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By Eric Hemphill. Eric was a Volunteer Program Manager at BTG.

The holidays can be a stressful time. Maybe you’re getting your home ready for guests, or traveling to see loved ones. There’s food to cook (and 10 unique and contradictory diets to take into account) and gifts to wrap (or, in my case, gifts to purchase still!). And then, when you get to the end, and the meals are eaten, and the gifts unwrapped, and the revelry had, what are you left with? Waste!

From all angles. I know I can’t be the only one who has looked up and down my street on the trash day following a holiday and felt a distinct mix of guilt and desire for action.

I’ve compiled here a list of tips I’ve learned over the years for combating holiday waste. I hope they help!

Food Waste

You might have heard that reducing food waste is one of the most effective ways to combat rampant climate change. During the holidays, in particular, there is a huge uptick in food waste (some estimates see an increase of up to 25%). There are lots of ways to combat this in your own home.

1. Be mindful of the issue. When you’re planning your menu, or at the grocery store, or even once the feast is finished, understanding that food waste is an incredibly huge issue is a great first step. Talking to your loved ones about it has been shown to change perceptions and behaviors.

2. Reuse is key. Finding new ways to reuse or repurpose leftover food can be a great joy. I like the challenge of pulling out a bunch of tupperware and trying to figure how to make it into something fun and new AND delicious. Recipe ideas I’ve used: turn veggie scrapes and/or leftover bones into a nice stock for a warming, light soup; use your holiday main course to make a nice snack: ham into scones or biscuits, turkey or steak or roasted veggies can make a nice mid-afternoon quesadilla. A quick Google search for “holiday leftovers recipes” yields lots of great results for reusing those delicious leftovers.

3. Compost, compost, compost. So you’ve been mindful, you’ve reused those leftovers, and you still have some food scraps leftover? Composting is the solution for you. There are many ways to compost your food scraps, including backyard composting (if you’re feeling industrious and have a DIY spirit), but by far the easiest composting solution is a composting company or non-profit. The KC metro is fortunate to have several great community composters– including Missouri Organic, Compost Collective KC, KC Can Compost, and Food Cycle KC. These folks offer subscription services to drop off or even pick up from your house. Composting is a great way to responsibly manage those scraps.


Gift Wrap

A lot of the additional waste produced over the holidays comes from packaging and gift wrap, much of which is not recyclable in your curbside bin. Using more sustainable options when you can makes a large impact on your overall waste. Here are a few tips:

1. Look for wrapping paper that has no added materials like glitter, metallic flakes, and plastic.

2. Consider reusable/recyclable options like gift bags, fabric gift wrap, newspaper, or craft  paper.

3. Minimize packaging and shipping materials by consolidating orders together or, better yet, by shopping locally when possible.

4. Always refer to your local municipality before putting packaging/wrapping paper in your recycling bin. Putting non-recyclable items in recycling bins will contaminate the bin, which risks it having to go to landfill.



We get a lot of calls about recycling of various decorative items. Here a quick run down:

1. Christmas lights: string lights cannot be recycled curbside because they are what the industry calls ‘tanglers,’ meaning they often muck up the machinery at the Materials Recovery Facility. However, we do accept string lights year-round at the 3 recycling drop-off centers in KCMO. Here is a complete list of locations accepting lights for recycling.

2. Christmas trees: Like food scraps, Christmas trees can be composted or mulched. Trees can be dropped off at one of the three yard waste drop off centers in KCMO: East Bottoms, South, or North. All three are free for KCMO residents on Saturdays. Wyandotte residents can use the Kansas City, KS Yard Waste Center. Other municipality residents can check with their municipality for options. Artificial Christmas trees are not recyclable and should not go in your curbside bin or be taken to our drop off centers.

3. Ornaments, tinsel, etc.: Most ornaments and tinsel are made with non-recyclable plastics. These should not go into curbside bins or be dropped at recycling centers. Instead, they can be donated or, if old/broken, put into the trash. If that DIY bug hits you, try making ornaments out of paper or other recyclable materials.