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Zero Waste for the Holiday Season

Dec 12, 2019


Zero Waste Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays are a season of excess, but by making some key changes, you don’t have to give up any joy to have a great time and feel good about your habits.

Experiences rather than things are a great option – especially for those who already seem to have it all.

  • Museum memberships
  • Sonoma County Regional Parks Pass
  • Gift certificates to restaurants and event/music venues
  • Digital newspaper or magazine subscription
  • Audio book subscription
  • Exercise classes or gym membership
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Escape room
  • Cooking, creative arts, photography, or writing class – many available through  SRJC Community Education
  • Sporting event tickets
  • Donating to a local nonprofit

If you opt for consumable items, consider homemade vs. store-bought. Also, look for durable, energy-efficient, goods, gifts that give back, and items that can be recycled or composted at their end of life. Choose email receipts, items with minimal packaging, and opt-out of free gifts with purchase.

  • Cookies, baked goods, or salty snack mix in mason jars
  • Homemade soup mix in a mason jar
  • Beeswax or Soy candles, or soap made with essential oils
  • Hand knitted, stitched, or crocheted items
  • Original artwork
  • Wooden children’s toys
  • Shampoo bars
  • Coffee beans bought in bulk
  • Fresh baked bread
  • Growler of beer or wine
  • Candied fruit peels
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Reusable cloth produce bags
  • Beeswax food wrap
  • Reusable cutlery set with carrying case
  • Cloth napkins
  • Reusable paper towels
  • Solar lanterns
  • Glass food storage containers

Did you know that according to the EPA, Americans dispose 25% more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day?

This holiday season, consider bags and boxes that can be reused each year. Kids love gifts wrapped in unused maps and comics, or colorful scarves. For larger items, use printed pillowcases, brown paper shopping bags, or dye old sheets and cut to size. Skip the tags and write directly on the wrapping or gift.

Pro tip: Save the ribbons you receive this year to use next year, or try using fresh foliage instead of store-bought bows.

Here is how to dispose of your holiday gift wrapping:



Sonoma County Resource Recovery

Sonoma Garbage Collectors

Wrapping Paper (non-foil)




Foil Wrapping Paper

Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Tissue Paper

Compost (if it contains glitter, then Garbage)

Compost (if it contains glitter, then Garbage)



Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Foil Gift Bags

Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Reuse or Garbage

Paper Gift Bags





No need to remove

No need to remove

Remove before disposal


Hosting a Party:

  • Buy groceries with a specific number of servings in mind: the “Guest-imator” tool is handy!
  • Forego aluminum foil wherever possible in favor of compostable parchment paper
  • Provide reusable silverware and cloth napkins; avoid disposables.
  • If you have a large group, consider using Green Mary’s Eco Food Service Library and reusable dishware
  • Serve in shifts to prevent food from sitting out too long and going bad.
  • Ask guests to bring containers for leftovers. Provide some containers for those who may forget.
  • Provide convenient bins for recycling and organics.
  • Make a stock out of turkey skin/bones, and veggie trimmings
  • Cook up the turkey giblets and serve to your four legged friend
  • Share a meal with a friend who didn't go home for the holiday or perhaps an elderly neighbor
  • Create something delicious out of those leftovers using leftover recipes.
  • Bring a meal to a friend or elderly neighbor, or store leftovers in the freezer if needed

Attending a party:

  • Bring your own plate, cup, and silverware if you know there will only be disposable options
  • Say no to plastic straws
  • Offer to collect organic waste for your host
  • Bring a container for leftovers
  • Make use of those leftovers with more leftover recipes!

Zero Waste Cards

Holiday Cards have a short life span and often end up in the garbage bin. Go paperless, and your friends and family can keep that memory long after the holidays are over. There are many online vendors that provide elegant, customizable paperless options for the holidays and any occasion.

Choose against glittery cards or those that light up or sing. Glitter cannot be recycled, and the batteries that power the light up and singing cards must be removed and recycled at an appropriate battery collection site.


Consider using a living, potted plant or tree instead of one from a tree farm. If you are able to cut your unflocked, real tree to fit inside your curbside green bin, the local haulers will accept it for compost. Otherwise, please call the Christmas Tree hotline at 707-565-3333 for home pickup by local non-profits ($7-10 donation suggested).

Artificial trees are also a good alternative, as they can be reused each year – especially if you don’t have easy access to a curbside yard waste bin so that a real tree can be composted. Or if you’re looking to save some space, you can make a tree using sticks and twine like this one or even wine corks.


When it comes to decorating zero waste style, it’s all about using things you already have, can acquire second hand, or easily find in nature. Some ideas for a natural look include pinecones and tree branches, garland made from red fallen leaves, cinnamon sticks, and foliage which can be reused each year or composted. Try not to get sucked into buying new trinkets you truly don’t need – it will save you the agony of packing up additional décor at the end of the holiday season.

When it comes to ornaments, choose ones that you will enjoy displaying year after year. Switch to LED string lights for your home and tree if possible. Old holiday lights cannot be recycled in the blue curbside recycling carts, but may be recycled through our e-waste recycling  programs at each county transfer station and e-waste events.


25% more trash is thrown away during the holidays. To help you reduce waste we created a guide that gives tips on everything from mindful meal prepping to Christmas tree carbon emissions.

You can view the full guide with more information here or see infographic  below:

How to reduce waste this Holiday Season. Image:


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