12 Ideas for a Sustainable Holiday Season

sustainable holiday ideas 2021

The holidays are a source of great cheer, but can also be particularly wasteful and unsustainable time for the environment. But don't fret! Here is a list of 10 ways you can be a more thoughtful and eco-friendly consumer this holiday season, without sacrificing the environment for winter jollies.

Sustainable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Presents! We love to give them. We love to get them. But most of us don't love wrapping them. And the planet especially doesn't love us wrapping them. It's estimated that nearly 4.6 million pounds of gift wrap is produced every year in the USA, and about half of that, 2.3 million pounds, ends up in our landfills.

Please note—most wrapping paper is put in the wrong bin and often becomes recycling contamination. Gift wrapping paper is only recyclable if it is not shiny, laminated, and does not have glitter, foil flakes, cellophane, or any other fancy non-paper materials attached. Tape, such as Scotch Tape, also needs to be removed from recyclable gift wrap before the paper goes in the recycling bin.

But presents have to be wrapped in something, so here are a few ideas for some sustainable gift wrap alternatives. 

  1. Tote bags! Perfect for clothing or oddly-shaped gifts, many of us have unused tote bags collecting dust in our closets. Well, now is their time to shine, as both gift wrap and a gift unto itself. We will also take this moment to shamelessly plug our organic, recycled cotton tote
  2. Upcycle brown paper shopping bags. Give the pile of brown bags under your kitchen sink a second life by cutting them open and wrapping small or mid-size presents with the blank sides facing out for a rustic wrap. Tie it up with a twine bow, add a sprig of pine, and you've got a beautiful, eco-friendly package! 
  3. Upcycle old newspapers and maps. Use the comics or sports section of old newspapers for a whimsical and recyclable gift wrap. Or go into the back of your cabinets and fetch some of those old, fold-out paper maps for a unique wrapping paper perfect for recipients with wanderlust.

Sustainable Holiday Gift ideas

There is no better gift than an environmentally-friendly gift! This may mean gifting items that helps someone live more sustainably, taking the time to pick items that have been produced in a responsible, environmentally-friendly manner, or are made out of eco-friendly materials. If you are still shopping for holiday gifts, here are some good guidelines for shopping sustainably (or check out our list of 12 sustainable brands we love!).

  1. Gift items that help the recipient incorporate sustainable habits into their daily routine by reducing the need for single-use products. These are items like reusable water bottles, resealable food storage bags, or even a luxe safety razor.
  2. Gift items that are responsibly and sustainably made. Did someone ask for a bathrobe? Take the time to find one that was made out of recycled materials, like recycled cotton, or sustainable materials like organic hemp. Shopping for candles? Beeswax and coconut wax are the most sustainable waxes out there, and buying from a locally-made brand or artisan reduces the carbon emissions from transportation. Speaking of which...
  3. Be mindful of how these gifts get to your door. This may mean eschewing two-day shipping, and choosing to consolidate your online orders into as few packages as possible. Or, this may mean doing your shopping the old-fashioned way and going to the store or the mall to pick up your items. This reduces the need for multiple trucks from multiple stores' fulfillment centers to visit your house, as you are going to one place in one car, and getting all your items in one trip.

Sustainable Christmas Tree Ideas

Christmas trees have us in quite the bind! Steeped in tradition, they smell nice, are fun to decorate, and give us a place to put our presents. However, it also means every year we cut down approximately 20-30 million trees that took an average of 7 years to grow, only to keep them for a month and throw them away in January. And the pine needles get everywhere. 

This year, you may want to consider going a more sustainable route, and these three alternatives will give you the best of both worlds.

  1. Get a potted tree, then plant it in the ground in the spring.
  2. Rent a potted tree, then return it to the renting service for them to plant in the ground.
  3. Upcycle materials you may have on-hand into a tree. We have seen beautiful trees fashioned out of sticks, evergreen branches, wood pallets, rakes, and more.

What's better for the environment, real or fake Christmas trees?

You'll noticed that our three suggestions don't include the usual suspects, a fake (usually plastic) Christmas tree, or a real one from a tree farm.

Americans buy approximately 10 million fake Christmas trees every year, the majority of which are made from non-renewable materials that cannot be recycled or composted. Fake trees are often made abroad and imported, resulting in carbon emissions from production and shipping. However, these often-affordable trees can last a lifetime, and are more accessible to those with physical limitations. About 75% of USA households have Christmas trees, and a huge majority (80%) opt for a fake one.

If your household chooses a fake Christmas tree, consider buying one from a secondhand marketplace, and take care to use it for as many years as possible to maximize the life of this non-biodegradable product.

On the other hand, real Christmas trees grow in tree farms in all 50 states, making it a renewable, domestic product. The National Christmas Tree Association reports that about 350 million trees are growing on tree farms at any given time, and one to three seedlings are planted for every tree harvested. However, we also know that tree farms are unable to provide or support biodiversity that our green spaces need to thrive. 

If your household chooses a real Christmas tree, sourcing it from a local tree farm will help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, and responsibly disposing of it at a tree recycling location for chipping reduces the impact of this traditionally festive choice.

    How to make your holiday lights more environmentally friendly

    By now you may have heard the somewhat horrifying statistic, American holiday lights use more electricity than some small countries do in an entire year 😱 But there are some smart ways we can reduce the impact of our twinkling fancies, and a little effort on this front can go a long way.

    1. Eschew the traditional string lights for laser lights or LEDs that project bright and cheerful patterned lights on the side of your house. Lasers use approximately 0.005 watts per hour, while LED projections usually only require a couple of bulbs (versus a whole string) that use about 6 watts per hour.
    2. If you are in the market to buy decorative string lights this year, make an effort to get solar-powered lights, or at least energy-efficient LED lights. As always, buying secondhand helps extend the life of these (ultimately) landfill items, and reduces demand on the production and distribution of non-renewable goods.
    3. Unplug your lights during the daytime. We know, it's kind of a drag to go in and out every morning and evening to plug, unplug, plug, unplug... but it's a relatively minor inconvenience that is 100% worth it when we think of the high stakes (saving our planet!). 

    As you can see, being sustainable doesn't mean sacrificing tradition. No matter what you celebrate, there's always an opportunity to stop and be more mindful of the environment. As always, we seek for progress not perfection, and being more gentle on the earth is an ongoing process. Maybe you used some of these ideas for this holiday season, or maybe you'll bookmark this link and use it when preparing for your holidays next year. 

      Happy holidays!


      1. https://realchristmastrees.org/education/quick-tree-facts/
      2. https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/real-vs-fake-christmas-tree/
      3. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/business/energy-environment/fake-christmas-tree-vs-real-tree.html
      4. https://earth911.com/home-garden/holiday-tip-dont-recycle-gift-wrap/
      5. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/led-christmas-lights-and-other-energy-efficient-decorations/