10 Ideas for a Sustainable Holiday Season
Whether it’s lighting the menorah, decorating the Christmas tree, or simply spending time with friends and family, there are countless traditions we look forward to during the holidays.
As we celebrate the season , it’s important to keep in mind the environmental impact of these traditions and look for more sustainable alternatives when possible.
How the Holidays Hurt the Environment
Have you ever stopped to think about the environmental impact of the holiday season? Unfortunately, almost every aspect of the holiday season has a negative effect on our environment.
First, let’s talk about gifting. It all starts with the excessive shopping trips as we all rush to buy gifts for everyone on our nice lists.While it may seem like innocent holiday shopping, the impact is much bigger. All of the packaging, shopping bags, and gift wrap is thrown straight into landfills, leading to a more than 25% increase in household waste.
In addition to landfill waste, there’s a significant increase in wasted resources. With winter days getting shorter and colder, we’re already using more heat and electricity to power our homes. When you add holiday lighting and massive inflatable yard decorations, we see a huge surge in energy consumption.
Many people choose to travel during the holiday season. Whether that means family vacations and cruises or flying back home to visit loved ones, we rely on cars, planes, and trains to travel throughout the holiday season. Each of these modes of transportation emits an enormous amount of carbon emissions, contributing to the climate change crisis.
While this might shed some light on the downsides of the holiday season, the good news is that you don’t have to give up your favorite traditions in order to have a positive impact on the planet.
Here are 10 simple steps you can take toward a more sustainable holiday season!
10 Easy Ways to Have a More Sustainable Holiday Season
Celebrate a “no-buy” or “no-gift” holiday.
Don’t worry—we’re not asking you to celebrate the holidays without any gifts. Instead, we’re challenging you to get a little creative with your gift giving.
One way to do this is by celebrating a “no-buy” holiday. Just like its name suggests, the goal is to not purchase any gifts this holiday season. Instead, try regifting or making something out of materials you already have.
Don’t have much to work with? Try celebrating a “no-gift” holiday. Again, this does not mean literally not giving any gifts, it means not giving any physical gifts. For example, instead of purchasing an at-home spa kit for your sister, give her a gift certificate to the local spa instead. The idea is to give experiences instead of things.
Not only does this cut down on landfill waste from wrapping paper and packaging, it also helps lower carbon emissions since these items don’t need to be shipped across the globe to end up under the tree.
If you do choose to shop for gifts this year, be sure to shop responsibly. The most sustainable option is to shop locally. Not only will you be supporting locally owned businesses, you’ll be reducing packaging waste and carbon emissions from shipping.
When shopping locally, here are a few eco-friendly tips to make your Christmas shopping more sustainable:
- Take public transportation if available.
- Check out local holiday markets for unique, handmade gifts.
- Bring reusable shopping bags.
- Shop secondhand at thrift stores and vintage boutiques.
There are also some steps you can take to limit your environmental impact when shopping online. First, try to consolidate your orders and order as many gifts as you can from one place. This will help cut down on packaging and shipping emissions.
Don’t leave your shopping until the last minute! Yes, that 2-day shipping option can be convenient, but it’s not worth the harm it does to our environment. Instead, do your shopping ahead of time so you can opt-in for ground shipping.
Give eco-friendly gifts.
Giving eco-friendly gifts is one of the easiest ways to have a more sustainable holiday season. Look for green holiday gift ideas that are made with recycled, upcycled, or repurposed materials to help give new life to items that would have otherwise been sent to a landfill. Gifts like our sustainable socks that are made from recycled plastics can help keep plastic pollution out of our oceans!
If you’re feeling crafty, you can also take a DIY approach to gifting this year. Handmade gifts are a perfect way to add a personal touch to the holidays and show somebody that you care for them and the environment.
Make the most of your gifts.
Not only will you be giving gifts this holiday season, you’ll also be receiving them! Unfortunately, not everybody will be keeping sustainability in mind when gift giving, but you can still help reduce the impact of gifts on the environment.
First, start off by trying to avoid any waste ahead of time by giving a wish list of eco-friendly gifts. Try to include experiences or locally bought items to help limit packaging and shipping.
When unwrapping your gifts, be mindful of what you can reuse. Keep gift bags, bows, and ribbon to be reused next year. If it’s wrapped in paper, recycle it if possible or think of creative ways to reuse it!
