SKL is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission. Learn more here.
As an environmentally-conscious person, you may wonder how you can translate your interest in protecting the planet to the holidays.
Christmas can be a beautiful time to come together with loved ones and celebrate, but sometimes those celebrations can end up creating a lot of excess and waste.
This guide to a sustainable Christmas will explore the many ways you can keep your holidays merry, bright, and low-waste without sacrificing your favorite festivities or the planet.
P.s. If you enjoy sustainable Christmas content, check out our other articles below:
- 101 Best Secondhand Gifts To Gift This Christmas
- 25 Best DIY Christmas Decorations & Sustainable Store Bought Decorations!
- 11 Best Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas For An Eco Friendly Christmas
Holidays Are Not Good For The Planet
With more holidays and parties in the winter, it’s no surprise that household waste can increase by 25% to 43% from Thanksgiving to New Years. This waste can come from decorations, single-use products, food excess, gifts, wrapping, and beyond.
The holidays also precipitate increased transportation with holiday travel, more online shopping, and mailing holiday cards and gifts. The USPS shipping peaks during the holidays, processing more than 11.7 billion mail and packages during the 2022 holiday season, and we know that the transportation sector accounts for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.
One study concludes that each individual’s holiday carbon footprint is around 1,400 pounds of CO2. It’s clear that we have to find ways to minimize our environmental impact during this time of the year.
Holidays Are Costing Us A Ton!
We spend a lot on our holiday celebrations. And sadly, much of this money tends to go towards things that end up being wasted or only used once.
Check out these alarming stats that make the case for more intentional, sustainable holidays:
- In 2022, total retail spending in the November-December holiday season amounted to $936.3 billion.
- Americans spend $8.3 billion to $15.2 billion on unwanted gifts.
- 52% of Americans admit to receiving unwanted gifts each year.
- In 2017, Americans spent $12.7 billion on gift wrap alone.
- $2.9 billion worth of Christmas decorations were imported to the US in 2021 from China alone.
- The average person in the U.S. spends approximately $269 on decorations and around $549 on gifts for family and friends each year. Total holiday spend per person was an estimated $1,455.
This post is all about the best ways to have a sustainable Christmas.
How to Reduce Waste in Your Holiday Celebrations
In the interest of reducing waste and celebrating an eco-friendly Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever holiday you observe, we’ve gathered many tips and ideas to support a green holiday season.
Bonus— Most of these tips will save you money, too! Who said sustainability had to be expensive?!
As you go into the holiday season, rethink your tradition of gift giving. Consider setting expectations with friends and family by asking for specifics on what they want, prioritizing non-material gifts, or exploring giftless ways to celebrate together.
Avoid gifting for the sake of it and skip “filler” gifts like cheap stocking stuffers (here are thoughtful stocking stuffer ideas instead). Return to your childhood practice of making a wishlist for “Santa.”
While it may seem like it takes the fun out of it to set gifting expectations or ask for what people want exactly, it’s actually more meaningful than just guessing and hoping they will like it.
Guessing often leads to unwanted gifts that go unused or are returned. Unfortunately, returned purchases are unlikely to be restocked and resold. This often results in 5 billion pounds of returned items getting sent to landfill each year. Clearly, gifting intentionally is an important way to reduce waste.
Sustainable Christmas Gift Ideas:
- Gift time or experiences (plan a family outing or buy event tickets)
- Gift education (gift a cooking class or online course)
- Meet a need (make a meal, pay a bill, or babysit for a date night)
- DIY and make it by hand
- Shop secondhand
- Support small, sustainable businesses
- Get a gift voucher to their favorite local business so they can pick what they want (don’t do this if you don’t know where they like to shop)
Looking for more sustainable & thoughtful gift guides this Christmas?
- 101 Best Non Toxic and Eco Friendly Gifts For Kids Of All Ages | 2023
- 101 Best Gift Ideas For Dad in 2023 | Unique, Useful & Thoughtful Gift Guide
- 101 Best Eco Friendly Gift Ideas For Her | 2023 Edition
- 101 Best Gifts For Him In 2023 | Sustainable Gift Guide For Men
- 50+ Super Fun, Safe & Eco Friendly Toys For Kids In 2023!
- 101 Best Thoughtful Gifts For Mom in 2023 | Unique & Useful Gifts She Will Love
If you do receive an unwanted gift, consider making it available on your local “buy nothing” group or thoughtfully rehoming it.
Rethink Your Gift Wrap
Wrapping paper is one of the biggest sources of holiday waste. Unfortunately, most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable due to how it’s coated or embellished, and even if it is, it likely is tossed in the garbage anyway.
Gift wrap is one of the most straightforward ways to meaningfully reduce your waste. First, save and reuse what you can each year.
