Holidays are a time of joy, celebration, and coming together. They’re also a time of indulgence and overspending – whether it’s food, gifts, or decorations, the holidays lead to increased overconsumption and waste.
From the period between Thanksgiving to New Year’s, Americans throw away 25% more trash than during any other time of year. Let’s explore some ways to be more sustainable during the holiday season.
A List of How to Make the Holiday Celebrations More Sustainable
Here are 12 easy ways you can make the holiday season more eco-friendly.
A thoughtful gift that took time and effort to find by browsing secondhand, thrift, or vintage stores can be more meaningful than something brand new. Similarly, focus on quality over quantity: a special, well-made gift that will last a long time is better than a bunch of cheap new items that are poorly made and quickly break and fall apart.
Whether it’s old books or vintage clothing, shopping secondhand gives new life to old items and can lead to all kinds of treasures you’d never find new.
Buying less and avoiding new items places a check on overconsumption and minimizes your impact. It can help you shop small and shop local, supporting businesses in your area and avoiding the shipping that comes with online purchases.
Find Alternative Gift Wrapping
Most wrapping paper is not recyclable because it’s made of mixed materials. As a result, a lot of it ends up in the trash and eventually in landfills. While wrapping paper can be saved and reused, this is not always easy as the paper often gets ripped.
Opt for fabric, boxes, and bags that are less likely to be damaged, making it easier to reuse next season. Choose ribbons and string made from natural materials like hemp, wool, or jute, and use them to tie wrapping, so you can avoid hard-to-recycle plastic ribbons and bows, as well as tape, which is also plastic.
Keep it natural by using toppers like mistletoe, pinecones, and holly that can be composted, instead of plastic toppers that end up in the trash.
From wasting the resources it takes to grow and distribute food to releasing methane in landfills when it’s tossed, food waste has many negative environmental impacts. The holiday season exacerbates these impacts as tons of turkey, gravy, baked goods, and bread are chucked out.
One of the reasons the holidays create so much food waste, is overcatering. Avoid buying and preparing too much food by carefully planning your menu and your shopping list. Know your guests’ dietary preferences and restrictions, and prioritize food that can be stored for longer, like cookies rather than trifle.
Avoid stuff completely by gifting an experience instead. This is especially useful for the people in your life who are settled in their homes or live minimalist lifestyles. There are so many ideas to choose from: gift a cooking class, a hot-air balloon ride, a spa session, or theater tickets.
If you’re on a budget, make gift cards offering to cover errands and chores like babysitting, car washing, or doing the grocery shopping. This is also a very thoughtful gift, because you can tailor it to the person and show not only that you know them but that you listen to them.
Returning items can be a wasteful and destructive habit that only gets worse during the festive season. If a gift you received is not you, rather regift it. You can even save it for later, for a birthday or another holiday – just make sure you remember who gave it to you, so you don’t accidentally give it back to them. To avoid buying gifts that will be returned, find out what people would like.
If you don’t want to ask them directly, check out their social media pages or their wish lists on shopping sites. Plan your gifts and avoid last-minute shopping, as this can lead to grabbing unwanted or unnecessary items.
Along with considering how much food you prepare, think about what kind of food you’re preparing. Buying locally-produced, seasonal food helps reduce the energy spent on growing food out of season; and when it’s local, it reduces the distance it needs to travel.
A plant-based diet can have a lower environmental impact, so consider adding more plant-based dishes to your holiday menu. Choose organic where possible. Organic food is grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, keeping toxic chemicals out of the air, water, and soil. Use real plates, glasses, and cutlery instead of single-use items.
Make Your Own Decorations
Making your own decorations cuts down on the waste and emissions that come with buying new products. Like making your own gifts, it gives you control over the materials used.
Craft decorations out of empty cereal boxes and egg cartons or use compostable items like popcorn or cranberries to make garlands. Or consider making a festive wreath! It’s a fun way to spend time with family and friends, preparing for the holidays.
Making gifts yourself is very special as well, because it also takes time, effort, and thought. It’s more eco-friendly, because you are able to control the materials and processes. You can upcycle old clothes into new gifts, like turning old jeans into a denim tote or making earrings out of bottle caps. If you love cooking or baking, bake cookies or whip up sauces and place them in reusable tins and jars.
Wrap a bow around it and you have a delicious, handmade gift. There are many other gifts you can make at home, from soaps and candles to infused oils and gins. If you don’t bake, cook, or craft, you can still assemble a gift yourself. Reuse bottles and jars by filling them with your loved one’s favorite chocolates and candy.
Handmade decorations become even more eco-friendly if you can keep them and reuse them year after year. Practice the same mindfulness with new decorations. If you’re buying them from stores or ordering online, invest in high-quality, well-made decorations using durable and sustainable materials like wood or porcelain.
These items can become very special as you pass them down from generation to generation, acting as keepsakes that will always evoke memories of Christmases past. That being said, even plastic items like tinsel and baubles can be used time and again, if you store them carefully.
Decorate an Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree
Artificial trees are usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can affect indoor air quality, but there are options that are non-toxic or even PVC-free. Investing in an artificial tree enables you to use it year after year, instead of cutting down a tree every season. If you’d rather have a real tree, make sure it has been sustainably sourced or consider renting one.
Another alternative is avoiding a traditional tree altogether. Instead, get creative by using a wire-frame tree, or stacking items and materials like books, wooden blocks, pinecones, or succulents into the shape of a Christmas tree. Whatever type of tree you choose, if you’re lighting it up, use LED lights and switch them off overnight or when you’re away, to conserve energy.
Take an Eco-Friendly Vacation
Celebrate the holidays at home. Doing this cuts down on all the waste and emissions that come with going away. If you are traveling, keep it eco-friendly by packing a reusable set of cutlery, cups, and straws, and take a reusable water bottle along. And consider off-setting your carbon footprint.
Book a local holiday, to make the distance you need to travel shorter. Wherever you are, try to use public transport, walk, or ride a bike to get around. Visit lesser-known places, especially when it comes to nature. Many popular natural spots are being devastated due to heavy human traffic.
Once you’ve unwrapped your last gift, taken your final bite of turkey, and turned off the Christmas lights, be mindful of how you dispose of waste. If there’s leftover food, store it in reusable containers and covers instead of using clingfilm. If there is too much food for your household, send leftovers home with your guests. Alternatively, donate it to a shelter.
If you have a real tree, plant or compost it. Recycle or compost decorations, gift boxes, bags, and holiday toppers or, even better, store them to be reused next year.
Hopefully with these tips you’re able to have a more sustainable holiday season!