Dreaming of a Green Christmas? Here are 10 Tips to Make Your Holiday Season More Sustainable

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Sustainable Christmas - White stockings hung on a wooden mantle with a white fire place and pine leaves in vases as decor

I love the holiday season. I need you to know this because I’m about to go all “Grinch” on you for a moment. While mankind may enjoy all the holiday festivities—the parties, the gifts, the energy-sucking, yet delightfully festive lights—it isn’t really something for the planet to celebrate. After all, research suggests that between all the extra consumption, traveling, and six-foot light up snowmen, each person produces an extra 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions during the holidays.

So how do we create a more sustainable Christmas season? We stop celebrating. Just kidding, I’m not going to go that Grinch on you. The answer is that we all need to do what we can to help reduce the astronomically large environmental footprint of the “most wonderful time of year.” Read on for some tips to help you get started.

For more pro-planet Christmas tips, check out the holiday page to find everything *yule* need for a planet-friendly holiday season

10 Tips for a More Sustainable Christmas

Sustainable Christmas - a person wrapping several gifts in brown paper with red and white string.

1. Make natural decor

On a trip to Home Goods in November you’ll likely be welcomed by an endless barrage of plastic, non-recyclable, non-compostable (albeit very festive), holiday decor. I urge you to resist the temptation. Instead, try opting for natural decor made of compostable materials. For instance, you can DIY your own decor by drying citrus fruit for garland, making salt dough ornaments, or using foraged pinecones and greenery to make wreaths. They’re fun activities you can do with your family each year, and once the season is over you can dispose of the decor in your compost bin.

2. Shop for secondhand decor

Now, wreaths and garland might be easy to make, but what if you need some festive candle holders or stockings to adorn your mantle? You may be thinking those are DIY Level 10 and you have yet to pass Level 3. But there’s no need to fret. You can still make it a sustainable Christmas by finding these types of items secondhand. What appear to everyday vases, candles, or trays can often achieve that holiday “look” when coupled with a bit of that natural decor we mentioned earlier.

3. Use low-waste wrapping methods

Your typical roll of wrapping paper is often neither compostable nor recyclable. In fact an estimated 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper end up in the landfill each year. For a more sustainable Christmas, try an eco-friendly alternative such as fabric wrapping, brown paper, or reusable bags. I’ve rounded up several sustainable wrapping methods if you need more ideas.

4. Send virtual holiday cards

Approximately 1.3 billion Christmas cards are sent annually in the US, and many of them end up in the trash. Instead try opting for E-Christmas cards (or even a phone call, I hear those are still a thing) to wish your loved ones a happy holiday season. 

related: 5 Clothing Rental Services to Try For Your Holiday Party This Year

5. Choose your tree carefully

Artificial vs. Real. The tree debate that has divided even the closest of families. There are many factors that go into selecting a Christmas tree—ease of use, storage ability, cost. But what about sustainability? There’s a bit of debate among experts, but the Sparknotes version is, if you have an artificial tree already, keep reusing it for as long as you can. If you don’t, purchasing a locally grown tree and disposing of it responsibly is likely to have the least impact on the environment. If you’d like a deeper dive on the great tree debate I’ve got that for you too.

6. Share sustainable treats

If your favorite part of the holidays is the spike in chocolate truffle consumption, try opting for more ethical versions. Tony’s Chocolonely and Alter Eco are two sustainable and ethical chocolate companies that I absolutely love. Their chocolate is some of the best that my taste buds have ever had the privilege of experiencing (which says a lot given that I consider myself a bit of a chocolate snob).

Tony’s is committed to ending slave labor within the cocoa industry while Alter Eco is on a mission to bring you fair trade chocolate in planet-friendly packaging.

7. Ask people what they want

I know it’s fun to surprise people with gifts. I know. But sometimes it’s less of a fun surprise and more of a burden when you accidentally get someone something they don’t really want. It’ll either sit in their closet unused or end up getting returned, and only about half of returns get resold—many of them may end up in the trash. In fact it’s estimated that 5 billion pounds of returned items end up in the landfill. So get them something you know they want, and if you truly have no idea, well that’s why gift cards exist.

8. Serve plant-based food

It’s widely known that reducing your meat intake can have great environmental benefits. So why not serve plant-based food at what may very well be your largest dinner party of the year? Not only will this make for a more sustainable Christmas season, but it may also expose your friends and family to new plant-based meals they may not have tried otherwise. Simple substitutions like using plant-based milk in place of traditional dairy, or opting for lentils as your protein source instead of meat, can significantly reduce your environmental footprint.

related: 10 Easy Vegan Recipes You Would Never Guess are Vegan

9. Give experience gifts

Experience gifts are a great alternative to physical gifts. Does your intended recipient love to cook? Maybe they have a camera that needs to be dusted off. Or perhaps you think they’re ready to take their paint-by-number skills to the next level. Try gifting them a class to help them hone their craft. The selection from Masterclass really runs the gamut if looking for an online option, but don’t be afraid to shop around locally too. There are probably several small businesses in your area that offer interactive in-person classes.

Of course you also can’t go wrong with treating them to a day at the spa, a meal at their favorite restaurant, or even pitching in for their next vacation.

10. Shop small and sustainable

Billions of dollars are spent over Black Friday weekend each year as people rush to get deals on gifts for loved ones (and themselves). This hyper-consumerism, can often result in unnecessary impulse purchases unless approached mindfully. I have several tips on how to participate in Black Friday sustainably, but shopping small and sustainable is one of the most important.

For many small businesses, the holiday season is their lifeline (the big box stores will survive regardless). The money small business owners make is the money they use to provide for their family. So instead of shopping at Amazon or Walmart (where the money they make is mostly funneled into the c-suite’s deep pockets) try to support small, local, and sustainable businesses if possible.

Craving more sustainability tips? Sign up for The Eco Edit and join hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.

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