If somebody gives you a gift you won’t use, don’t let it go to waste. Instead, keep it as a regifting option or donate it to a local shelter or thrift store! This can be hard to do, but it’s much better than letting it sit in the back of a closet until it’s thrown away years later.
Switch to reusable wrapping.
It takes almost 50,000 trees to produce the 8,000 tons of wrapping paper that are used during the holidays each year. The wrapping paper is often covered in glitter designs and metallic foil, making it non-recyclable.
Instead of wrapping your gifts in paper this year, try using recycled newspapers, posters, or magazine pages. If you want to try celebrating a zero-waste holiday, you can get creative with reusable materials like baskets, fabrics, and scarves to wrap your presents.
If you’re having trouble finding alternatives that fit your needs and still choose to use wrapping paper, be sure to use gift wrap that’s recyclable. Kraft wrapping papers with no metallic or waxy coating are compostable and make a great sustainable alternative!
Go digital with e-cards.
One of the longest standing holiday traditions is the annual family holiday card. While this can be a great way to stay in touch with people, it’s a huge contributor to landfill waste.
In fact, there are 2.65 billion holiday cards sold each year in the United States. That’s enough cards to fill an entire football field… 10 stories high!
It’s time to go digital. Skip the paper cards and instead send e-cards! These zero-waste alternatives still allow you to connect with your family and friends, but in an even more fun and interactive way. You can customize your cards to have fun jingles and animations.
Recycle your tree.
Did you know that Christmas trees can still be used long after you take off the ornaments and lights? Pine needles are filled with nutrients that can enhance the quality of soil. If you have a garden at home, try using your tree as compost or having it broken down into mulch. You can also use the branches of your tree to insulate your garden bed, protecting your plants from the winter frost.
If you don’t have a way of composting your tree at home, there are plenty of nonprofit organizations and government agencies that will help you recycle your tree. These organizations will pick up your tree and turn it into mulch to help with water conservation and natural weed control.
For those of you living in major cities, check out RecycleByCity.com to find recycling options in your community.
Stay at home for the holidays.
Flying home for the holidays has a serious impact on our carbon footprint. According to Google Flights, a flight from LA to NYC releases over 1,000 pounds of carbon emissions into our atmosphere!
If we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that it’s possible to connect without being in-person. Use technology to spend the holidays with your family virtually this year. You could open Christmas presents over Zoom or watch a holiday movie together with apps like StreamParty.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like being with your family during the holidays, so if you do choose to travel, look for the most sustainable options. Use Google Flights to compare carbon emissions between airlines to choose the most eco-friendly option. You can also purchase carbon offsets to help balance out your carbon footprint! This money goes toward projects that reduce or remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere, like planting trees or building renewable energy options.
Limit food waste.
From delicious latkes and challah to roasted ham and sugar cookies, holiday food is one of the best parts of the season! . Unfortunately, these holiday eats and treats often lead to an increase in food waste.
This year, be conscious of how much food you’re prepping and only make what you need. If you do have leftovers, donate it to local shelters to help give back to your community. You can check out our blog on reducing holiday food waste for more tips!
Go green with holiday decorations.
Holiday string lights are a beautiful sight to behold, but they have a huge impact on our environment. With all of the holiday lights and decorations, energy consumption soars during the holiday season. This year, look for eco-friendly holiday lights with LED bulbs. LED lights are virtually indistinguishable from traditional incandescent options and are much more energy efficient.
The sustainable holiday decorations don’t stop there! Challenge yourself this year to decorate your tree using only recycled or biodegradable materials. Hang up ornaments made out of recycled paper or recycled glass. You can also take the classic, old-fashioned approach and string up some popcorn garland and pinecones!
Go Green for the Holidays with Sustainable Choices
The holiday season can be one of the most wasteful and ecologically destructive times of the year, but it doesn’t have to be! You’ve already completed the first step in celebrating an eco-friendly holiday season—understanding the environmental impact of the holidays.
The next step is taking action! There are easy, sustainable alternatives that you can use to help make you celebrate a greener holiday. Whether it’s sending an e-card or making the switch to LED lights, living sustainably this holiday season doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your favorite holiday traditions.
Now it’s time to do your part by taking an eco-friendly approach to the holiday season this year!