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Gift Outside the Box

The amount of household waste in the U.S. increases an average of 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day ( EPA). Wrapping paper, decorations, packaging, and leftover food (and sometimes even the gifts we buy), often don’t last long and end up in the waste stream.



The Gift Greener Challenge

Together, we can reduce waste, save energy and build a strong local economy by updating our gifting habits. For an environmentally friendly holiday season, we encourage you to Gift Outside the Box!

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and our partners challenge you to reduce waste by thinking differently about how you shop for and give gifts. Gift greener and reduce waste year-round by following our shopping guide below. More ideas to green the holidays beyond gifting.


Five Ways to Gift Outside the Box


Gift Experiences

Not everything of value comes inside of a box. Some of the best gifts are those that bring families and friends together, enrich us, and allow us to experience something new.

That’s why we challenge you to Gift Experiences. Buy your mom those cooking classes she always wanted, give your best friend tickets for you to go ice skating together, or give your son tickets to his favorite musician.

Gift experiences artwork


Gift Active Experiences


Gift Skill-Building Experiences

  • Montgomery Parks class: They have everything from tai chi and tennis to botanical drawing/painting classes, photography classes, and more
  • Cooking classes
  • Language classes
  • Music lessons


Gift "Get Your Hands Dirty" Experiences
  • Reserve a community garden plot for the upcoming growing season
  • Art classes


Gift Fun Together Experiences

Cut out a gift certificate custom made for the holiday season. Tell someone you are gifting them an experience or something green. Print this PDF certificate

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Gift Greener

Hearing “gift green” might make you think of giving out money as a gift. To us, gifting green means thinking about the impact to the environment of what we buy, as well as, how we buy our gifts.

This year, we challenge you to reduce your environmental footprint when buying gifts.


Green What You Buy


Green How You Buy Gifts

  • Always bring your reusable bag! Save .05 cents and keep plastic out of our streams by bringing reusable bags to shops, grocery stores, the mall and outlets. For more information about the Montgomery County bag law, please visit
  • Look for the minimal packaging on items. A lot of unnecessary waste is from plastic and foam packaging
  • Plan your shopping in advance to save you money and gas. Map out your routes to try to minimize your drive time. If possible, carpool with a friend or take public transit
  • When shipping gifts, use ground shipping – it uses less fuel then air-shipping
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Buy Local

Giving greener does not mean you stop giving all together. It’s about making a conscious choice to think about the impact of your buying power. Where and how you spend your money has power and that is no better expressed then buying local.

When you visit County businesses and purchase gifts made locally, you are helping to improve our area economy and support jobs. Plus, you’re helping the environment by reducing fuel. It’s a win – win!

Buy local artwork



Show Your Power. Buy Local.

Cut out a gift certificate custom made for this campaign Print this PDF certificate

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Give to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Reduce Waste, Reuse Materials, Recycle More and Buy Recycled!

Give the 3Rs

  • Shop for gifts made from recycled or reused materials
  • Make it unique and get crafty! Create gifts yourself with reused items, such as personalize a picture frame or sew a customized gift
  • Buy gifts that help reduce waste in the future, like a reusable coffee mug, a lunch bag or a starter kit for canning or pickling at home
  • Rethink hand-me-downs. Create a dress up kit or an arts and crafts “idea box”
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle artwork


Gift Wrapping

  • Make the gift wrap part of the gift – jewelry fastened to a scarf, cookies on a ceramic plate, gardening tools in a planter, or plants in a wicker basket
  • For oversized or bulky gift items such as bicycles, sports equipment, or artwork, simply tie a reusable ribbon or bow around them
  • Reuse newspapers, comics, magazines, outdated maps or gift bags for wrapping presents
  • Wrap only the top of boxes, rather than the entire box
  • Gift gifts in reusable bags
  • Skip holiday or season-specific wrapping paper. That way you can reuse the wrapping paper. (Tip: Have scissors or letter openers handy when opening gifts so paper doesn’t get damaged when removing tape.)
  • If you use wrapping paper, be sure to buy wrapping paper made from recycled paper
  • Reuse packing cartons, cardboard boxes, and shipping materials such as plastic air pillows, shredded paper or newspaper and bubble wrap. Donate excess packaging materials to local mailing centers
  • If you have wrapping paper or cardboard boxes that can no longer be used, recycle them. Be sure to put them in your mixed paper recycling bin or cart, and recycle them in the County’s recycling program
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Give Back

Dollar-for-dollar, no gift has greater positive impact than giving to charity in someone’s name. It’s a double gift – in one action you are letting your friend or family member know that the community will be improved thanks to them AND you’ll be supporting a local charity. It embodies the true spirit of the holidays.

