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.
But there is a better way. 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!
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.
1. 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.
Warning: never burn Christmas tree branches in your fireplace! It can cause the buildup of creosote, which is highly flammable.
2. Use energy efficient lights & a timer!
One of the most wasteful 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.
3. Try recycled content holiday cards!
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.
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
4. Throw a party with no throwaways!
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!
5. 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. 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.
6. Try recycled content gift-wrap!
In the U.S. 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.
One of our favorite alternatives is our brand, 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!
7. Shop for a story!
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!)
8. 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. 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
9. Re-gift or make DIY gifts!
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.
10. Give battery-free toys!
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.
11. Set goals, and share them!
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!
This blog was originally posted on December 3, 2018 and was most recently updated on November 23, 2022.