For example, instead of buying new ribbons or bows every year, keep a stash to wrap with and return them to the stash after use.
Eco-Friendly Wrapping Ideas:
- Use what you already have (and save what you’re given)
- Newspaper or magazine
- Brown paper bags
- Fabric scraps or scarves (check out the Japanese Furoshiki fabric wrapping technique)
- Go minimal or package-free
- Learn to identify which wrapping paper actually is recyclable
Opt for Eco-Friendly Decorations
When it comes to decorations, alway prioritize using what you already have! If you need to go out and buy some, try secondhand sources first (there’s typically no shortage of holiday themed goods at the thrift store).
The good news is once you have a collection of decor, you can store it and reuse it every year, so be sure to source quality pieces you’ll love for a long time.
If you don’t already have decor, ask around— many people have excess. There are also many eco DIY options. Here’s a guide to eco decorations and some ideas to get you started.
Sustainable Christmas Decoration Ideas:
- Use nature like twigs, greenery, or pinecones.
- Get crafty and DIY with paper origami or salt dough creations.
- Try food-based decor like dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, or popcorn garland.
- Reuse every year.
- Buy quality, sustainable pieces from artisans.
- Turn your Christmas lights off during the day or when out of the house.
- Use LED holiday lights.
- Rent a potted tree or be sure to compost your live tree.
Spending time with loved ones is one of the best parts of holiday celebrations. We would never shame or dissuade you from traveling to see the important people in your life. While traveling certainly does have an environmental impact, life is also too precious to miss out on quality time with loved ones. Here are some ways that you can travel more responsibly during the holidays.
Sustainable Travel Tips:
- Pick a celebration spot that requires less travel distance.
- Carpool with friends and family to reduce cars on the road and reduce per person emissions.
- Save flying for long distances and try to get a nonstop flight (see these flying vs driving considerations).
- Stack your visits by visiting multiple friends and family members on the same trip instead of taking several different trips.
- Try taking the train or bus if that’s available to you.
Minimize Food Waste
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30% to 40% of all food is wasted across our food supply chain. The holidays contribute to a higher amount of food loss. Planning and being strategic can help minimize this waste.
Tips to Reduce Holiday Food Waste:
- Plan ahead and coordinate with friends and family to get an accurate headcount and collaborate on your meal prepping.
- Use this food calculator to estimate how much you need for your gathering.
- Make plans for leftovers by sending guests home with extras, clearing room in the freezer, or reimagining them for subsequent meals.
- Skip making or buying the traditional foods and sweets that no one really likes but only get made for the sake of keeping tradition.
- Store food properly to ensure it lasts.
- Compost your food waste.
In alignment with skipping new gift wrap every year, it’s good to evaluate and reduce the use of single-use products across the board, from decorations to tableware.
If you worry about not having enough reusable plates and utensils for hosting, ask a family member to bring extras you can use. This is also a great time to put your jar or plastic food storage collection to use by sending leftovers home with family in those saved containers that you won’t have to worry about being returned to you. Even if an item is seemingly single-use (like gift bags, ribbons, or paper decor), save it to be reused next year.
Also be sure to skip plastic-based decor and wrapping like glitter, tinsel, and cellophane (and if you already have it, try to extend its life). Lastly, instead of mailing a Christmas card, try an e-card or simply call your loved ones to catch up.
Rewear Your Holiday Outfits:
The holidays can mean lots of events, from family gatherings to work parties. It can be tempting to want a new and different outfit for each occasion.
Holiday and occasion wear rarely have several use case scenarios (think the classic velvet dresses, emerald green silk, tartan print, and ugly christmas sweaters). Because of this, it’s best to rewear these outfits over the years rather than collect more garments that won’t get many wears.
The good news? I doubt anyone will remember what you wore a whole year ago. Here are some ideas to breathe new life into your old holiday outfits.
- Rewear your signature holiday pieces to multiple events.
- Restyle the pieces with different accessories.
- Borrow and swap with friends and family for a change up.
- If you do need something new, thrift it.
- Take it to the tailor to update it or upcycle it.
This post was all about the best ways to have a sustainable Christmas.
Making an effort to green your holiday celebrations will ultimately save you time and money, creating more opportunities to return to and invest in the more meaningful aspects of the holidays.
Often, this time of the year can be stressful and hectic. These sustainable tips are a great way to simplify your festivities, reducing the stress on you and the planet!
This has been your comprehensive guide to an environmentally-friendly Christmas time. We hope you enjoy holiday celebrations that are better for your wallet and the earth!
If you liked this post on best ways to have a sustainable Christmas, you’ll definitely want to check out these other posts from SKL: