We MUST curb our wasteful holiday celebration behaviors. GreenCitizen identifies 30+ sustainable holiday tips to promote eco-conscious holiday celebrations in this guide.
It's that magical time of year again!
But here's the catch – it's also when we tend to be a bit too generous with our waste. Did you know that during the holiday season, we Americans throw away 25% more stuff?
That's like adding a whopping one million extra tons of trash each week!
Think about it — all the festive food, those long journeys to see family, and the mountains of gift wrap. Sadly, most of this ends up harming our lovely planet. Leftover turkey and pie? They're not just going to waste; they don't properly break down in landfills.
And all that traveling?
It's like we're giving Mother Nature a giant carbon footprint for Christmas. Plus, let's not even get started on the crazy amount of wrapping paper we toss.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we cancel Thanksgiving or Christmas — trust me, I'd be the last person to give up holiday celebrations!
But this year, I've decided to try something different. I'm aiming for a sustainable holiday season. This way, I can still bask in the holiday cheer without guilt, knowing I'm doing my bit for the environment.
So, here's my personal guide to a greener holiday. These are the sustainable holiday tips and tricks I'm using to make my celebrations more eco-friendly.
Holidays are traditionally when people shop the most. While this is good for the vendors, it’s not so good for the environment.
Here’s how I did my holiday shopping to make it more eco-friendly.
First of all, shop close to home, or go to an area where there are a lot of stores close to each other. If you can, carpool with friends and family or use public transportation. This will lower down transportation emissions.
You should also bring your own reusable tote bag and avoid using plastic bags for your purchases.
Shopping online can be tricky. On the one hand, you’re reducing your carbon footprint, as you won’t have to drive to different stores and various parts of your city to find that perfect gift.
But, there’s a catch...
Online shopping is accompanied by delivery and tons of plastic wrapping and packaging, which isn’t always the most sustainable choice.
For example, think about emissions one delivery truck will create to get that Christmas sweater to you.
To cut down on delivery emissions, don’t choose expedited/overnight shipping and buy from companies that offer sustainable packaging.
Another thing to consider is how long your purchase will travel to get to you. If you can choose between several vendors, go for one that sells products made locally or is located close to you to lower the carbon footprint.
Make a list of all the people you have to get gifts for, think about what you should get, and start shopping on time.
Don’t fall victim to seemingly amazing deals that get you to spend money on things that won’t make a good gift. Try to personalize your presents as much as possible. One impactful present will mean more than several disposable and generic ones.
If you get off work earlier, use the time and go browsing. Don’t wait until a week before Christmas when the stores are crowded, and a lot of the good things are already gone.
While you can never be 100% sure the other person will love your gift, go the eco-friendly route, so even if your gift gets tossed, it won’t hurt our planet.
This year, I chose gifts made from recycled materials and items made with organic and fair trade principles.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, I have written a blog on sustainable holiday gift ideas.
My grandma is pretty set in her ways and doesn’t pay much attention when I try to get her to change some of her habits and make them more eco-friendly.
So this year, I’ve got a trick up my sleeve. I gifted her a cookbook for Thanksgiving leftovers. To say it was a hit would be an understatement. She hasn’t stopped raving about it and trying out different recipes.
If you have someone like this in your family, or just want to educate someone, consider giving them a gift that will change their habits.
This can be a book about creating crafts from reusable items or a reusable carry-out container. The options are endless.
Vintage gifts are an excellent way to reuse old items.
Check if there are any thrift stores in your town, or search the Facebook Community Group.
You may end up with cool vintage toys, cameras, books, clothing, musical instruments, and many more.
YouTube and Pinterest are overflowing with ideas for making your own gifts. This can be food, for example, cookies, cakes, bread and more.
You can use beeswax paper to wrap it in. It’s reusable and sustainable and holds up to a year.
Or, you can be crafty and knit a scarf, hat, or mittens.
Use your artistic side and paint a watercolor, or make your own jewelry. Your loved ones will cherish this for years to come.
My personal favorite was repurposing old items to make something new, such as a glass jar into a plant pot.
Gift smartphone apps to kids in your family.
