Protecting the earth while celebrating the holidays

By Jenny Tolbert, JBM-HH Environmental ScientistDecember 14, 2022

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

While the holidays can be a joyful time of year, they also can be the most wasteful time of year. In fact, Americans generate at least 25 percent more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than the rest of the year. Around the holidays, an additional one million tons of waste are sent to landfills just from packaging, wrapping paper, ribbons, shopping bags and food waste. At least 8,000 tons of wrapping paper – the equivalent of as many as 50,000 trees – are used this time of year!

It is not just solid waste that increases. According to a study done by the energy company Arcadia, the amount of energy used to power holiday lights across the U.S. each year could power 800,000 homes for an entire year.

The good news is that we do not have to give up celebrating the holidays to take care of the earth. It all comes down to the small decisions we make, whether it’s knowing how to wrap a gift, which decorations to use or how to get rid of unwanted items at the end of the season. By implementing the tips below, each of us can have a significant, positive impact on the planet this season.

Gift Wrapping

· Use reusable gift bags and boxes, and be sure to save them and use them again next year!

· Keep wrapping paper used for gifts in the past and reuse it. Very few people would mind a couple of extra creases in the paper on their wrapped gift.

· Wrap gifts with newspaper comics, kraft paper, maps, posters or fabric (scarves, napkins, tea towels, etc.) instead of wrapping paper.

· Use natural wrapping materials such as twine, jute or cotton ribbons instead of nylon or polyester ribbon.

· If you are buying wrapping paper, purchase paper that does not have glitter or metallic components. These materials make the paper unrecyclable and the glitter adds to the microplastics pollution problem. Note: Only wrapping paper that does not have glitter or metallic components can be recycled. Also, be careful when sorting your wrapping waste. Recycling centers may send otherwise-recyclable wrapping paper to a landfill if it is mixed with non-recyclable materials such as bubble wrap, plastic wrap, bows, packing foam, etc. Tissue paper may not be recyclable – check with your recycling center.

· Turn old holiday cards into gift tags! The decorated fronts of cards can be cut up into multiple decorative tags.

· Ribbons (especially wired ribbons) can be rolled up and reused year after year. This is a big money-saver, too, because decorative ribbon is expensive!

· Send e-cards instead of traditional paper cards or buy cards that use recycled paper.

· Recycle wrapping paper (unless you can reuse it!)


· Reduce energy use by purchasing LED holiday lights, which use about 90-95% less energy than traditional lights.

· Reduce the production of plastic-based decorations by decorating with natural and biodegradable materials like greenery and live flowers.

· Give away or donate decorations that you would like to get rid of rather than sending them to a landfill.

· Use live Christmas trees rather than artificial trees, which will eventually add to the amount of plastic in landfills. Most localities will pick up trees or provide a drop-off location and will have them composted.

· Compost natural decorations such as trees and greenery rather than allowing them to take up valuable landfill space.

· Put your handy skills to the test – get more life out of decorations by repairing broken decorations or repurposing unwanted ones rather than replacing them.


· Reduce the number of gifts bought. Every product has a carbon footprint as it travels from production to your shopping cart, to the gift recipient and eventually to a recycling center or landfill.

· Look for plastic-free gifts to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfills. One example: Instead of giving a (plastic) gift card, send an emailed gift certificate.

· Gift experiences rather than items. A few ideas would be movie tickets, concert tickets, memberships (parks, museums, gyms, spas), outings such as a hike or day at the beach or favors such as babysitting or cleaning.

· Help the environment AND local communities by gifting charity donations in their name in place of a gifted item.

· Find gifts at antique stores, garage sales, flea markets and second-hand stores.

· Reduce fuel usage by buying local, choosing slower shipping as faster shipping takes more fuel and consolidating orders to reduce the number of deliveries to your house.

· Get your shopping done with friends and family to reduce the number of cars on the road.

· Reduce the amount of plastic bag waste being generated by bringing reusable bags to the stores during holiday shopping.

· Give away, return or regift unwanted gifts.


· Buy local whenever possible to reduce the large carbon footprint cause by shipping food from far locations.

· Purchase only what you’ll eat. For example, buy a turkey breast rather than an entire turkey if that is the main part you eat anyway!

· Use washable and reusable plates and silverware for meals instead of single-use materials.

· Use washable and reusable cloth napkins to save paper.

· Compost food waste when possible.

· Wash and reuse food packaging materials for storing leftovers.