Guide for Reuse, Repair, Recycling, and Safe Disposal
for Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and the City of Palo Alto

Sustainable Gift & Holiday Guide

From uneaten leftovers to discarded wrapping paper, the holidays come with a lot of waste - from Thanksgiving to New Year's, Americans produce 25 percent more waste! Here are four areas where we can make simple changes:


  • Shop local. Support small, community-owned businesses. Here are some StopWaste partners with retail opportunities in Alameda County.
  • Shop green. The California Green Business Network directory lists businesses by things to do, food & drink, retail, lodging & travel, farms, and more categories that comply with environmental regulations in the areas of waste, energy, water, pollution prevention, and air quality. Search filters include ownership by: Women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Veteran, and Employee.
  • Give of yourself. Think about giving back to community. Consider volunteering or donating to a local food bank to help feed families in need during the holiday season. Give experiences, like a gift card to a museum or a favorite local restaurant.
  • DIY Gifting. Gifts from the kitchen are easy DIY holiday gifts that are personal, delicious, and can be enjoyed after the glut of holiday treats. Get crafty and package them in upcycled jars adorned with remnant fabric, paper, or bows.
  • Give your time and experience. Consider the gift of repair, like mending a favorite jacket or fixing a broken heirloom, or time to work in a loved one's garden, or make a succulent container by rooting trimmings from your own plants.
  • Second-hand first. Shopping at vintage or thrift stores, or your local Buy-Nothing group, not only saves money, but keeps stuff out of the landfill. Regift new condition toys and games to families in need.
  • If you’re feeling the urge to purge ahead of the New Year, do so with intention: many items like clothing, furniture, and toys can either be repaired or donated for reuse.

Gift Wrap

  • Skip the store bought wrapping paper and get crafty with repurposed materials you probably have around the house. Paper bags, old maps, kids art, calendars, and newspaper (comics section for fun), and fabric make beautiful options.
  • Save and reuse gift wrap after unwrapping for next year. or at least place it in the proper bin: paper gift wrap (recycle), metallic gift wrap (landfill) and tissue paper (compost).
  • Can I recycle that packaging? Paper, paperboard, and cardboard free of metallic foil, as well as rigid/hard plastics #1 and #2 can be put in your recycling bin. Flimsy plastic like plastic bags, blister-paks, and crinkly plastic trays/inserts belong in the trash.
  • Set up a system for gift packaging clean up:
    • a bag for gift wrap to reuse,
    • bag for metallic gift wrap, gift tags, plastic bows/ribbons, and flimsy plastics to go into the garbage,
    • bag for cardboard, paperboard, paper, newspaper, and rigid plastics (#1 & 2),
    • and a bag for compost - ripped tissue paper, small paper pieces, natural fiber string, and plant matter.
  • Unwanted gifts? Start or add to a "regift" box to have something on hand over the year and next year's Secret Gift Exchange, or offer it up to someone who wants it for free on Craigslist, NextDoor, FreeCycle, or a Facebook Buy Nothing Group in your city.


  • Use reusables instead of disposables - from linens to utensils and cups and plates. Borrow or rent if you need more for larger events.
  • Compost paper napkins, plates, cups and food scraps. Choose compostable food ware thoughtfully and free of PFOAs: plastic food ware is not recyclable curbside and plastic-lined paper contaminates finished compost. Check your hauler's website for specifics.
  • Start saving to-go containers to send family and friends home with their favorite items. Ask guests to bring extra take-out containers as part of the invite. Consider reinventing leftovers using tips at StopFoodWaste.
  • With holiday celebrations small this year, be sure to buy only what you need. This Guest-Imator tool from Save the Food allows you to adjust your ingredients and portions accordingly.
  • As you prep for parties, keep a small tub near your cutting board to collect vegetable trimmings, then easily dump into the curbside green bin. Go one step further and save those onion peels, carrot skins, and celery tops in the freezer for a delicious veggie stock.
  • As we near the end of the year, consider doing a fridge clean-out and start the new year with an intention to be more conscious of what you have.

Trees and Home Decor

  • Reuse, repair or donate good condition holiday and seasonal items, artificial christmas trees, and string lights (working/non-working).
  • Fresh holiday trees, wreaths, and garland can be composted when stripped of all decorations, lights, stand, tinsel, hooks, and un-bagged to be chipped and composted. Remove the wire wreath frame for reuse before composting wreaths with living plant trimmings.
  • Flocked (white foam that looks like "snow") trees are covered in chemicals (PFOAs) not accepted for composting, and must be landfilled.
  • Remove and store your holiday stand for reuse. Trees with metal stands and residual decorations attached will be landfilled.
  • Check your curbside service details for pick-up of holiday trees for residents and businesses. Businesses may be able to save on fees by cutting trees to fit in the compost bin with the lid shut.

Here's to a new year! Challenge yourself to keep these thoughtful practices throughout the year. Your wallet, community and environment will thank you.

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