By Jill Hollowell, Environmental Specialist for Meramec Regional Planning Commission

ST. JAMES—As we plan for new ways to celebrate the upcoming holidays, it is also a special time to contemplate how we may better care for what’s important, such as caring for our collective home, our Earth. A shocking statistic shows that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, waste increases by about 25 percent in the United States – 1 million tons of trash a week is sent “away” to our landfills.

Let’s take steps to reduce the amount of holiday waste consisting of food waste, packaging, plastic, wrapping paper, bows and ribbon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans discard an estimated 38,000 miles of ribbon. That’s enough ribbon to wrap around our planet.

In our family, we laugh about how some bows and paper have been around for over 15 years. We carefully handle and store and reuse all holiday wrapping items. This year, let’s Rethink our habits and get creative! Here are some tips for reducing your holiday waste:

  • Reduce. Use creative materials to wrap gifts, such as old maps, colorful cloth or renew gift bags with last year’s holiday cards.
  • Reuse. Save scraps of ribbon, string, pretty boxes and bags; get creative with packaging or reuse shipping materials.
  • Rethink. Purchase gift wrap that can be recycled and avoid gift wraps with plastic coatings, glitter or foil.

Recycling guidelines for wrapping paper varies based on the service provider. For example, if you live in Rolla, wrapping paper may not be recycled curbside. If you are using the Rolla drop-off recycling facility, and you are absolutely certain the wrapping paper is recyclable, it may be included in the mixed paper bins.

Most wrapping paper and specifically foil, glitter-decorated paper and tissue paper can never be recycled and must be sent to the landfill. The reason most wrapping paper and tissue paper cannot be recycled is because it is low-quality paper that paper mills won’t accept. Trying to recycle it only reduces the value of the paper it is mixed in with and may result in an entire load being rejected and landfilled.

Another way to reduce holiday waste is considering how much food is going into your garbage can. Shocking but true, 30 percent of all food in America is wasted. We can do better and it starts with simple food management awareness.

Waste reduction strategies may include the following:

  • Tend your refrigerator.  Move items that need to be eaten to the front to avoid waste and tag them with a sticky note – Eat Me First.
  • Accommodate late night refrigerator raiders by communicating that leftovers are kept in a designated area of the refrigerator. Again, try using signage.
  • Feed the Earth, not landfills!  Learn how to compost food scraps through a comprehensive YouTube video, Compost Mechanics by Eco-Troubadour Stan Slaughter.

Can you imagine how much money is wasted when food goes uneaten or rots away? The average U.S. family throws away an average of $1,800 a year in food waste. But that can change through these simple steps:

  • Learn correct methods for storing food by visiting and try storage techniques like treating herbs like flowers and keeping them in a jar of water.
  • Freeze your leftovers for when you have the time to prepare a second meal and use leftover recipe ideas from
  • Make a shopping list and do shop your refrigerator first to avoid purchasing duplicates.

These are just a few ways that you can reduce our holiday waste. Another way is to declare yourself as a waste-wise ambassador and share these ideas with friends and family. The best way to usher in change is through having conversations about your success.

All we have comes from the Earth. Let’s return our gratitude this holiday season by wasting less and recycling more.

For further information on waste reduction and recycling, please visit Ozark Rivers Solid Waste Management District’s website at or contact Jill Hollowell by email at or by phone at 573-265-2993.