Zero Waste Holiday Guide

Zero Waste Holiday Guide

December 7th, 2023

Transform your holiday planning stress into comfort by following these zero waste tips and ideas from Recycle Ann Arbor's zero waste holiday guide. This guide will help you spread joy instead of waste this holiday season, whether you incorporate just a few or all of these zero waste tips.


Shop Local 

  • Shop small and support your community by shopping for gifts at local businesses, holiday craft fairs, consignment, and thrift stores. (Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bag with you.)
  • Look for local swap events to share items and give unused items new life. 
  • Give zero waste holiday gifts such as shampoo or soap bars with their favorite scent, reusable bottles, reusable straws, etc.
  • Give gift certificates to the undiscovered gems of your town. Introduce friends and family to their new favorite restaurant, coffee place, or other local hangout!

Make Your Own Gifts

  • Host a family craft night and reuse materials you already have to make thoughtful, handmade gifts. There are a ton of videos and tutorials online to make everything from wall hangings, ornaments, garlands, picture frames, and more!
  • Spread holiday cheer by making your own holiday cookies or hot cocoa mix to give as gifts.

Give Non-material Gifts

  • Buy them an experience with a gift certificate for a massage, class or activity, the theater, their favorite restaurant, or reservations for a vacation.
  • Consumable gifts made by local artisans: teas, coffees, sweets, preserves, soaps, and candles.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name to a cause, charity, or mutual aid that is important to them. 

Season Greetings

  • Instead of mailing greeting cards, consider sending an e-card or giving a phone call. If you plan to send cards, try to find ones made with 100% recycled content. You can also look for cards at secondhand stores or libraries. 
  • Recycle holiday cards and envelopes in your curbside cart. 

Share Wishlist's

  • Share a list of items you need and places you frequent with your family and friends to ensure you don’t get something that will go unused or become trash.
  • Make sure to get their wishlist's too! 


Wrap Creatively

  • Reuse newspaper, magazines, or leftover scrap paper from crafting to wrap gifts. 
  • If you do use wrapping paper, opt for paper from a thrift store or made from recycled materials. Save and reuse intact paper for future gifts and recycle any non-metallic paper in your curbside recycling cart.
  • Save and use reusable fabric, fabric bags, unique boxes, or tins to make the package something they can reuse year after year. 
  • Make the wrap a useful part of the gift - for example, wrap the gift in a scarf or tea towel.
  • Use reusable cloth ribbons and twine or ditch the ribbon altogether. 
  • Reuse your holiday cards from last year as gift tags or for crafts.

Reusable Wrap

Use Paper Gift Bags

  • Check thrift stores for bags before buying new. Save bags and tissue paper to reuse for future gifts. 
  • If unable to be reused, paper bags can be recycled in your curbside cart.

Save and Reuse Cardboard

  • Reuse cardboard for storage or crafts. 
  • Empty, flattened cardboard can be recycled in your curbside cart. Cardboard must fit loosely inside the cart with the lid closed. 

Recycle with the A to Z Guide

Check our A to Z Recycling Guide for how to recycle or reuse things not listed here, such as batteries, textiles, electronics, bubble wrap, styrofoam, and packaging, plus other zero waste tips! 


Reduce Food Waste by Planning Ahead 

  • Make a shopping list with the specific number of items you need. Check your pantry and refrigerator before going to the store, then stick to the list!
  • Use an online portion planner like the Guest-Imator to figure out exactly how much food you need.

Reuse Leftover Food or Donate.

  • Look online for creative ways to use parts of foods you typically don’t eat. For example, broccoli stalks can be chopped up and roasted. 
  • Use meat bones and veggie scraps to make soups and broth.
  • Combine leftovers for a new meal and save on cooking in the days after your holiday gathering!
  • Freeze what you can’t eat right away.
  • Donate unopened and non-perishable items to a local food bank. In Ann Arbor, Food Gatherers is a great community resource.

Compost Food Scraps. 

  • Compost unusable scraps from cooking and uneaten, spoiled food to give new purpose to the food you will not eat.

Skip the Disposables

  • Use reusable oven trays, plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, & cloth napkins instead of disposable ones. Or start a new tradition and encourage your guests ton bring your own reusable dish and cutlery (BYOD) - it will also reduce the number of dishes you’ll need to clean afterward. 
  • Check your nearby thrift store if you need to stock up on more.
  • Buy drinks in bulk rather than individual servings.
  • Avoid prepackaged meat and cheese trays.



  • Use compostable, natural items from your yard or garden for holiday décor and wreaths.
  • You can make sustainable tree ornaments out of dried fruits, pinecones, and salt dough. The popcorn and cranberry garland is always a fun craft tradition.
  • Or use decorations that you will reuse for years to come.

Zero Waste Christmas Tree

String Lights 

  • Save energy by using timers and LED lights.
  • Recycle broken string lights at the Drop-Off Station.

Christmas Trees 

  • Support local tree farms when buying fresh-cut trees. 
  • Christmas trees cannot be discarded on the street or left out on extensions. The City of Ann Arbor provides free drop-off locations for undecorated Christmas trees.

Artificial Christmas Trees

  • Check local thrift stores for artificial Christmas trees.
  • Donate reusable artificial trees.
  • Artificial trees can be disposed of at the Drop-Off Station but are not recycled.