Certificates are also a great idea, but see if they are available in an online version, such as museum and concert tickets, theaters, restaurants, and other digital gift cards.
This way, your loved ones will get something they really like, and it’s easy to store and use online.
Finally, send digital Christmas cards, and lower the number of trees cut down each year for holiday cards.
Here’s a recyclable wrapping paper with snowflakes and Christmas trees that’s guaranteed to make your gifts stand out. You can put some twine and a sprig of pine to make it more special.
You can also check if you have some old wrapping paper leftover from last year.
Or use magazines, newspapers, and posters. Even old calendars can make fun wrapping paper.
Another thing I did was make the wrapping part of a gift. My mom’s an avid gardener, so I gave her a gardening pot filled with gardening supplies without any extra wrapping needed.
Stockings are often filled with plastic items that get broken, lost, or end up in the garbage.
Instead, fill the stockings with small, carefully chosen gifts that won’t end up as waste.
This can be anything from edible treats to eco-friendly ornaments. You can transform the stockings from wasteful to sustainable.
Repeat after me: there’s no shame in re-gifting, especially if you know the other person will love and use the present much more than you.
So, if your best friend is an avid reader, gift that YA book you aren’t interested in.
LED lights are 90% more efficient than traditional Christmas lights. Not to mention they last longer, so you’ll be sending fewer Christmas string lights to the landfill.
Even better, buy solar-powered LED lights. These will use solar energy to charge during the day and shine throughout the night. You can put them on a timer to save more energy and watch your utility bill go down.
Solar lights are guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit. Plus, there are many solar Christmas decoration options in the market right now. Choose between candy cane lights or a snowman, Santa Claus, and a reindeer pack.
Don’t send your old lights to the landfill. Instead, recycle them at the local scrap metal dealer, or use Home Depot’s program, which gives a holiday light exchange.
This way, you can get new lights for your home at no additional cost.
You can even hang less lights.
Fewer lights are better for the nightlife, and chances are the only person who’ll notice fewer lights is you.
You can even go light-free and use reflective ornaments and candles for the holiday atmosphere.
Paraffin candles can be cancerogenic, so choose organic, beeswax, soy, or vegetable wax.
They will smell good and provide a cozy holiday ambiance.
If you’ve got some burned Christmas light bulbs, use them to make decorations. These will be colorful and in line with the holiday spirit.
Here’s what I did —
I filled the bulbs with water and hung them upside down on a wall.
Then I put some holly, poinsettia, and mistletoe in them.
Don’t use plastic decorations that you’ll throw away after the holiday season.
Instead, take a walk outside, and gather some pinecones, evergreen branches, or get real plants, flowers, berries, and more. You can use the pinecones and leaves to decorate the holiday table.
Find a glass jar and put some stones and sticks in it. Then string lights around it. Use twigs, herbs, and flowers to make natural ornaments.
You can compost these after the holidays or return them to nature.
Gather your family and make some edible ornaments. Your little ones will love it, I guarantee.
You can make a popcorn wreath or string together popcorn and cranberries. Or use seed bells and pinecones with peanut butter.
You can even hang these in your yard and give the local wildlife a tasty holiday treat.
I know the Target offer is so tempting, but what about after the holidays and next year?
There’s no need to buy a new tabletop decor every season.
Instead, you can make your own by reusing some old things, such as glass jars, paper, ribbons, and more.
An artificial tree might seem like a better choice. And, if you get a high-quality faux tree and use it for decades, then yes, you’ll be right. But, if you buy a new plastic tree every couple of years, not so much.
That’s essentially plastic, which will take forever to decompose and can’t be recycled.
Instead, go for a live Christmas tree.
But, be careful when you choose. Not all living trees are equal either.
Some tree sellers use up to 40 different pesticides and chemical colorants. Before you purchase, ask the seller about their growing practices, and buy an eco-friendly Christmas tree from a sustainable farm if you can.
A potted Christmas tree can live in your home or backyard year-round. Or, you can plant it after the holidays and watch your holiday tree grow every year.
120 million trees are cut for Christmas across the world, which contributes to large-scale deforestation.10 million Christmas trees end up in a landfill every year.
Responsibly disposing of a tree can be really challenging, especially if you live in an urban area.
