It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. right? While we deck the halls and prepare for the holiday season of gratuity and giving, the planet is busy preparing for something much less festive: thousands of pounds of trash and pollution, plus significant emissions and energy usage. In fact, Americans toss 25% MORE trash from Thanksgiving to New Years than any other time of the year–amounting to an extra 25 million tons of garbage in total. What’s meant to be a time spent with family and friends has transformed into Black Friday brawls and doorbuster sales.
But there is a better way. The holidays should (and can!) be a time of giving love, sharing experiences, building connections, and most importantly, respecting the planet that we call home year after year. Read on to learn 11 easy ways to add a little bit of sustainability, and a lot more gratuity and giving, into this holiday season (you might already be doing some of them!)
Deck the Halls
Holiday decor: for some, it goes up on November 1st… while for others, it’ll get pushed off until December 24th. Whichever way is your jam, it’s important to deck the halls with the planet in mind! From your choice of Christmas tree, to holiday lights, and even dinner-party decor, every decision you make this season can have a sustainable impact.
Buy a real tree!
Believe it or not, buying a real Christmas tree is more eco-friendly than having a reusable fake one. A 2009 study by the Montreal consulting firm Ellipsos took into consideration the greenhouse gas emissions, resource usage, fertilizers, pesticides, and human health impacts that go into growing a Christmas tree versus creating a fake one. What they found is that the same artificial tree would have to be reused every year for more than 20 years to be more sustainable than buying a fresh-cut Christmas tree once a year.
Better yet, be prepared for Christmas year-round by purchasing a potted live tree! You can keep it outside, or inside, for a touch of greenery the rest of the year–then decorate it sustainably over the holidays. But when the season is over, don’t just leave your real-tree on the curb–many cities have post-holiday tree mulching programs that transform Christmas trees into usable materials.
Side note: never burn Christmas tree branches in your fireplace! It can cause the buildup of creosote, which is highly flammable.
Use energy efficient lights & a timer!
When it comes to decking the halls, one of the most wasteful, yet ignored, parts of celebrating the season comes from the twinkling lights that seem to magically pop up everywhere–from the tree lights at your local mall to the Christmas inflatables and light-up nativity scenes that proudly sit outside homes. And let’s be clear: we love the magic that comes from holiday lighting decor. There’s just a more sustainable way to do it.
If you need to buy new holiday lights, buy LED lights! They use 1/10 as much energy as conventional holiday lights, and last years longer. If you still have some old holiday lights or plastic decor characters, use and reuse them until they’re caput–then look at your cities recycling center to see how to properly dispose of them.
Whether you’re lighting classic string lights, a whole Christmas tree, or even a “Christmas with the Kranks” style entire light-up house, a timer will help you save a ton of energy and emissions as well. Set the timer to keep all your lights off during daylight hours, as well as in the wee hours of the night (think after 1 or 2am!) when your neighbors are sleeping. This will save you money spent on electricity, but also reduce some of the major energy waste that happens over the holidays.
A study by the Florida Solar Energy Center found that the average household energy usage for lighting increases by 130 kilowatt hours during December. That’s the same amount of energy that would be used if every household in America left an electric oven on high for 2.5 days! By setting up lighting in a smarter way, you can still enjoy the magical holiday decor, but in a way that won’t wreck the planet.
Holiday cards, created back in the 1800s, are one of the most wasteful traditions ever–with 2.65 billion traditional paper holiday cards sold each year, just in the US. In fact, if you stacked all the holiday cards we buy, sent, and then toss (or keep in a drawer for years!), you could fill a football field 10 stories high. By choosing to send just one less card each year, we could save 50,000 cubic yards of virgin paper.
But when it comes to holiday cards, you don’t necessarily have to minimize to make a sustainable impact. E-cards and digital cards are awesome too, but for those who prefer the feel of a physical card, try post-consumer recycled content cards. Tree-Free Greetings prints their holiday cards on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which saves 2,405 mature trees, 1,121,858 gallons of water, 1,078 million BTUs of energy, 75k pounds of solid waste, and 206k pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year–woohoo! They also meet the standards for Process Chlorine Free (PCF) coding, ensuring less harmful production byproducts than traditional cards, and no added bleaches or chlorines. And if that wasn’t enough, the Tree-Free factory has 200 solar panels on their roof–providing 65,344 kilowatt hours of renewable energy each year (reducing their carbon footprint by 60k pounds of carbon pollution annually!)
