10 Sustainable Traditions For A Greener Holiday

It’s a good time to consider having a more sustainable holiday, going green for ourselves and for the planet.

Gifts wrapped in plain paper and string
(Image credit: Tanja Ivanova / Getty Images)

The holidays are a special time. Many people enjoy time off work, vacations and most of all, time spent with family. Unfortunately, celebrating the holidays in traditional ways isn’t always environmentally friendly. By being a little more thoughtful and making more careful choices, you can have a more eco-friendly and sustainable holiday season.

Sustainable Holiday Traditions

Holiday sustainability begins with many cherished traditions that aren’t always so good for the environment. You don’t have to make drastic changes or sacrifice these beloved customs to make a difference. Read on for some tips on how to make the holiday more sustainable.

1. Try a Fresh Cut Tree

An artificial tree made of plastic and other substances will take hundreds of years to break down in a landfill, so if you buy an artificial Christmas tree, keep it for as long as possible.

A better solution is to use a fresh cut tree from a sustainable farm. The trees on Christmas tree farms take several years to get to the right size. During this time, they sequester carbon, provide habitat for wildlife, and protect soil.

After the holidays, your tree can be reused in several ways. Use it for firewood or turn it into chips for mulch. Some zoos and nature centers take donations of holiday trees to provide animal enrichment.

2. Switch to LED Lights

If you have old-fashioned string lights, consider upgrading to LEDs. LED lights use up to 80% less energy than traditional Christmas lights. You’ll reduce your energy consumption and save money. You can recycle old string lights with metal scrappers. Some big box stores take them back for recycling as well.

3. Shop for Sustainable Gifts

Gift giving is one of the most wasteful aspects of the holidays. To reduce waste, choose gifts that people will use and that last a long time. For example, get the coffee lover in your life a good quality travel mug they can refill at their favorite coffee shop.

Other ways to make gifts more sustainable is to purchase second hand items, locally-made gifts, and high-quality items that people will be able to use for years.

4. Give the Gift of Experience

Gifts don’t have to be objects. Consider having a more sustainable holiday by giving experiences instead of actual gifts. Ideas include concert, movie, or museum tickets, dinner reservations, or homemade “coupons” for activities or chores.

5. Send E-Cards or Recycled Cards

Holiday cards are a beloved tradition for many people and a way to update family on the past year. Consider making these annual holiday letters virtual. Or, if you don’t want to give up the physical letter, choose recycled cards. Avoid cards with glitter or foil that cannot be recycled easily.

6. Reuse Gift Wrap

Wrapping paper turns into a lot of waste after the holidays, and not all of it is recyclable. If buying new, look for recycled paper and avoid metallic, shiny papers that cannot be recycled. Even better, reuse gift wrap. Remove it carefully so you can use it later, and save gift bags.

7. Make Packaging Part of the Gift

If you’re creative, you can even make the gift wrap part of the gift. Use a cloth bag that your gift recipient can reuse. Reusable grocery bags, for instance, are gifts in themselves. For crafting friends and family, wrap gifts in pieces of fabric that they can use in future projects.

8. Go Natural with Your Decorations

Like gift wrap, many holiday decorations end up in a landfill later. Instead of tinsel, cheap ornaments, and fake garlands, decorate with natural materials. Use real evergreen garlands that you can mulch or compost after the holidays. Create old-fashioned popcorn and cranberry garland for the tree. Add pine cones for ornaments.

9. Minimize Food Waste

Take time to plan holiday dinners to avoid throwing food away. Buy only as much as you need for the meal to avoid ending up with leftovers that go bad before you can eat them.

10. Turn Holiday Travel into a Road Trip

Many people travel during the holidays to be with family. Driving leaves a much smaller footprint than flying. When possible, turn your travel plans into a road trip. It will be a fun, more sustainable experience for the family and a change to make memories.

An environmentally friendly Christmas and holiday season is doable. It takes just a little creativity and extra thought to keep your favorite traditions but make them more sustainable.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.