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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

Celebrate a Happy and Sustainable Holiday Season

Christmas and other winter holidays bring excitement and good cheer, but they also create waste: lots of it. It’s estimated that more than 1 million extra tons of trash go to landfills each Christmas. And many celebrations increase the country’s carbon footprint. If you’re concerned about the environment, take a look at our guide to sustainable holidays.

Gifts for a sustainable holiday

Gifts are a good place to begin if you want more sustainable holidays. Here are some tips for going greener with gifts.

  • Where possible, avoid giving material gifts. Your friends and loved ones will be thrilled with experiences, so give tickets to a concert, take your nephew to the zoo or treat your cousins to a nice dinner out. Charitable donations in honor of friends and family are another no-waste gift idea.

  • If you want to give physical gifts, choose presents made of recyclable materials and avoid plastics. Try to give essentials that cut down on waste, like travel coffee mugs, stainless steel straws, reusable food storage and energy-efficient gadgets.

  • Try to give fewer gifts, and ensure they are quality items that will last.

  • Don’t forget homemade gifts like food or a hand-knit scarf. If you’re a skilled woodworker or seamstress, let your talents shine.

  • Support the sustainability of your local economy by buying gifts locally. And combine several trips into one or take mass transit when you shop.

Gift wrap

Rethink wrapping paper for more sustainable holidays. Where possible, wrap gifts in paper you already have, such as maps, brown paper bags or newspaper comics. Adorn these packages with natural materials, such as sprigs cut from a live Christmas tree. Or make the gift wrap part of the gift by wrapping items in scarves or tea towels. If you use traditional wrapping paper, make sure it’s made from recycled materials. Avoid foil paper or gift wrap with glitter, as neither is recyclable.

Sustainable Christmas trees

Three-quarters of American households put up Christmas trees, and 80 percent of those are artificial. Unfortunately, real trees are more environmentally sustainable. They provide environmental benefits while they are growing, and after you’re done with them, they can be recycled into mulch or used to prevent beach erosion. If you have an artificial tree that will someday end up in a landfill, plan on using it for 10 to 20 years to lessen its environmental impact.

By switching to LED Christmas lights, you can lower your holiday energy usage by as much as 90 percent. These lights last much longer than traditional ones, often in the trash after a year or so of use when bulbs go out. Put your lights on a timer so that they won’t use energy all night long if you forget to turn them off.

When it comes to ornaments, avoid plastics. Look for ornaments made from sustainable materials like wood, or make decorations with cranberries, popcorn or citrus slices you dry in the oven. If you like a glitzier look, look for vintage glass ornaments.


The holidays mean celebrations around the dining table. You can make your holiday dinners more sustainable by avoiding disposable plates, cups and cutlery. Rent plates and other tableware if you don’t have enough on hand. Also, avoid single-serving drinks like cans of soda or water in bottles. Cut down on waste by serving beverages from pitchers.

Cards and invitations

You can have more sustainable holidays by switching to virtual cards and invitations. You’ll create less trash and save the cost of stamps.

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