Updated: Nov 27, 2020
By the time this blog post is published, the holiday season may have already passed, so this information may not be incredibly useful to you immediately. However, these ideas can apply to future years, and maybe to other events and holidays.
It can be very difficult to have a completely sustainable and environmentally friendly holiday. The presents, food, and decorations can sometimes have negative impacts that are hard to avoid, like when the gift you want to get from the store is covered in unnecessary plastic packaging. It may seem impossible to reduce your impact on the environment during the holidays, but there are plenty of ways to rethink the way you go about your celebrations. Here are some tips on how to have more eco-friendly winter holidays.
1. Lights. Lights are a beautiful way to decorate your home during the winter months, especially since it is dark and cloudy much more often than during the summer. You don’t have to stop hanging up lights to reduce your impact, just do it more sustainably. Instead of conventional holiday lights, you can buy LED lights, which use 1/10 as much energy and last far longer. You can also set up timers on your lights, keeping them off when it’s light outside and during the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping. This saves a lot of money on electricity and dramatically reduces energy waste! (“11 Tips for a Sustainable Holiday Season”)
2. Gift Wrap. “In the US alone, we produce about 4 million tons of gift-wrap and shopping bag waste a year.” There are a lot of ways to still wrap gifts without adding to this incredible amount of waste. One way is to search for companies that create eco friendly wrapping paper and purchase that instead of traditional, non-recyclable paper. Just make sure to research the product before buying it and make sure it’s what you’re looking for! Another great way to wrap gifts is to use old things from around the house. For example, if you have some old fabric or towels, you can use that as wrapping paper, and you can tell the giftee to reuse it when they're done with it. You can also use things like newspapers. I recommend The New York Times because they usually have really cool art pages! (“11 Tips for a Sustainable Holiday Season”)
3. Unwanted Gifts. While it is always a nice gesture to buy people gifts for the holidays, a lot of people admit that they receive gifts that they don’t want or won’t use. This leads to a lot of money spent on wasted items that people will often eventually dispose of. One thing you can do to prevent getting unwanted gifts is make it clear what you do want to get, like making a Christmas list (it’s not only for kids writing to Santa). If you do get something you don’t want, try regifting or donating it instead of throwing it away. That way you’re putting what you get to good use, even if you're not the one who uses it. (“11 Tips for a Sustainable Holiday Season”)
4. Entertaining. This probably won’t apply to many people’s 2020 celebrations, but a good way to reduce your waste is to reevaluate the way you host parties and get togethers. You can try using reusable plates and cutlery instead of plastic plates and utensils. If you are hosting a big event and don’t have enough supplies, there are places that rent dinnerware. If you have to use disposable items, look for compostable items or things made of recycled materials. If you want people to recycle their items, make the recycling accessible and make sure everything is recycled properly (ex. the items can’t have food on them). Also, make sure you pay attention to food waste at gatherings! Only take what you can eat, as you can always go back for seconds if you need to, and send people home with leftovers. There may also be ways to donate to local homeless shelters or food banks, and maybe even to a zoo. (“Your Cheat Sheet for a Sustainable Holiday Season”)
5. Christmas Trees. A lot of people debate whether it is more eco-friendly to buy a plastic tree or cut down a real tree. I personally think it depends a lot on the way you use your tree. If you buy a high quality fake tree (made out of environmentally friendly materials) and decide to reuse it for 20 years, that is a great sustainable option. Plastic trees aren’t as great if you’re buying a new one every 5 years or so, and in that case real trees may be better. If you decide to cut a real tree down every year from a sustainable farm, make sure you recycle it properly. You can research local recycling programs that can turn it into things like mulch! Simply throwing away your tree is not very sustainable and can be worse than plastic trees. Deciding which is better for the environment requires you to think about your preferences and habits to decide which you will better be able to use sustainably. (“How to Have a More Sustainable Holiday Season”)
6. Decorations. Pay attention to the way you decorate your home for the holidays. Instead of buying new decorations every year, try to reuse everything you can. Invest in long-lasting decorations, rather than temporary or disposable items. Make your own ornaments or permanent decorations, and try to reduce the amount of unnecessary items you buy. For example, instead of buying plastic fake pine cones in a plastic box, go on a walk and pick up some natural ones. They will smell better, look better, and be better overall for the environment! You can also look into making natural decorations, like orange garlands or ornaments. I’ve seen a lot of tutorials on how to dry them out and string them to use as decorations. They’re budget friendly and sustainable, and as an added bonus apparently make your house smell wonderful!
There are a ton of other ways to have an environmentally conscious winter holiday season, but these are just a few suggestions. Overall, just think about the way that you shop, decorate, give, and celebrate and try to be more conscious about your decisions and their impacts. Being aware of how you act is the first step in being more sustainable in the long run. Happy Holidays!