Holiday Waste: 6 Million Tons of Trash to Landfills

Did you know that household waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? Learn where we waste most and how to curb holiday waste this year.

Between our regular household trash plus extra food and shopping waste, we send an additional million tons of waste to landfills every single week. That adds up to around six million tons of holiday waste by the end of the year.

My friend Jeff McIntire-Strasburg over at Sustainablog shared the graphic below on holiday waste, and I have to be honest here. It kind of rocked me. I knew that we wasted more during the holidays, but the scope across the whole U.S. is more than I could have imagined. Get some stats on our holiday waste below, and after the graphic check out some ideas on how we can curb those massive amounts of extra trash.

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to Landfills

The graphic breaks down holiday waste into a few different categories, so let’s look at each one. Let’s bust some holiday waste, y’all!

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to LandfillsPaper Waste, Ribbons, & Gifts

From gift wrap to greeting cards to shopping bags, we waste a ton of paper over the holidays. Actually, make that more like over four million tons. Here are some ideas to help reduce paper waste.

  • Don’t shop, make! Skip the shopping bags and disposable packaging and make some holiday gifts yourself. Check out this list of DIY holiday gifts for everyone on your list. You can also give experience gifts rather than material gifts.
  • Agree not to gift at all. According to the stats on that graphic, we spend around $800 million on holiday gifts, and nearly 60 percent of them end up unwanted. What if we agreed to skip the gift all together and just spend time with each other instead? We could save money and resources and maybe have a more meaningful holiday!
  • Skip the cards. Greeting cards are a lot of fun, but they’re also incredibly wasteful. Instead of a card, could you write your to and from right on your gift? If you end up with greeting cards from well-meaning family and friends, you can reuse them when the holidays are over.
  • Rethink gift wrap. Instead of disposable paper, try one of these reusable alternatives to conventional gift wrap.
  • Skip the ribbons. I love a ribbon as much as anyone, but they have such a short life. When you receive ribbons on your gifts, stash them away to reuse in craft projects or future gift wrapping of your own.

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to LandfillsChristmas Trees

I am not going to tell you to forgo your Christmas tree this year. But you can make sure that your tree doesn’t contribute to holiday waste by keeping it out of the landfill.

  • Choose a potted tree. A smaller, potted tree can be just as festive as a cut tree. You can plant it yourself or donate it to a local tree-planting group.
  • Compost that tree. It might take some extra effort, but composting your tree can make a big difference. You don’t have to necessarily bust out the chain saw and cut your tree into compostable pieces (though if you do, high five!). Find a local composting service to pick it up.
  • A forever tree? Maybe. My husband and I got a hand-me-down plastic tree that we used for years. Plastic trees definitely have their merit. You store and reuse them from year to year, which means less waste. Artificial trees are often made from PVC, which off-gasses toxic chemicals into your home. If you do go with an artificial tree, make sure you choose one that’s nontoxic.

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to LandfillsFossil Fuels and Batteries

Those holiday parties, Christmas lights, and all of that cooking means using more electricity during the holidays. Try some of these tips to reduce your power bill and greenhouse gas emissions this year.

  • Christmas lights. Send those old school Christmas lights to the recycling center, and go with efficient LED lights. You can also save energy by using fewer lights and unplugging when you’re not enjoying them.
  • Batteries. When you’re choosing holiday gifts, skip the ones that require batteries unless you are certain that your recipient really wants them. As a mom to a toddler, I can tell you that I’m grateful for any gift that doesn’t light up, play music, or talk. If you do find the perfect gift that requires batteries, a set of rechargeable batteries makes a nice little stocking stuffer to go with.
  • Gas. Holiday travel means a huge spike in our use of gasoline. Could we offset that a bit by driving less when we aren’t traveling? If you’re driving to see family, maybe you could take the train to work or walk to the store instead of driving. If we could cut just a single gallon from our overall gasoline usage during the holidays, we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by a million tons!

Holiday Waste: 6 Million Extra Tons to LandfillsFood Waste

Food waste is one of my pet peeves, and it increases by 25 percent during the holidays.

  • Reduce food waste. Check out these eight tips to reduce holiday food waste.
  • Save energy in the kitchen. Cooking is one of the biggest energy users during the holidays. Use these techniques to cook your holiday feast with less energy.
  • Reduce packaging waste. Disposable packaging is a part of food waste that we don’t tend to focus on, but plastic, paper, and cans pile up during the holidays. Try these plastic-free cooking tips that help you use less disposable packaging. When you do end up with food packaging, compost and recycle what you can to keep as much out of the landfill as possible.

What holiday waste statistics struck you most in the graphic above? Share your tips for reducing holiday waste in the comments!


Greta L
Past Member 6 months ago


Anna R
Alice R7 months ago


Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Guilty to the real tree - but with cats an artificial tree doesn't stand a chance. However we chop it up and it is composted by our local authority, along with any food waste we can't fit in our own composter.
Cards are recycled by various charities locally.
I use and recycle gift bags - like the idea of new tea towels though !
All our decorations are carefully wrapped and put away for next year - some old favourites are 30 years old. Most lights are LEDS and as old ones die they are only
replaced with LEDS.
We often give "experiences" rather than "things" - or else give nice treats.

Just HATE the over-commercialism of Christmas. This time round it started in August in the UK - absolutely ridiculous.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you!

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Sue R.
Sue R4 years ago

so much waste. sad. Thx for info

Lisbeth Jensen
Lisbeth Jensen4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

.4 years ago


Christie C.
Christie C4 years ago

As a retail business owner, I thought all year about what I would do for holiday gift wrapping and came up with the best I could:
The boxes I made out of 2013 holiday cards and 2014 calendars that I collected from various places. The tissue paper is 100% recycled and made in the USA. The ribbon I got from a non-profit called SCRAP. They are all over the country and their mission is to remove as much useable craft material from the waste stream as possible. Whole rolls of ribbon were headed to the dumpster but SCRAP saved them from being wasted. They are a great resource for artists and crafters who want to reuse materials instead of purchasing new.

Michael Criswell
Michael C4 years ago

I always recycle. Keep Colorado Pretty! and I have a compost bin ;p