We get it though–none of that matters if the cards aren’t cute. Luckily for you, we have an assortment of touching, funny, cute, and meaningful Christmas and holiday cards that are perfect for any occasion. So grab a 10 pack, and get to sending your holiday cards the sustainable way!
Set the Table
Throw a party with no throwaways!
According to the USDA, Americans throw away 25% of the food they purchase, or 171 pounds per person per year. And that number doesn’t even take into account the single-use utensils, plates, cups, and napkins that usually accompany large get-togethers like holiday meals. This season, say no to single-use and food waste by hosting a sustainable meal – not only is it a great way to educate your friends and family about environmental issues, but can make a huge impact on holiday waste.
When it comes to dining, swap out plastics for reusable or compostable alternatives. Reusable bamboo utensils and stainless steel pint glasses are easy to clean, and store, so they’re great for large parties. You can make it easy for your guests to help you clean up by leaving out a “dirty dish bucket” near the sink, or even simply providing lists by your recycling, compost, and trash so your guests know what to dispose of and what is compostable. By composting food waste instead of sending it to the trash, you can greatly reduce the amount of methane emissions in our landfills!
With leftovers that are still “good” (well, all leftovers are good) you can send them home with friends and family in reusable bowls covered in potluck beeswax wraps for maximum freshness days later. If everyone is too stuffed, take a note from tip 5 and look for organizations that would accept your leftovers to give back to those in need!
Give it back!
Holidays are known as a time of excess, but the truth is, many families will be in need over the holiday season, and amazing non-profits across the globe step up during this time of year to provide warm food, jackets, clothing, and support to those who need it.
This holiday season, we’re challenging you to not only set your own table, but set the table for someone in need! Whether that means donating time and service, or even bringing canned food or holiday dinner leftovers to local shelters or organizations. But, be sure to do some research or call ahead to see what your local organization will accept–and what their community is asking for. Not only is it a great way to get the family involved in your sustainable holiday goals, but will leave everyone feeling warm and fuzzy afterwards.
This is also an awesome way to teach little ones about the power of sharing and donation! Ask your kids to put aside the toys and books they’re no longer interested in, and the clothing and shoes that don’t fit so great anymore. By teaching them the impact that giving can have on others, they’ll go into the holiday season with a greater appreciation for what they do have–and then, the new presents they get!
In the US alone, we produce about 4 million tons of gift-wrap and shopping bag waste a year. In fact, 50% of all the paper we consume as a country is used to wrap and decorate consumer goods, and often is used just for a short period of time before becoming non-recyclable waste. But there are better ways to wrap, keeping your gift looking great, without the environmental impact.
What if your wrapping paper wasn’t just paper… but was a gift itself? If you’re giving products like kitchen towels, clothing (shirts are great!), or scarves, simply use the item to wrap up the other part of your gift. If you’re just giving one item, look around your house for old tablecloths, unusable bed sheets or ripped towels, linens, or other fabric scraps–then tell your giftee to reuse your “wrapping paper” when they’re done!
If you’re not about the hunting and gathering method of green gift wrapping, we have the perfect solution for you: Wrappily. Printed with non-toxic soy-based inks on newsprint made from recycled content, this wrapping paper utilizes old newspaper presses that would otherwise be idle due to lack of demand. Plus, each post-consumer recycled sheet is double-sided, reversible, and created in collaboration with local artists. And unlike some other wrapping papers (we see you, glittery gift wrap), Wrappily is 100% recyclable at the end of its life.
Another great way to keep gift wrapping green is to reuse things like ribbon, bows, and gift bags! If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon the next year, then 38,000 miles of ribbon could be saved–enough to tie a bow around the entire Earth. All you’ve gotta do is keep a “reuse-it” bag in your storage closet, and whenever you’re given a gift, keep what you can reuse the next year!
Shop for a story!
According to a national survey, 70% of Americans would welcome reduced gift giving and spending over the holiday season. As Dr. Seuss taught us through The Grinch, “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
And we totally agree. In fact, that’s kinda our whole thing. When you shop based on story, and sustainability, instead of just looking for things that are “cute” or “looks like them”, it means more–both to the recipient, and the people who were involved in creating that product. Does your gift for your mom give-back 10% of profits to women in need? Why not give your ocean-loving friend the gift of removing a pound of trash with their new bracelet?
When you choose a gift with a charitable impact, your giving goes further. Look for companies that take a stand to donate to nonprofits, plant trees, or support seed diversity with every purchase! When you shop with companies that are truly proud of their products, they will want to tell you everything about the product– from sustainable features to eco-friendly packaging. Look for companies that make sustainability part of their mission (like all the EarthHero brands!)
