No Waste Holidays

What is and isn't Recyclable?


The "holiday season" has begun. Time to share with family and friends often becomes lots of time shopping, parties and gatherings, food preparation—and stress. Are you feeling "holidazed"? Do you find yourself wondering how the season passes by so quickly? This year, instead of the hustle and bustle of the mall, maybe it's time for a new tradition—a no-waste holiday season.

On an average day, a typical Minnesotan creates roughly six pounds of waste. But from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, household waste increases by more than 25%. Added food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons—it all adds up to an additional 1 million tons a week to the nation's garbage piles.
And it's not just trash. The average American spends $800 on gifts over the holiday season. Think about your time and energy spent driving all around town looking at so much stuff. It's no wonder that so many people get stressed out during the holidays!

Annual holiday polls by the Center for a New American Dream reflect a shift in attitude, with a focus on having more personal fulfillment and a less-stressful holiday season. Sometimes the most treasured gifts we can give are our time, love and energy.
In the spirit of giving, we've gathered some holiday gift ideas that create less waste and more memories.

Volunteer and Donate

Giving your time and/or money to worthy causes not only helps your community but gives you a sense of contribution and involvement that is hard to quantify.


Start a new tradition—pick one night a month that your family will donate time at a local shelter handing out food. It is important for children to help others. Studies show that people who help others are healthier and happier.

Children who volunteer enhance their self-esteem as they learn new skills and make new friends. They see themselves as kind people capable of making a difference, and they learn to live a more hopeful life. Volunteer activities help build character and teach social responsibility, greater empathy and compassion. Teach that who you are is more important that what you have.

"Volunteer Coupons": Gift-giving ideas for children
Children want to give their family gifts, too, but limited budgets often make purchases difficult. Let them know that what you really want does not have to come from a store—their time is even more valuable. Maybe helping shovel snow this winter, or vacuuming the house is really the present you are looking for.

Coupon ideas

  • Walking the dog after school each day for a period of time.
  • Cooking some meals, or offering to help shop and clean up.
  • Watching younger brother or sister.
  • Commit to extra chores: Housecleaning, shoveling, lawn mowing.
  • Make a book of family recipes.
  • Putting together a scrap book or family tree.
  • Hugs and kisses.

Charitable donations

The holidays are a great time to make donations to local charities and non-profit organizations. You can donate warm clothes, food and/or money. Most charities have their own "wish list": they can tell you what they need the most.

If you are giving a monetary donation, you could make the donation in the name of someone else — a kind of double-gift. Many people feel good knowing that they are helping out someone during the holidays.

Learn about local organizations at the web site of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits:

Give an Experience

Here's an idea for giving without all of the wrapping: Give an experience. A gift certificate might be just the thing for someone who would like to begin a new hobby or polish the skills they have already learned.
A lot of people would like to try new things, but won't spend the money on themselves. Do you have a brother that has been dying to learn how to play the guitar but has just never signed up for the lessons? A father that loves to play golf but may need a few more lessons?

Gift certificate ideas

  • Candlelit dinnerholidaygive140
  • Music lessons
  • Language lessons
  • Lessons in baking or a hobbycraft
  • Sports instruction: How about a golf lesson?
  • A trip to the nearest state park
  • Passes to a museum or special exhibit
  • Tickets to a play
  • Give a membership to an aquarium, AAA, etc.

Practical gifts

An experience can also be something that you do for someone. Perhaps you can whip up a gourmet meal or teach someone the secrets behind your special talents. It can be very thoughtful when you see a need and take the time to see that it's filled. Giving a gift certificate for bike repair to someone who bikes a lot encourages a non-polluting way to travel. Or, how about giving gift certificates for balancing and rotating your car tires or for oil changes to keep a car as efficient as possible? You could also offer to repair or do work for someone who can't do it himself or herself.

Blue Sky Guide: Think globally, save locally, play constantly. blueskyguide2005-150
Blue Sky Guide promotes community, sustainable living, reduced impact on the environment; and having fun in the Twin Cities. Blue Sky Guide is a one-of-a-kind guide of ideas, resources, and coupons offering discounts on dining and practical, everyday products such as organic foods, less-toxic cleaning products, household and home improvement items made from natural materials and outdoor recreational gear. It's an ideal gift for people interested in reducing environmental impacts while supporting the community.
The 2007 edition contains over 300 coupons, and offers expire December 31, 2007.
Blue Sky Guides are sold for $20 through community-based fundraisers, area retailers such as natural food co-ops, or online at

"Eco-friendly" Gifts

If you are looking for something to wrap up for the holidays, there are products that go easy on our planet. Products with little or no packaging, products made from natural ingredients, and products that are made with little or no pollution are all examples of eco-friendly products.

Invest in your family

Toys break, clothes are outgrown, and cash is often frittered away. Instead of trinkets today, perhaps you want to help a child plan for the future? There are lots of investment options for those wanting to contribute to a college savings fund. Each plan has its advantages and disadvantages and you need to decide which option makes sense for your family and financial situation.

  • A 529 Plan is a state-operated investment plan designed to help families save for future college costs. Under Minnesota's 529 program, the Minnesota College Savings Plan, investment earnings are tax deferred by the federal government and state of Minnesota through tax year 2001. As of January 1, 2002, investment earnings on contributions will be exempt from federal and state taxes if used for qualified higher education expenses. Learn more at
Click on to learn more about 529 plans and how they might offer a great opportunity to save for your family's college education expenses.

  • U.S. Savings Bonds are long-time favorites for gift-giving. You can give a gift today that will be worth more in the future. Plus, this risk-free investment is a way to invest in the nation. Learn more about your options at
  • Contribute to or start an Education IRA. Find out more about Education IRAs from an investment broker or financial planner.

Links you'll like

Tips and inspiration abound on the World Wide Web!

  • The Center for a New American Dream offers up ideas to Simplify the Holidays, with suggestions for planning a holiday season that's less focused on "stuff."
  • The Use Less Stuff Report (ULS) offers up 42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline — an interesting checklist of waste reduction tips for the holidays. Check out Have A Low Impact Y2Kristmas, with more tips about reducing waste during the holidays, and some good advice on how the average person can make the biggest impact on the environment.
  • The California Integrated Waste Management Board encourages you to Deck the Halls with Less Waste!
  • In King County, Washington, Waste-Free Holidays focus on giving the "gift of experience" instead of "stuff." While these are Seattle-area attractions, there are a lot of ideas that Minnesotans can find locally.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund offers advice to help shoppers use their "greenbacks" to make their world a "greener place."
  • The Media Foundation invites consumers to curtail their desires to consume through its annual Buy Nothing Day. Held on the day after Thanksgiving — the unofficial kick-off of “the holiday season,” and one of the busiest shopping days of the year — this international event is a challenge "to think about the "shop-till-you-drop" imperative and its effects on the rest of the world."