Give a Better Gift

By Cynthia Ramnarace for Green Goes Simple

When I was a child, my sister and I treated piles of torn Christmas wrapping paper as if they were freshly fallen leaves — running through them, jumping on them and then helping to throw them in the trash. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember the days before recycling bins.)

Now that I have my own kids, Christmas mornings are still known for their piles of spent paper. I know all this holiday waste isn’t good for the environment, and it always makes me feel a little eco-guilt. So this year I made a plan based on a simple question: How can I waste less stuff?

Try these easy ideas for minimizing your family’s holiday waste:

Reusable Bags
Instead of wrapping presents, I’m buying a few dozen blank canvas grocery bags. My daughter Mira, 6, will love using fabric paint to personalize each one!

Recycled Gift Tags
Gift cards are lovely, but they hit the recycling bin once the holiday is over. Not this year! I plan to cut out designs from last year’s cards to reuse as gift tags. As for the cards I send, I’m going to send greeting cards with imbedded seeds that can be planted in your garden and sprout flowers come spring. (Check out the cards from the Greenfield Paper Company

Green Gift Wrap
Giving Grandma a sweater? Why wrap the garment box? Instead, I’ll tape the sides shut and glue one of my kids’ many pieces of artwork to the center.

Natural Ornaments
A few tree ornaments will inevitably break each year. In the past, I always bought new ones to replace them. But I love this idea from foodie and mom Damaris Santos-Palmer: Dry orange slices in the oven and then hang them from your tree. “They look like beautiful stained glass,” says Santos-Palmer. “After we’re finished with the season, we just put it in our compost bin. Done.”

What I love most about these ideas isn’t that they reduce holiday waste — although that’s great! It’s that my kids can help me accomplish them. I can’t wait to see those orange slices shining on my tree, breathe in their scent, and tell my kids: “Hey, we made that!”

Photo Credit: ©

Cynthia Ramnarace is a freelance writer in Queens, N.Y. She is a regular contributor to and AARP Bulletin. Her work also appears frequently in American Baby and Kiwi magazines.



  1. 1

    Love this post and all the cool ideas. This will definitely be a greener holiday for us.

  2. 2
    Jamie Brigham says:

    I can say we have used the same ornaments for the last 30 years lol minus buying a few bulbs here and there. I never thought of using the old gift cards as gift tags, that is a great idea. I do use wrapping paper but I did find recycled wrapping paper for the gifts and we will be recycling all the wrapping paper. Some of my 18 month old sons gifts won’t be wrapped but better yet completely assembled before Christmas woohooo

  3. 3

    Thanks for the ideas!! I keep ALL of my gift bags (for all occasions and reuse them! I also keep all the tissue and have them organized by color. I will never have to buy these items EVER again.

  4. 4

    I got paper through a company called Cascades this year. It’s made of recycled material.

    I also got a corrugated Christmas tree there and I love it!

  5. 5

    As I read this post-Christmas it has given me ideas on how to be green with all the wrap, cards, and presents. I’m sure to have a much more greener holiday this year. Plus, I can’t wait to hear more ideas too throughout the year. That would be so helpful.

  6. 6
    Sari Berry says:

    These are great ideas – I love the idea of personalizing the reusable shopping bags!

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