Green Holiday Tips

The Environmental Impacts of Modern Holidays

  • Americans throw away an additional 5 million tons of trash - 25% more than usual - between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
  • If every family reused just 2 feet (0.6 meter) of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet!
  • According to one U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month. This would be enough to power 200,000 homes -- for a year!
  • The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold every year in the US could fill a football field ten stories high! If all of us sent one card less, we could save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
horizontal rule

Earth-Friendly Gift Wrapping Options

There are plenty of eco-friendly gift wrapping options. All you need is a bit of creativity and lots of reusable materials! Here are some interesting things to use for gift wrapping:

  • Old maps, sheet music or colorful ads from old magazines
  • Scarves and handkerchiefs
  • Leftover fabric or fabric gift bags
  • Lightweight wallpaper
  • Pages from a child's coloring book taped together
  • Newspapers (foreign newspapers are great) and Sunday comic pages
  • Last year's holiday paper (warm iron if wrinkled Pictures or advertisements from magazines and catalogs
horizontal rule

Green Holiday Decorating Tips

  • If you want a cut Christmas tree, find one from a farm that uses minimal pesticides and green-growing practices.
  • Better yet, remove an invasive cedar tree from the prairies in the Loess Hills, and take it home for your holiday decorating!
  • Make it a tradition to plant a tree to replace the one harvested for your family Christmas.
  • Make sure your cut tree gets composted and turned into mulch after the holidays.
  • Consider a living tree. These potted Christmas trees, available at many nurseries, are usually smaller than cut trees. They should only be kept in the house for about a week, so they don't start sprouting new growth. You can keep the tree outside, haul it in to enjoy it at Christmastime for several years, and then eventually plant it in the yard or give it away.
  • Artificial Christmas trees can be considered green, since you reuse them every year. However, many older artificial trees are made from PVC, or polyvinyl chloride (a plastic linked to environmental problems, primarily in production), so consider a used vintage aluminum tree instead.
  • For Hanukkah, menorahs can be made from practically anything. Buy distinctive recycled menorahs online or make your own. The Sammamish-based "Celebrate Green" campaign describes menorahs created from old flower pots, used water bottles and even potatoes.
  • Instead of buying new versions of vintage ornaments and decorations, take advantage of the abundant selection of used originals at thrift shops and consignment stores.
  • Ask older relatives or friends if they have any extra vintage decorations you can use. They might be thrilled to get them out of the attic.
  • Brighten up your faded or slightly damaged ornaments with a little nontoxic craft paint. Older decorations may contain paint with lead or other heavy metals, so don't the kids play with them.
  • Cranberries, popcorn, fruits and nuts also make fun decorations. After the holidays you can eat them, compost them or give them to the birds.
  • Add your own distinctive touch to decorating with family memorabilia, from antique cookie cutters to old toy collections.
  • Energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) or solar-powered lights add a sleek look to your holiday decorations, and may save you $30 or more on your winter electric bill. Most area retailers now carry LED holiday lights, and some may offer discounts on Energy Star-rated LEDs.
  • When you buy new LED lights, ask retailers if they will recycle your old holiday lights, or look for other holiday-light-recycling collection programs.
  • Nearly all Christmas lights, including LEDs, contain PVC plastic and sometimes lead in the wiring, so keep those out of reach of children and wash your hands after handling them.
horizontal rule

Sustainable Holiday Meals

  • For holiday meals and parties, use as many locally-grown and organic foods as possible. Farmers markets are a great source for foods, holiday greens and flowers, and some are open through December.
  • Consider donating food you don't use for the big dinner or party. Local food banks appreciate many canned items, including juices, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Food banks generally do not want open items, perishables or homemade foods.
  • For big holiday meals, reduce the amount of most side vegetables you serve - sweet potatoes, broccoli and green beans, for example - by half or one-third. Most people eat small portions of those veggies, if any, preferring to feast instead on the main attractions such as turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy.
  • Buy some items for Thanksgiving dinner in bulk and use the extras for Christmas meals, if possible. This reduces excess packaging.
  • For a large party, consider renting durable dishware rather than using disposables.
  • Be sure you put all your food scraps and food-soiled paper into the yard waste collection bin.
  • Scrape oil and grease off kitchen utensils and equipment before washing, and never pour oil or grease down the drain.
  • If you deep-fry your turkey, you can take your leftover oil to a local biodiesel manufacturer.
horizontal rule

Green Gifting

Before you get put off the holidays, here are some ways to assuage your guilt. As far as gifts are concerned, you can't stop giving or getting them but you can certainly reduce their environmental impact! Here are some suggestions how:

  • Keep it simple. Giving one thoughtful gift is always better than many small, individually wrapped ones.
  • Give joint gifts. Not only will you be able to get something larger, you'll also avoid wasting all that wrapping.
  • Try giving homemade presents - friends and family often appreciate homemade wine or beer, jams, preserves and other goodies. Or if you are good at knitting, sewing or painting, you could create gifts that are personal and a lot more meaningful than anything you'd buy from a store.
  • Try choosing gifts that are energy efficient, haven't been over-packaged and are reusable or recycled.
  • When buying electronics products or watches or toys, try choosing durable, repairable products with warranties. Otherwise, they're going to land up in landfills sooner or later.
  • Look for gifts that are made of natural components, like sustainably harvested wood, natural fibers, or glass.
  • Buy local. Purchase gifts like foods and handicraft from local vendors.
horizontal rule

N-Traditional Gift Giving

There are many gifts you can give that have minimal or no impact on the environment. For example, you could:

  • Make a donation in the name of the person you want to give a gift to, to an organization working in a subject area of interest to him/her. So if he likes soccer, donate a couple of footballs or kits to a school for underprivileged kids.
  • Gift seeds instead of flowers.
  • Gift certificates offering your time - you could baby sit, pet sit, cook or mow a lawn.
  • Make your own calendars using treasured photographs - they make wonderful gifts!
  • Create recipe books from old family recipes to gift to friends.
  • Plant a tree in someone's name.
  • Gift tickets to a baseball game or to a concert
  • Name a star after them (visit "" for more on this)
  • Draw names for family giving so everyone just gives one person a gift instead of buying for everyone. Nearly every family who switches to this method loves it!
  • Pick a friend who you know will be receptive, and agree not to exchange gifts. Go out for dinner or drinks instead.
  • When a friend or family member says they "don't want any more stuff," take them seriously.
  • If your spouse or partner agrees (very important!), give each other practical gifts you would have bought anyway, such as tools, kitchen stuff or a laptop computer.
  • "Experience gifts" cut waste. If you can find businesses and organizations that offer gift certificates or tickets at a discount - for restaurant meals, massages, plays, concerts, sports events and more - you can also save money. It never hurts to ask - maybe they will give you a 10 or 20 percent discount.
  • If you're not sure what to give someone, gift cards can be a greener gift rather than just taking a wild guess at what they want. The recipient gets exactly what they desire, which usually reduces waste.
  • If you know the recipient is okay with it, shop thrift stores or consignment shops. You can often find more distinctive gifts and get more for your money.
  • Offer your time or skills. Make your own gift certificates for a special dinner, or to help around the house or in the garden.
  • Volunteer in someone's name, instead of giving a material gift.
  • Donate in someone's name.
  • Do the recipient and the planet a favor and choose well-made, durable gifts.
  • Plants make green, low-waste gifts, but choose sturdy plants that you know the recipient will be able to care for.
  • Make a family history by recording interviews of elderly family members or putting together a scrap book of old pictures.