Reducing Holiday Waste: Christmas Cards

I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to the environment.

As a child, I took home my classmates’ tests in a big stack at the end of a unit to recycle because I couldn’t stand to see so much paper in the trash. Now, I am even more aware of our throw-away society, I have tried to increase my efforts to limit my contribution to our global waste. Ceramics is a very permanent craft. Raw clay can be dried out, watered down, and used again and again, but once it is fired, it’s in the world forever. The power of this permanence inspires me to be environmentally conscious in my life and business. All of my shipping materials are reused from local Rochester businesses and I find alternative uses for my flawed pottery.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans produce 25% more waste equaling 25 million tons of extra trash.

When it comes to the holiday season, it’s easy to be swept up in the magic of entertaining and gift-giving, but I can’t help but to think about the pressure to spend and the mass consumption that comes with it. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans produce 25% more waste equaling 25 million tons of extra trash (source.) Just think about all the novelty gifts, gift wrap, gift bags, tissue paper, greeting cards, and decorations that you buy during the last two months of the year.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give gifts and spread joy to your friends and family. However, a little extra thought can go a long way to reduce your holiday waste. Perhaps you’ve heard about the Zero Waste movement. At first, the idea of zero waste can seem pretty intimidating, especially with the popular visual of a mason jar containing all of a person’s trash for the year. But, it’s important to remember that zero waste isn’t a strict rule, it’s a goal to help aim your daily practices.


You’ve probably grown up with the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Zero waste taught me that there are two others: Refuse and Rot (composting) which bookend the original three R’s. I look at these five steps on a scale of “good, better, and best.” Refusing wasteful practices and reducing your waste are the “best” practices you can employ. Reusing falls under the “better” category, and recycling and rotting are “good” when you can’t achieve the others.

In this mini-blog series for the holidays, I want to give you some “good, better, best” options for minimizing your extra holiday waste. For this first post, I’d like to start with some alternatives for sending holiday cards.


The billions of Christmas cards that are sent each year could fill a ten-story football field (source.) In 2011 I did some market research for a greeting card business. The Greeting Card Association no longer had this information on their website, but in my 2011 research I found that they conducted a national survey in which almost a third of respondents said that they keep cards “forever.” What that really means is that over 66% of people dispose of the cards they receive! I tend not to send cards for any occasion because there is such a high chance that they are going straight into the garbage. The one card I do remember sending this year was, of course, from a small business. If you picture the lifespan of a product from purchase to landfill, greeting cards have a pretty direct line from shelf to trash. Check out these tips for increasing the life cycle of the cards you give and receive:

Good: (Recycle)

  • Buy cards made from recycled paper and post-consumer waste
  • Avoid buying cards with foiled accents and glitter because they cannot be recycled
  • Recycle cards that you receive instead of throwing them out

Better: (Reuse)

  • Even if a card will ultimately be recycled, expand its lifecycle by reusing it first
    • The cover of the card is usually blank on its backside. Cut off the cover and write on the back to send a holiday postcard. Keep the original note sent to you, use it as scrap paper, or recycle it.
    • Put the card in a frame for seasonal decor. Keep your favorite cards to swap out throughout the year.
    • Cut out the main image and hole punch the top to make a paper ornament
    • Cut the cover into a few rectangles or other shapes to make gift tags
    • Do you have a large back-stock of greeting cards? Use several cards to create a DIY paper wreath

Best: (Refuse and Reduce)

  • Only send cards worth sending
    • I have a friend whom is the master of card giving. He writes lengthy, meaningful notes that are impossible to throw away - I cherish my collection. A generic card from the store with just your signature probably won’t be saved by the recipient.
  • If you have a tradition of sending family photos and a yearly newsletter, consider pruning your list of recipients.
    • Send an email newsletter when you can and save the hard copies for family and friends without email. Post your family photo on social media for all to enjoy and save the prints for those who truly want them and will keep them beyond when next year’s replacement arrives.
    • Eliminate the need for a yearly newsletter by making an effort to stay connected through email, social media, and phone calls all year long.
  • Feel like you need a holiday card to keep a gift card in?
    • Create even less waste by sending an e-gift card
    • Stay tuned for some future tips on alternative wrapping for gift cards
  • Not only does reducing your holiday cards help save paper, you also save money on all those high printing fees and pricey seasonal cards!

Luckily, paper is one of the most successful recycling efforts out there. Paper recycling is easily accessible and more paper is recycled than is sent to the landfill (source.) Of course, there is always room for improvement. Each year, 4.5 million tons of office paper is thrown away in the United States. The average American uses two pine trees worth of paper a year (650 lbs.) (source.) By recycling paper, you can help save 33% of the energy needed to make new paper (source.) Reusing paper before recycling it ultimately extends the life of that paper, and reducing your paper use will have the greatest impact of all.

In the remaining two weeks before Christmas, I hope to post a few other holiday waste tips. Next, I’ll be tackling some alternatives to wrapping paper and paper gift bags.