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Business, Environment, STEM, Uncategorized

Waste Not, Want Not With Holiday Gift Giving


Old newspapers as gift wrap

I make a habit of checking on family and friends across the U.S. and other places throughout the year, and especially between Thanksgiving and New Year. Yesterday, one of those calls went to a good friend and octogenarian who was in the middle of wrapping her last five gifts to put under her tree.

I was curious as to what she uses for wrapping paper? Even more, I was pleasantly surprised when she said “The comics from a few Sunday newspapers.” As we were catching up on our activities of the past few months, it occurred to me that an awful lot of trash and other wastes is generated during the holiday season.

According to lyrics from a popular holiday tune, It’s the most wonderful time of the year. However, as a heading for a Guardian newspaper article reminds us, Christmas [is also] the most wasteful time of the year [Ref 1].

E-waste: Many shoppers put a lot of thought into the brand and model of that upcoming purchase of a smart phone, camera, tablet, notebook, television, etc. However, hardly any thought is directed towards what to do with the older e-waste that these new items will replace. Swico, a recycler in the United Kingdom (UK), notes that they see a jump in e-waste from the end of December until the beginning of February…lots of consumer electronics, televisions, and other unwanted stuff. I am pretty sure that our buying habits in the U.S. are very similar to those in the UK.

According to EPA, household waste increases by more than 25% from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Additional food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons net 1 million tons per week of trash to our landfills.

inverted-potatoe-chip-bag_wrapping-paperGreen waste: The combination of Christmas trees, wreaths, poinsettias and other plants often leave little room in the inn (or adobe) after the holidays are over. EPA estimates that more than 33 million live trees are sold each year. Some municipalities have post-holiday tree collection programs, however, many trees are tossed with regular trash into landfills. Live trees can be planted, and live house plants can be repotted or planted after the holidays. Artificial trees have come a long way in terms of natural looks and quality, and can be reused year after year.

Food waste: Additional food waste that comes with the holiday season was discussed in an earlier post, Reducing Food Waste in Municipal Solid Waste Streams. It’s not uncommon for the folks in my household to make a food and/or beverage run to the local grocer or market every day during the week leading up to the Christmas holiday. As a reminder, at almost 15%, food is the second largest item in America’s waste streams.

Paper waste: Where do we begin? There’s paper packaging for consumer items that include cardstock and cardboard. There’s wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, tin foil, additional newspaper inserts and store ads, and holiday greeting cards. It is estimated that half the paper consumed in the U.S. is used to wrap and decorate consumer products.

For starters, we could each do a better job of managing our waste – especially the last two months of the year. Second, I should remind my readers that the theme for the upcoming region and national Future City Competitions is Waste Not, Want Not.
Working in teams of three, middle school students participating in the Future City Competition have been tasked to design a municipality of the future that includes an innovative citywide solid waste management system that is safe, environmentally sound, and energy efficient. They must also write a 1,500-word essay describing the unique attributes of their city and provide a solution to this year’s waste management challenge.

old-maps-wrapping-paperThat brings me to point No. 3: When considering gifting and re-gifting opportunities for the remainder of this holiday season, or at anytime during the year, a great place to begin is to minimize paper wastes associated with these gifts. In other words reuse or recycle our gift wrap.

How do you do that? Here are some examples from Buzz Feed [Ref 2]:

  1. Recycle an empty potato chip bag into something glam.
  2. Use old sheet paper as festive wrapping paper.
  3. Replace gift wrap with leftover wallpaper or drawer lining paper.
  4. Wrap gifts in burlap for a rustic, homey look.
  5. Use an old map for an eclectic look.
  6. Convert old newspaper into gift wrap.

I have made a habit of saving gift bags and some cardboard boxes in various sizes for years. I can’t remember the last time I bought wrapping paper. Adopt some of the above habits and you could say the same thing.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to readers of A Bridge for Business & STEM.


  1. Christmas, the most wasteful time of the year, by Leah Borromeo in The Guardian, December 17, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/christmas-waste-green-recycling
  2. 12 Alternatives To Wrapping Paper That Are Actually Gorgeous, Source: Scotch Brand Publishers, http://www.buzzfeed.com/scotchbrand/alternatives-to-wrapping-paper-that-are-actually-gorgeous#.wa6BwE5bAy

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.



  1. Pingback: Key January 2016 Dates for Future City Competition Arizona Region | BridgeBizSTEM - January 2, 2016

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