12 Days of Zero Waste

From reusable wrapping paper to a gift card to a refill store, here are twelve zero waste presents you can give to your friends and family that will reduce waste into 2024 and beyond.

Beyond plastic

Staff | TPIN
A gift card to a refill store is a great zero waste present for friends and family

Take Action

We produce a lot of waste.

This holiday season, you can give a great gift (or twelve) to your friends and family that can be reused, reducing waste in our homes and our communities.

You’ve heard the song “12 Days of Christmas.” Well, this is the 12 Days of Zero Waste.


12 Days of Zero Waste

Enjoy our Executive Director’s rendition of 12 Days of Zero Waste (to a tune you may recognize)

A gift card to a refill store

From shampoos, detergents and toothpaste to foods like oats, nuts and dried fruits, a lot of the stuff we buy comes in individual packaging.

Some of these bottles, bags, boxes and cans are not recyclable and, after a single use, head straight to the landfill. Others may be more recyclable but still consume energy to be turned into a new bottle, box or can.

Refill stores offer an opportunity to just reuse the bottles or bags we have by bringing them back in and refilling them from the bulk containers in the store.

Some refill stores focus on cleaners, personal care and beauty products. Others focus on grocery items.

I don’t get everything at a refill store. But my family uses our local refill store for dish soap, moisturizers and shampoo, avoiding using, and discarding, dozens of (often plastic) bottles a year.

Staff | TPIN
A gift card to a refill store

Two to-go containers

One of the biggest sources of trash in my week is to-go containers from restaurants. Whether I order in or have leftovers from a restaurant, those to-go containers can add up.

Some are recyclable or even compostable (check out our resource on what’s recyclable/compostable here).

But whether it’s recyclable or not, there is an alternative to using something once to carry my food for a few minutes, and then recycling or trashing it. Reusable to-go containers.

I’ve got a set of to-go containers that I bring with me when I go out to eat. I like my glass ones the most because then I can microwave the food in the same container the next day. My family has even gotten in the habit of leaving a few to-go containers in the trunk of our car so we can run out and grab them when we finishing our meal at a restaurant.



Staff | TPIN
A glass to-go food container

Three coffee mugs

Whether we’re stopping for a coffee, a tea or a hot chocolate (with marshmallows and whipped cream of course), my family can go through a lot of disposable cups.

Having a set of reusable mugs and cups can reduce the number of disposables we toss by hundreds over the course of a year.

Our insulated reusable cups and mugs can also keep our drinks warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer versus the disposables we are given.

Staff | TPIN
Two reusable coffee containers

Four tote bags

A significant source of plastic pollution is single-use plastic bags. We estimate that Coloradans were going through around 4.6 million plastic bags A DAY before the pandemic.

Every one of those bags will be around for hundreds of years. It doesn’t make sense to use something once, to carry a few items, that will then pollute our planet for centuries.

My family has a set of tote bags (we love our cloth ones the best) by the door and in our car so we can skip the disposable bag at the register. Our bags are much sturdier as well.

Staff | TPIN
Reusable bags

Five stainless steel straws

We love boba. And smoothies. And juices. And soda. And water.

And it seems every time we order a drink it comes with a (mostly plastic) straw.

We’ve found a couple of reusable straws fits nicely in a bag or purse and helps us avoid wasting hundreds of disposable straws a year.

You can get bamboo or a reusable plastic straws but my family’s favorite are the metal straws.

Staff | TPIN
Reusable metal straws

Six shampoo bars

Shampoo (and conditioner) bottles used to be another major source of trash in my family.

Now we use shampoo bars.

Increasingly you can find them at markets – when you buy directly from the source they don’t come wrapped in plastic or even a box.

You can also find them at refill stores and other retailers.

Staff | TPIN
A shampoo bar

Seven veggie bags

One trip to the grocery store can easily result in 5-7 plastic bags to carry our fruits and vegetables.

I’ve tried reusing those plastic bags but they’re not designed for it.

Thankfully, there are bags designed specifically to carry veggies and fruits (and maintain their freshness in your refrigerator better than a plastic bag).

We’ve got a variety – some a thin mesh, some a bit hardier. To maximize the freshness of your produce you can research which kinds of bags work best.

Once these bags are empty, we toss them in the laundry and then put them in our reusable totes by the door so they are ready to go for the next trip to the grocery store.

Staff | TPIN
A reusable, mesh produce bag

Eight cloth napkins

When it comes to napkins, our family goes through a lot of them.

That is, until, we got cloth napkins.

Depending on the meal and the day, each cloth napkin in our house can get 1-4 uses before it needs a cleaning. That’s when we toss them in the laundry and pull out the next set.

Our cloth napkins have lasted years, reducing the amount of disposable napkins we would have needed to buy, which not only saves us money but reduces the pressure to log our forests so we have something to wipe our face.

We also love that our napkins have colors and designs – making it even easier to designate a specific pattern for a specific person in the family (I’m currently the red fish napkin).


Staff | TPIN
A set of cloth napkins

A set of cutlery

Sometimes you take food to go but you’re not heading home. That means you’re going to need forks, spoons or even a knife.

We’ve got a set of wooded cutlery that rolls up nicely in a bag, allowing us to avoid the plastic (and unrecyclable) cutlery that most restaurants give out.

Not only is this a great way for us to reduce waste, but it can save money when we reduce the need for restaurants to supply cutlery (and to-go containers, and napkins, etc) and pass those costs on to us.

Staff | TPIN
A reusable, wood cutlery set

Reusable wrapping paper

I love giving gifts to my family. But after the tsunami of gift unwrapping, we’re left with piles of wrapping paper and ties that go right into the trash can.

So a few years ago we cut up some old T-shirts, decorated them and made our own reusable wrapping paper.

Our family still gets to unwrap their presents and after, the wrapping gets refolded for the next gift giving.

One bonus – the creation of the reusable wrapping paper was a great family activity.

Staff | TPIN
Reusable wrapping paper made from old T-shirts.

My cell phone screen fixed

Cell phones have come a long way. But that doesn’t mean I need a new one every year.

And the cost of constantly replacing our cell phones is large (not just in what we spend but the environmental impact of a growing electronic waste stream).

That said, sometimes something breaks or cracks.

Not every phone company makes it easy to fix (and some go out of their way to make it hard) but it’s silly to replace our electronics if they work fine otherwise.

So, try looking up how to fix it on a site like iFixit (they can help you fix a lot of different electronics) and give the gift of a repaired phone they already know and love.

Staff | TPIN
Fixing the screen of a cell phone can avoid having to buy a whole new one

My favorite coat patched

I love my blue rain coat. But one day my sleeve got caught on a branch and I ripped a hole in it.

It seemed silly to buy a whole new coat when I still loved this one.

So my wife patched it for me as a gift.

We’ve got a local outdoor recreation store near us that offers patch services.

Now I’m back out on the trails with my favorite coat.

The fashion industry produces a lot of waste – enough to fill the Mall of the Americas every six days.

But I think a lot of people are like me – they’d appreciate a gift that isn’t always the newest item, but something they love that has been repaired and restored.

Staff | TPIN
Patching a hole in a rain coat can extend its use

Danny Katz

Executive Director, CoPIRG Foundation

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.

Find Out More