California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

A Season for Giving, Not for Discarding

Here are some tips and suggestions for alternative gift wrapping, no-waste holiday practices, and innovative gift-giving:

  • Give a Gift Card. More than two-thirds of American consumers purchase at least one gift card as a holiday present for a loved one. They’re appreciated, they never expire, and they require no fancy gift-wrapping.
  • Say “Happy Holidays” Over the Phone or Internet. An estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stores high. If every family reduced their mailing list by just one card, the nation would save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. If you have Internet access, consider sending electronic holiday cards this year. Check the selection at commercial sites like or also has a wide selection of e-cards for a small fee ($1 per month subscription fee). You can also check charitable support groups like or conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy.
  • Check Your Tire Pressure. Going to Grandma’s house for a holiday dinner? Before your trip, make sure tires are properly inflated to increase fuel economy. A reduction of one gallon of gasoline used by every U.S. household this holiday season would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tons.
  • Use Reusable Bags. Headed out to the mall for some holiday shopping? Take along reusable shopping bags to help reduce the number of single-use, disposable bags distributed by retailers.
  • Drive Smart. Plan your holiday shopping on a map or a GPS unit to determine the most efficient driving route—you’ll drive fewer miles, save money on gas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Repurpose Old Holiday Cards. Donate your old cards to a nursery or day care center for arts and crafts projects. Or, cut up cards to be used as gift tags, bookmarks, greeting cards, place mats, or decorations. Used cards, especially those with large pictures to cut out, can also be used as decorations. Just put a hole at the top of the card and knot a piece of string or lace through the hole to hang on next year’s Christmas tree, door handles, etc.
  • Buy Foods in Bulk and Compost the Leftovers. Consider buying food and holiday snacks in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Be sure to compost the leftovers—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates nearly 95 billion pounds of edible food, or 27 percent of the U.S. food supply, end up being wasted each year.
  • Buy Local. Look for locally grown products for your holiday meal—it’s estimated the ingredients for the average U.S. meal travel 1,200 miles by the time they are served. Choosing food products that are in season, and not flown in from a tropical climate, is better for the environment. Consider products from a local farmers market. Find a list of Certified California-Grown Farmers’ Markets online.
  • Recycle That Tree. Every year, more than 1 million used Christmas trees end up in California landfills. Nationwide, an estimated 15 million used Christmas trees end up in landfills. Remember to recycle trees locally or turn them into mulch for water conservation and weed control in the garden. Reuse branches to make colorful holiday wreaths and separate the pine needles from tree branches to create tree-scented sachet bags. Or, consider an artificial tree or a “living” tree that can be replanted in the yard.
  • Consider the Environment. Sprayed-on artificial snow can be made from environmentally harmful components and hinder the ability to recycle a Christmas tree. For more Earth-friendly artificial snow, sprinkle on some baking powder. Never burn Christmas trees or holiday wrapping paper in a fireplace or wood stove, because they can spark a chimney fire.
  • Make Room for New Gadgets and Toys. Outgrown toys, clothes and furniture may be donated to charitable groups like Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, or Volunteers of America. Many local charities operate thrift stores and are always looking for donated items.
  • Shopping for a New Cell Phone? Americans tend to upgrade their cell phones every 18 to 24 months, and the U.S. EPA estimates Americans discard 125 million old cell phones annually, creating 65,000 tons of waste. What’s more, the old phones contain hazardous materials—including mercury, cadmium, and arsenic—that cannot be accepted at landfills. California was one of the first states to adopt a law requiring retailers to offer cell phone recycling. The website Call2recycle has a database of locations where consumers can drop off their old cell phones. In addition, some websites offer cash for premium model phones.
  • Recycle Old and Defective Holiday Lights—and Help the Less Fortunate. Recycle old and broken holiday light strings at ACE Hardware stores in Northern California, which have partnered with the Loveland, Colo.-based Lights for Life. The program recycles the old lights and donates proceeds to families of children with cancer to help offset their expenses. In three years, donations to the program have grown from 3 tons of lights to more than 23 tons. Or, recycle broken or burned-out holiday lights by mailing them to Christmas Light Source Recycling Program in Ft. Worth, Texas. The bulbs will be recycled, and proceeds will be used to purchase books for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
  • Incandescent or LED Holiday Lights? Consumer Reports analyzed both types of bulbs and found that, on balance, LED bulbs win out. They are cooler, reducing the risk of holiday tree fires. They last longer and use less power, and the energy savings over time will offset the slightly higher initial purchase price. LED bulbs use 1 to 3 kilowatt hours of energy, while incandescent bulbs use 12 to 105 KWh, translating into annual savings of $1 to $11. All of the LED bulbs tested in the Consumer Reports analysis were working after 4,000 hours of use, while each string of incandescent lights had one or more bulbs burn out before 2,000 hours of use.
  • Save on Gift Wrap. Save and reuse gift wrapping paper from previous years, or make some from butcher paper, reused brown paper bags, newspapers, and fabric. Shop for recycled-content holiday wrapping paper, or wrapping paper sold by charity groups that raise funds to preserve rain-forests. Thrift shops often have good prices on leftover holiday wrapping paper.
  • Think Outside the Gift Box. Purchase gift bags or baskets from your local dollar stores or charity thrift shops and reuse them each year. Or, forgo the packaging altogether and donate to a charity in the gift recipient’s name. Each dollar sent to will pay to plant a tree in regions where they are needed most, and to support the group’s mission to protect and restore rural and urban forests.
  • Get Off the Mailing List. Overwhelmed with holiday catalogs received in the mail? Request to have your name/address removed from mailing lists by contacting the Direct Marketing Association. A token $1 fee removes your name/address for up to three years.
  • Lay the Foundation for a “Green” Holiday Meal. Use a cloth tablecloth or a washable plastic tablecloth instead of purchasing single-use paper tablecloths for your holiday meal tables. Recycle cotton or cotton-blend fabric remnants into napkins.
  • Buy Reusable Batteries. About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Consider purchasing rechargeable batteries instead; they can be used again and again. And don’t forget: Batteries contain toxic materials and should not be thrown into the trash. Visit to find an authorized recycling facility near you.
  • Recycle Packing Peanuts. Check with local postal shipping stores to see if they will accept foam peanuts for recycling. Call “The Peanut Hotline” at 800-828-2214 to find the nearest location, or check the Plastic Loose Fill Council website for a drop-off location near your home.

Holiday Home Page

Last updated: November 18, 2013
Public Affairs Office, (916) 341-6300