Santa Claus doesn’t leave footprints — carbon or otherwise — so why should we? Fact is, for all the joy had by gathering with loved ones for gift-giving, meals, laughter, and merriment, the season is also notorious for the volume of waste it generates. Households pile up about 25% more trash during this period than any other time of the year — the vast majority of which ends up in landfills and the broader environment. So how can we reduce our own environmental impact during this festive season? Here are 10 ways you can celebrate the holidays in a more sustainable manner.
Reuse gift materials
We don’t have much control over the gifts or packages we receive, but we can control how we put them to use. Instead of throwing out the bags and little plastic bows that you receive with your gifts, keep and reuse them. You can peel off the bows of wrapped presents and pop them on a new gift. Gift bags are easily reusable and can continue a sustainable cycle when reused time and time again. Encourage friends and family to do the same! This practice is better for both the environment and your bank account.
There is no shame in the sustainability game. If you receive a duplicate gift, a present that’s not your style, or something you really don’t need, consider re-gifting to someone else. Of course, try to ensure it’s a gift that person will love or else that gift is back to square one and may end up in the landfill. Pro tip: Be conscious about the gifts you choose for others. Always try to choose thoughtful gifts that will last.
Buy from sustainable brands
It’s not just about choosing thoughtful gifts the recipient will love but also about buying from eco-friendly brands. The best practice here is to research brands before purchasing from them. There is not a single fast fashion brand that is sustainable, so keep this in mind. Instead, focus on supporting local businesses, online Etsy boutiques, and companies with clear, eco-conscious ethos. Challenge yourself to think outside of the box here! You can order a subscription of eco-friendly laundry strips for that forgetful friend, sustainable candles for a homebody, or even make a homemade gift!
Gift an experience
Holiday presents don’t have to be physical gifts at all. Embrace gifting experiences to a loved one! Maybe it’s two tickets to see their favorite band, a weekend spa getaway voucher, a museum membership, or even a painting class. These create memories that tend to last a lot longer than any physical gift.
DIY holiday decorations
Instead of purchasing plastic tinsel and décor that will take hundreds of years to biodegrade, consider making some DIY decorations. Many of these are super easy, make for great bonding activities to do with friends and family, and are friendly for those on a budget! Gather some inspiration by reading this guide to eco-friendly holiday decorations.
Compost and recycle
Though our bellies are jolly and full around the holidays, food waste still accumulates. Instead of throwing your leftovers in the trash, compost, reuse, and freeze what you can. Scrape food scraps (aside from meat, bones, and dairy — eggshells being the exception) into the compost, recycle aluminum and any recyclable plastics and glass, and freeze any leftovers you won’t use within the next few days.
Buy a real tree
Natural evergreen trees are more environmentally friendly than fake ones, which are made from plastic and take hundreds of years to break down. However, don’t just buy any real tree. First, consult with local tree growers about their practices and what pesticides they use. Alternatively, search for a sustainable tree farm near you. It’s worth a longer drive to ensure you’re supporting a sustainable farmer whose practices are kinder to the planet.
Pro tip: Sustainable living is largely about reusing. If you already have a plastic tree, there’s no shame in reusing it year after year. Then, at some point, you may consider donating it and switching to a real tree. A fake tree would need to be reused for at least 10 years to have the same carbon impact as using a real tree each year.
Compost your tree
If you use a natural tree, be sure to efficiently compost it after the holidays. Each year, an estimated 25 million to 30 million live trees are purchased in the US. Nearly half will end up in landfills across the country. Many cities set up drop-off points where professionals will handle composting your tree for you. However, you can also do it yourself by following this guide to composting your tree.
Adjust your thermostat
We’re so used to our comfortable lives that change can be hard. But try this; before cranking the heating up a bit higher when you’re feeling a chill at home, slip on some thick socks or a knitted hat. The planet will be grateful, your toes will be warm, and your heating bill won’t take as big of a hit. Plus, when you have family and friends over, food is in the oven, maybe the fireplace is roaring, and the drinks are flowing, so there is no need to have the heating on high.
Use sustainable wrapping paper
When it comes to ways to be more sustainable during the holidays, this is a big one! Modern-day wrapping paper is not eco-friendly, especially with all that plastic shine. Instead, upcycle materials you have around the house, use old gift bags, wrap your presents in plain brown craft paper, and decorate them with natural details. Check out our guide to eco-friendly gift wrap to find out more.