Not only does a sustainable story mean your product is probably better for the planet, but it’s also more enjoyable to share a gift you feel a connection to! And your friends and family are sure to remember it for seasons to come!
Look for plastic-free packaging!
One of the biggest issues around holiday gifting isn’t even the products themselves–it’s the excessive product and shipping packaging that most companies use to wrap up their goods. And while some notoriously-wasteful companies have started offering “Minimal Plastic Packaging” for shipments, you’re most likely still going to end up with some non-recyclable packing peanuts. So this holiday season, whether you’re shopping online or in-store, be sure to look for truly plastic-free or minimal plastic packaging! Companies who are doing packaging the sustainable way will want to tell you about what they’re doing. On EarthHero, you can just scroll down to the sustainability features on each product page and look for Packaging to get all the info you need!
Share the Spirit of Sustainability
Re-gift or make DIY gifts!
Fact: about 60% of Americans (will admit) that they receive unwanted gifts during the holidays, with about 52% of them eventually regifting them. Some estimate that this equals about $9.5 billion dollars spent, and wasted, on unwanted items. This year, tackle unwanted gifts in a few ways: starting with making it clear with friends & family what you do want to receive, and then re-gifting things in your own life you don’t need. When you make it clear to others that you don’t want “just stuff” for Christmas, you’ll likely end up with less “unwanted” items at the end of the season. Then, for the presents you’ve already been given and don’t love, see if anyone in your life would appreciate the re-gift. If not, check with local shelters and organizations to see if it is an item they could use!
When it comes to DIY gifts, there is truly no shortage of options for everyone in your life. From making your own personal care products like lotion or lip balm, to simply planning a weekend trip for the special someone in your life, “do it yourself” presents are becoming more and more popular.
Give battery-free toys!
Did you know that over 40% of battery sales occur during the holidays? And most of these batteries are single-use batteries, that when they run out of juice in roughly half a year, will become waste that sits in our landfills. While companies like Best Buy or Target once accepted single-use batteries to be recycled, that became cost-inefficient, and so now the typical rhetoric is to simply “throw your batteries away in a Ziploc bag”. This basically means that your semi-toxic batteries need to be wrapped in non-biodegradable plastic to be thrown away, as they can leach chemicals into the landfills and impact nearby waterways and habitats.
Our first tip for tackling this is simple: rechargeable batteries. If you’re going to give a gift that requires batteries, be sure to include rechargeable batteries and a power-box so they can reuse their batteries again and again. It doesn’t cost much more, and in the long run, will save the recipient a lot of cash–and trash.
You don’t need batteries to have fun. Yep, you heard us! Our second tip for tackling battery waste is simply to buy toys and tech that don’t need batteries at all. Sustainable technology companies like House of Marley are building products that use upcycled batteries that last for years, and can be charged with a single power cord. Toy companies like Green Toys and PlanToys make cognitive, memory, mobility, and education toys and games from materials like wood and recycled plastic–encouraging natural play in young ones that isn’t just staring at a screen.
But our favorite battery-free children’s gift actually isn’t a toy at all–but a series of children’s books called Conscious Bedtime Stories. Conscious Stories aren’t just FSC-Certified children’s books–but a collection of stories with wise and approachable characters who teach core life lessons on the world and environment to everyone. Each story begins with Snuggle Breathing, which helps both parents and kids to step into a space of relaxation and concentration, then ends with reflective questions and activities to help your little one process the life lesson they just learned! Gifts like this actually promote interaction between friends and family, as opposed to many battery-operated gifts, which focus on the individual.
Set goals, and share them!
With all the fast-paced sales and last minute promotions, it can feel like you almost have to “over-shop” during the holiday season to get the best deal. But don’t let it get to you! One of the biggest issues in keeping up with your sustainability goals over the holidays is feeling like you’re being left out, so look for family and friends you can share your goals with–and work towards them together!
Make a list, check it (twice), and simply stop shopping once you’ve gotten a gift for everyone on your list, or hit your budget, depending on what goal you’ve set. You’d be surprised what an impact this has!
Now, this may sound silly, but our final tip is to actually ask your friends and family what they not only want, but need. Some of the best presents aren’t necessarily just “gift” things–but can be experiences, gifts of service (who doesn’t need help cleaning their closet?), or even plain old necessities (socks, we’re looking at you!). By tuning into what those in your life can really use, you’re sure to give a more sustainable gift. What are some of your favorite ways to reduce your waste over the holidays? Comment them below!