Tips for a More Sustainable Holiday Season

If you aren’t familiar with the environmental movement, then the holidays are a good time to learn more about your impact as a consumer. According to Stanford University, people in the US alone throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday than the average time of year. This waste creates 25 million tons of extra waste, which rounds out to approximately 1 million extra tons of garbage every week. Some of the most shocking facts calculated by Stanford include: “If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. (https://lbre.stanford.edu/)”

I hate to break it to you, but the holiday season is a nightmare when it comes to sustainability. If this was your first time hearing these stats, I hate to be the bearer of more bad news, but scary numbers like this surround pretty much every holiday tradition; think about the waste that christmas trees and christmas decorations cause, the pollution that new years fireworks cause, or the food waste associated with holiday meals. But I am not here to ruin your holiday fun – I am the biggest supporter of the holiday season that there ever was, I am the person listening to Christmas music in July, and on the lookout for Christmas gifts all year long. My family cuts down a tree every year and sends Holiday cards, and I don’t know where I would be without these classic traditions! But just know that there is a more sustainable alternative to just about every tradition, and it doesn’t have to be a drastic change at all! To begin, let’s think about the Christmas basics – and I do want to apologize for not extending these alterations to a broader range of holidays, I celebrate christmas, but hopefully I will have a better understanding of other holiday traditions in the future so I can extend these sustainability tips to people of other faiths and traditions. Gift giving is often at the core of holiday celebrations, whether your family chooses to engage in a commercial christmas or not, wrapping paper is undeniably one of the largest sources of waste during the holiday season. However, there are so many trade outs you can make to reduce your environmental impact, while still enjoying your festivities. An easy one is to buy good quality pre decorated boxes that you can reuse every year, or even wrap these boxes to your liking in a way that makes them fit your holiday style (here are some sturdy boxes). The same idea applies to bags, ribbons, and tissue paper in my opinion. My family always reuses these things, but it never compromises the beauty of the presents under our tree. Another option is to buy recycled and/or recyclable wrapping paper. A good option is brown Kraft paper; it is often made out of recycled paper, but is also considered recyclable again after use (just make sure to remove and tape or nonrecyclable tags before recycling!) I have seen so many environmental DIY bloggers decorating their Kraft paper with recycled twine, sprigs of real greenery, and repurposing old christmas decorations like garland or wreathes to add a special flare. People also make festive stamps to decorate their kraft paper, or have been following TikTok fads to find the fanciest way to wrap a gift. Consider repurposing other pieces of paper, or scraps of other wrapping papers to add more festivity to your Kraft paper wrapping. You can also find Kraft paper that is printed with eco-friendly inks. There is a whole rabbit hole of sustainable wrapping blog posts that you can go down to find the wrapping style that is right for you and for the planet. This year I used printed Kraft paper (recycled and recyclable) and skipped the bows and frills, which I was sad about, but was happy to be reducing my waste!

But, I did go all out on a few important presents, using old wrapping paper, reused tissue paper and ribbons, and repurposing some plastic garlands to create a more traditional present. Even if we all reduce our waste just slightly, the impact will be enormous.

Unfortunately, wrapping paper and accessories are not the only thing that causes harmful environmental effects during the holiday season. I encourage you to look to reduce waste in every aspect of your life, not just during the holidays, however, there are more and more ideas every day that can help us reduce our impact during traditional festivities. For example, consider dropping off your live christmas tree at your towns recycling or composting program, consider buying more live greenery instead of plastic garland, but buy in moderation, and sustainably produced where possible. Try creating your own compost – check out this series of tips I made to get you started. This can help reduce your food waste. Also try to be conscious about the gifts you buy and where you buy them from – try to support causes you believe in – buy from local stores rather than malls or on Amazon, purchase from stores that support a charitable cause you agree with, and support small businesses! Do not buy gifts just to put something under the tree – be thoughtful, and do not over consume. If you can’t find the perfect gift for someone, or you have a family member or friend who is just hard to buy for, try giving them the gift of experience, buy them concert tickets, take them camping or backpacking, or whatever they love to do – plan a day and get creative! Consider DIYing your gifts, decorations, and ornaments – grab a friend and make a day of it! 

Throughout your holiday season, consider incorporating organic foods into your holiday feasts. Buy local foods from your farmers market, and buy what produce is in season. Consider reducing your meat consumption, and therefore your carbon footprint. If everyone skipped one night of ham this holiday, the impact could be enormous. Also, while you eat your feast, remember that others don’t always have the same privilege. Consider donating canned goods, or donate your time to an environmental cause! Consider grabbing a group of friends and doing an impromptu park or beach cleanup, or make a vow to offset the carbon emissions of every package you ship or get shipped. Literally every single thing you do can make a big difference – even wearing an extra sweater in your own home can help reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy you require to stay warm and heat your house.

And, after Christmas is over, if you realize how happy reducing your waste made you, or how exciting it is to make a better impact on the planet, consider making some sustainable New Year’s resolutions! Consider changing to Meatless Mondays, replacing one item in your home with something sustainable (fabric for paper towels, or bar soap for plastic bottles, for example), start composting, stop buying fast fashion! There are so many ways to reduce your footprint, but you have to start somewhere. Make a pact with yourself this new year, so that you are ready to make a sustainable change come next holiday season.

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