The good thing is that many municipalities offer solutions to your tree dilemma. Check if any local programs are available, such as donating your tree to less fortunate families or turning the tree into mulch or wood chips.
Maybe you can even find an environmental project like streambank stabilization.
Go to the farmers’ market and buy food grown locally. Better yet, get organic food. You’ll be supporting local farmers and eating food that didn’t create a ton of carbon emissions to get to you.
Also, organic food tastes better, and it’s healthier for your family.
Think about who is coming to dinner, how many people you’ll feed, and which food your family eats every Thanksgiving, and which dishes are left untouched at the end of the table.
This way, you’ll know exactly what to make and how much food you’ll need. Make a list, and take stock of your pantry and kitchen cabinets before you go shopping, so you’ll only buy items you really need.
It requires a little more planning, but the planet will be grateful, and you won’t have to run to the store at the last minute.
Consider celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas without a turkey, and go for a greener option, such as tofurkey.
If you don’t want to go vegan or can’t convince your family to have a turkey-free holiday, there are other options as well. Buy a turkey from a local farm or an organic one from the supermarket.
Or, go for meats such as poultry, which have a smaller carbon footprint.
Leftovers are probably inevitable. However, they are a huge source of food waste all year long, and the number only goes up during the holidays.
If you can’t eat all the leftovers on your own, give them to relatives and guests to take home. Or, freeze them, and make a delicious turkey sandwich when the craving hits you.
Another solution to leftovers is to donate them. Contact your local food bank, local pantry, or housing shelters.
Note: Make sure to check before you show up with bags of food. Some places will only accept nonperishables, and some accept food prepared the day after to ensure long shelf life.
If all else fails, pack the food in a container, place it in a paper bag with the label “Christmas/Thanksgiving meal,” and place it somewhere you think people in need will find it.
Before you start sipping on your eggnog, look into where the drink comes from and how it’s made.
If you can, choose local vintners, breweries, and distilleries. Chances are, they are using fewer additives and preservatives. Maybe you’ll even find some with organic ingredients and sustainable practices. Plus, you’ll be supporting a local business.
This is another excellent way to cut down on plastic use, such as foil and plastic wraps. Go for eco-friendly food containers. Plus, these are safe to be used in a microwave.
You can use these to store your own leftovers or give some food to your guests to take home.
I know how tempting it is to use eco-friendly plates and forks, which you can just chuck in the bin — no need to slave over dirty dishes for hours.
But, as most of these can’t be recycled, they’ll end up in the landfill.
Instead, use ceramic dishes for the holiday meal. Later on, put them in the dishwasher, as modern dishwashers spend less resources than washing by hand.
Holidays are traditionally the busiest times for US airports. If you’re traveling a long way, try to reduce air travel if possible. If it can’t be avoided, check if the air company offers to plant trees to reduce the traveling impact.
Other things you can do is carpool and use public transport.
If you’re getting a new electronic device, such as a tablet, or a phone for the holidays, don’t just throw away the old one.
If it’s still working, you can resell it or donate it to someone in need.
Go to the nearest Staples store. Now, they have a Sierra Club cell phone recycling program.
Or, contact GreenCitizen and get rid of your old electronics responsibly. If you recycle, you’ll prevent hazardous elements from ending up in landfills.
If you’re anything like me, a big part of holiday preparation is cleaning the house before the guests arrive.
Cleaning supplies can lead to indoor air pollution, so find some natural and environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies.
There are countless ways to help this holiday season.
Help your community and planet by volunteering for a local river clean-up to help city kids learn and experience the outdoors.
Check for organizations and charities close to you, where you could help others have a better holiday as well.
If you switch even one wasteful practice this holiday season for an eco-friendly alternative, you’ll be making a huge impact.
No matter if it’s buying natural gifts, donating your leftovers, or going for solar decorations, there’s something each of us can do.
Don’t fall for last-minute sales and over-shop. It may not be easy, and you may feel like you’re missing out, but it’ll all be worth it, especially if you share your goals for a sustainable holiday with your family.
Stick to the tips I’ve outlined above, and you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful and eco-friendly holiday season.