’re sold in stores and online in much smaller quantities. I’ve seen them for ~$6 a pack. Not 300 mind you, but a good sized amount

        I see your logic, and there’s a larger context to consider, since they’re reusable (I’ve done it 3-10x per plate, with hand washing) they use 10% of the energy of recycled paper to make, even less that of virgin paper, aren’t bleached as paper often is, are stronger since they’re one piece of material (vs a mash of fibers as paper is) and there’s zero waste in making them.

        So while on a per item basis paper plates are cheaper, the utility, lack of eco impact, and aesthetics make them a very worthy addition to a holiday event, I’d say 🙂

        Make more sense now?
        .-= Paul Smith´s last blog ..Time to Stop Talking About Going Local, and Doing It. Here’s Who Is. (pt 2 of 3) =-.

        1. Paul,
          Thanks for coming on back! I did not know they were reusable, so that does make a big difference. They’re super cute, and I’ll be on the lookout in stores!
          🙂 Katie

          1. Oh good, glad it makes sense now 🙂 By the way, a useful tool to keep track of where you’ve commented and when there’s new comments is CoComment, an addon for Firefox. Have a great rest of your holidays and thanks for the useful article!
            .-= Paul Smith´s last blog ..Time to Stop Talking About Going Local, and Doing It. Here’s Who Is. (pt 2 of 3) =-.

  17. I love all your ideas! I always save my gift bags, I have a whole drawer full of my wrapping stuff and cards where I keep them. I recently used one for a friend’s baby shower! I never thought of using Christmas card front as crafts, thanks!
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Germ Theory =-.

    1. Another Christmas card recycle idea is to cut the front of the card off. Use it as a postcard, picture on front and draw a line down center of blank back. Left side for message, right side for address. Also a few cents less to mail and no wasted envelope.

  18. Oh, AMEN sister!

    Our church has “fellowship,” kind of a mini-brunch, every week. And the amount of stuff thrown away – paper plates, plastic utensils, styrofoam cups – makes me want to cry! The only thing i can do – & i do it every time i’m there – is to store a small bag with a plate & utensils for my husband & myself in the kitchen. If i have tea, i go into the kitchen & get a mug. I can’t do more. It breaks my heart that no one else at church seems to care.

    I’m not as good at saving wrapping paper, etc., but we don’t use a lot. I like the bags now that are so easy to use & reuse – but if you have kids it is hard to keep them secret!
    .-= Kathryn´s last blog ..I will never . . . =-.

    1. We have the fellowship snacks after Sunday service too. The entire congregation has switched over to suppling their own mugs or drink glasses from home and washing own after fellowship time. We have reduced foam cup use drastically.

  19. Mrs. Mordecai

    I really liked this post. We reuse almost all gift-wrapping materials except the paper. That we recycle. I buy most of my wrapping paper and Christmas cards from the thrift store. Sometimes being green and being frugal are the same thing, as you pointed out.
    .-= Mrs. Mordecai´s last blog ..A noble quest =-.

  20. Meg @ Manic Mommy

    Thank you for this post! You gave me some great ideas! We are truly trying to be more green at our home – and Mister Monster (age 5) is all about it Reduce – Reuse- Recycle! It’s great to see him so eager to help our planet! Again, thank you, very inspiring & motivational!!
    .-= Meg @ Manic Mommy´s last blog ..My 1st Blog Award – The Circle of Friends Award =-.

  21. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Awesome tips! I’m definitely going to make some fabric bags next year, and am brainstorming on how to make “permanent” tags as well. My family has always re-used bows (I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a new one and am still reusing the ones from wedding showers, let alone baby showers) and I have an enormous supply of gift bags and tissue paper from the same. (People actually throw that stuff away? Shocking! :>)) Lots of things to take away from this! I’ll be linking on my weekly roundup!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Our Cloth Diaper Journey =-.

    1. Lenetta @ Nettacow

      linked :>)
      .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Link Roundup – No Nap Edition =-.

  22. Such great tips!

    We recently moved from a state with NO convenient recycling program to one with mandatory recycling. I love the difference it makes- it is SHOCKING how much less “garbage” we put out now. I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t make the effort to make it happen when it wasn’t handy, but I think, sadly, I was like most people…
    .-= JessieLeigh´s last blog .."My Story…" Monday: "It’s a …?" =-.

  23. We already re-use a lot of stuff and changed out much of our disposable stuff (diapers, wipes, napkins, paper towels, etc.) for cloth, but i got some good tips from this post. Thanks!

    I like the idea of shredding wrapping paper for gift bag filler, and I want to try to make some star ornaments and garland from old cards. It will be a nice art project for my son!

    .-= Krystal´s last blog ..Wasted weekend (with lots of pics) =-.

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