Give back artwork


Give Back Ideas

  • Give a financial contribution to a charity. If your office has a giving campaign, use that as the opportunity to find a charity
  • Attend an alternative gift fair. Alternative gift fairs connect you with charities in a market-like atmosphere. Find a local fair at  Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington
  • Volunteer in someone’s name (invite them to come with you too!) Find volunteer opportunities on the Volunteer Center website
  • Invite someone over to make food with you to donate to charity. You’ll spend time with them and help those in need
  • Baby sit for an evening and give those tired parents a break and a night on the town
  • Gift and give. For each present you give, gift to charity too
  • For over 30 years, the Holiday Giving Project (HGP) of Montgomery County has provided Thanksgiving and December holiday assistance to low-income households. If you would like to help a family in need this holiday season, please email the Holiday Giving Project at OR contact the Montgomery County Volunteer Center at
  • Give the gift of life. Donate blood at the NIH Blood Bank.


Cut out a gift certificate custom made for the holiday season. Tell someone you are gifting them a volunteer experience. Print this PDF certificate

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Go Further This Holiday Season

There are even more ways to go green this holiday season:


Switch to LEDS for your holiday lighting to save energy and money. Recycle older holiday light strings by bringing them to several retail locations, or mail them to holiday light recycling programs.
Holiday lights


Christmas Trees and Wreaths

Properly recycle Christmas Trees and wreaths. County residents of single-family homes and townhomes can recycle Christmas trees and wreaths at the curb on their regular recycling collection day.

Live Christmas tree branches and pine needles can also be recycled at home by placing them under trees and shrubs or adding them to a compost bins. Before doing so, remove the stand and all decorations – including lights, ornaments, and tinsel, and leave no metal attached to the tree.

Holiday tree and wreath


Unwanted Mail

Reduce unwanted mail by opting out of catalogues and print advertisements through Catalog Choice and DMAChoice.
Unwanted mail and catalog


Party planning

  • Send electronic event invitations, rather than paper ones
  • Make creative centerpieces and decorations
  • Use durable, reusable dishes, tablecloths and cloth napkins rather than disposable items. If you do decide to use disposable, try buying ones that are 100% recycled or compostable
  • Turn down your heat a degree or two before your guests arrive. They will generate enough body heat to help keep your home at a comfortable temperature
  • If there is snow or ice on the ground, try using non-toxic de-icing substances like sand or even clean cat litter. Using chemical deicers can harm both your pets and your vegetation
  • Encourage carpooling
Party planning


  • Don’t throw out leftovers. Put them in reusable containers for guests to take home with them to enjoy later
  • Avoid buying individually packaged beverages, and purchase food items in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging
  • Make sure to put recycling and even compost containers in a location where your guests can easily find and identify them
  • The USDA estimates that between 30-40% of of the food supply in the United States is wasted. This holiday season, think about donating your untouched leftovers from holiday parties to a local homeless shelter or food bank
  • Practice portion control to reduce the food waste. The Food Network came out with a Thanksgiving dinner portion planner (applicable to other holidays as well) to help you take the guesswork out of how much food to cook
  • Holiday cooking can generate many types of items such as bottles, jars, cans and containers that can be recycled in the County’s recycling program. Before recycling them, consider whether any of them can be reused for storing leftovers. Or, repurpose them to hold flowers or centerpieces! Be sure to recycle all the rest in your commingled container recycling bin
Plates and glasses

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Gift Greener Partners

If you would like to join this list of amazing partners and promote the Gift Outside the Box campaign, email us at


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Upcoming Events

Our reusable bag giveaway events were a success! Check out the DEP calendar for more events.

Contact Us

For more information, contact us at

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