Extension Line

Tips to reduce holiday waste


Let’s talk about the waste at the holidays. According to Stanford University, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the average American household waste increases by more than 25%. That increase in waste comes in the forms of food, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons. How much is 25% more waste? That is an additional 1 million tons of waste headed to landfills weekly during the holiday season. What can we do to curb this kind of waste?

If you search for “sustainable Christmas gifts” you will find a wide range of items. A lot of eco-friendly sites and bloggers will share their gift-giving guides with specific items, from eco-friendly companies and/or made up of eco-friendly materials. Most items are beauty or skin-care-related, touting sustainable or “clean” ingredients. Some are candies, some are food subscriptions. I have to laugh at some of the items suggested at times, because never ever did I ever think, “Wow! Tooth-flosser picks made out of cornstarch, what a great gift for my mom!”

What makes a gift sustainable? Is it how it is made, or is it decided by who it is made by? Is it the materials of the product? Is it because of how materials are sourced? Or is it how and how far the good is transported? Is it because it comes in a recyclable container or a reusable one? Is it compostable, or commercially compostable? Is it biodegradable, or is a made with a bioplastic?

Do a percentage of the profits go to a good cause, are the artists getting a fair amount of the sale? Is the company environmentally conscious? Do they use solar or wind energy for production, or do they buy carbon offsets?

I bet you didn’t know so many questions could be rattled on like that about gift-giving. It can get complicated, fast, this word “sustainable.” Which answers are most important?

The best thing I can do is give you a guide of self-guided questions in order of importance to help you gift-give “sustainably.”

In order of importance, questions to ask before purchasing a gift, with the assumption that you can afford it.

Does this have waste?

Does it need to be wrapped?

Can I use a recycled or recyclable wrapping paper or a reusable option?

Will it get used?

Does it bring joy?

Is it long-lasting?

Who benefits/profits from the sale?

Is that a good company/person? (worker protection, fair wages)

Is it a local person/company?

To see my sustainable and sentimental gift swaps to make, check out Purdue Extension – Montgomery County on Facebook in the month of December. Happy holidays!


Tricia Herr is the Montgomery County Extension Educator, Ag and Natural Resource. The office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at triciaherr@purdue.edu.