Sustainability Through the Holidays

A Guide to Living Sustainably Through The Holidays

As we prepare for a holiday season of gifts, food, and festivity, the planet is preparing for something quite different – an extra 25 million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Years, excess energy consumption, and increased emissions. But the holidays don’t have to be that way. Below are a few ways to start incorporating sustainability throughout your holidays.

Sustainable Gift-Giving

Sustainable Gatherings

We all look forward to holiday gatherings – the food, the drinks, the gifts, the decorations, time spent with family and friends. Too often, these gatherings produce a lot of waste though – plastic tableware, wasted food, discarded decorations – adding to that extra 25 million tons of trash. With a few changes, we can have a festive gathering and produce little to no waste.

Use Real Tableware

Forget the paper plates, plastic silverware, and cups that are used once and then tossed in the trash. Instead, opt for the real deal. Using tableware that can be run through the dishwasher removes a lot of waste generated at holiday gatherings. Don’t have enough tableware for your guests? Head to your local thrift store. People donate entire sets of dishes, silverware, and glasses that can be purchased at minimal cost.

Minimize Food Waste

What do you do with all of the food that is wasted at your holiday gatherings? More often than not, excess food is tossed straight into the trash can. There are a few actions you can take to minimize this waste though.

As you are preparing food, don’t throw out your compostable items. Putting these back in the ground minimizes waste and also helps our gardens. Don’t compost? Check out ShareWaste and find someone near you who will gladly compost them for you.

Do you have excess leftovers after your gatherings? Send them home with your guests! Head to your local thrift store and stock up on pyrex and other reusable containers. These containers can go home with your guests filled with delicious leftovers – a win for them, a win for you, and a win for the environment.

Sustainable Decor

Everyone loves a beautifully decorated home for the holidays but there are ways to do this sustainably. Start with skipping the plastic decorations; purchasing secondhand decor at the local thrift store; and remember that sometime less is more

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Christmas Trees

Believe it or not, buying a live Christmas tree is more eco-friendly than buying an artificial tree. “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.” (Earth Hero)

What’s the best option? Purchase a potted live tree that can be reused for years (until it gets too big!) and then planted outside.


“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!” (Earth Hero)

It is nice to see all of the twinkling lights in our homes throughout the holidays, however it is often an overlooked overconsumption that we can easily fix. If you need to buy new lights, opt for LED lights. Consider if it’s really necessary to have the lights on all day long. A timer can easily turn your holiday lights on in the evening (when they can be seen) and off during the day (when they can’t be seen anyway).

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash


Create beautiful upcycled ornaments from used greeting cards.

Better Homes and Gardens Greeting Card Projects

To make beautiful Danish stars, click here.

Wrapping and gift tags

  • Wrap with reused brown grocery bags, newspaper, blueprints, sheet music, maps, wallpaper scraps, bubble wrap, napkins, placemats, graph paper, rice paper, children’s drawings, calendar pages, and fabric scraps.
  • Decorate wrapping paper with stamps cut from old sponges or cookie cutters, or do easy holiday drawings.
  • Ribbons and bows can be made from: pine boughs, pinecones, holly, thin scarves/belts/ties from the thrift store, clean shoe laces, raffia grass, and reused bows.
  • Sew gift bags from old place mats, tablecloths, fabric scraps, or sheets/pillowcases.
  • Make gift tags from last year’s holiday cards.
  • Make the wrapping part of the gift, such as a colorful scarf, tablecloth or small blanket.
  • Use bags and boxes that can be reused.  Wrap a shoebox with the lid separately so that it can be used again.
  • Make small gift boxes from greeting cards
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