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30+ Eco-Friendly Tips For A Sustainable Holiday

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us!

Unfortunately, it’s also the most wasteful. 

Americans create 25% more waste during the holiday season, which amounts to a million extra tons of garbage every week.

The food, the travel, and the gifts all end up hurting our planet. Food goes to the landfills, where it actually doesn’t get decomposed. Traveling creates carbon emissions, and thousands of miles of wrapping paper get discarded. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not saying you should stop celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m the first one who would never be able to do that. But, what I decided to do this year is to have a sustainable holiday celebration. That way, I can enjoy my holidays guilt-free, knowing I’m doing my best to help the environment. 

Here’s a list of all tips and tricks that I’m personally implementing this year in my holiday celebrations.

30+ Eco-Friendly Tips for a Sustainable Holiday Season 

Green Shopping Tips

1. Shop Locally

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.

2. Be Careful With Online Shopping

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.

3. Don’t Panic Buy

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.

Trivia

Holiday waste is 25 million tons of garbage, which amounts to one million extra tons per week during the holiday season.

Sustainable Holiday Tips

Green Gifts for Your Loved Ones

4. Buy Eco-Friendly Gifts

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, here’s my selection of the best 34 gifts, which includes sustainable gifts for her, him, and every person in your family.

5. Gifts That Encourage Others to Make Less Waste

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.

6. Give Vintage Gifts

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.

7. Make Your Own Gifts

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.

8. Use Technology

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.

9. Use Recyclable Wrapping Paper

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.

Trivia
The amount of wrapping paper used for Christmas gifts is enough to wrap the plant nine times. 23 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in a landfill every year.

10. Don’t Use Cheap Stocking Stuffers

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.

11. Re-Gift

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.

Trivia
One in 10 Christmas gifts ends up in a landfill. Millions of people throw away Christmas gifts instead of returning or re-gifting them.

Green Decors: Celebration and Sustainability Play Together!

12. Use Solar Decorations

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. Choose between candy cane lights or a snowman, Santa Claus, and a reindeer pack

13. Recycle or Reduce Your Old Lights

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.

Solar Christmas Decorations

14. Use Candles

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. 

15. Repurpose Christmas Lights

If you’ve got some burned 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.

16. Use Natural Decorations

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.

17. Make Edible Ornaments!

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.

18. Make Your Own Table Centerpiece

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.

19. Artificial vs. Real Christmas Tree 

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 real 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.

20. Buy a Potted Christmas Tree

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.

Trivia

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.

21. Donate Your Old Christmas Tree

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.

Green Food and Dining for a Sustainable Holiday Feast

22. Buy Locally Grown Food

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.

Tips to Reduce Food Waste

23. Plan the Menu in Advance

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.

24. Save a Turkey

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.

25. Use the Leftovers

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.

26. Donate

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.

27. Get Eco-Friendly Drinks

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. 

28. Get Sustainable Food Storage

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.

29. Don’t Use Disposable Plastic and Cutlery

I know how tempting it is to use paper 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.

Or, here’s how I solved this issue. I found some reusable bamboo cutlery, compostable plates made of sugar cane fibers, and reusable cups.

Other Green Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday

30. Offset Holiday Travel Emissions

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.

31. Recycle Old Electronic Devices

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. 

32. Clean the House With Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

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.

Here’s what I chose this year: bamboo cleaning brush and multi-surface wipes.

33. Donate to an Environmental Cause

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.

Let’s Have A Sustainable Holiday Season!

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.

Marina is passionate about sustainability and works to help ensure our planet stays as our home for a long time. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and not buying single-use plastic. When not writing, she can be found with her nose stuck in a book or trying out new baking recipes.


2 Comments on “30+ Eco-Friendly Tips For A Sustainable Holiday

  1. Pingback: 20+ Thoughtful & Eco-Friendly Mother’s Day Gifts (2022)

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