Decorating our homes, businesses and streets for Christmas–and other winter holidays, to some extent–has become as expected as the changing seasons in most Western cultures. Whether we have kids or not, many of us share the same vision of snow-covered trees, carols singing, families gathered and, of course, gifts to be exchanged. But between the holiday greeting cards, decorations and packaging, all that celebrating creates waste as well as memories. Americans alone create 25% more trash during the Christmas holiday season than any other time of the year; this amounts to 25 million tons of extra garbage.
The holidays are great time to reduce, reuse and recycle–and set a great example for your children. Let our green holiday decorating ideas inspire you. (Though it’s not on our list, a partridge in a pear tree would be a very green gift!).
Try some of these simple tips to reduce waste and live sustainably (and save money, too)
1. Greeting cards: Make your own cards from recycled materials like magazines, old cards, and product packaging; not only will they be more unique and memorable, you’ll save money and reduce waste. There are 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. alone. If every one of us sent only one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. If you decide to buy a card, consider one made from recycled paper or tree-free card or consider sending electronic cards (e-cards). And remember to recycle any paper cards you receive from others.
2. Christmas tree: Buy a potted tree and plant it after the holidays, or keep it in the pot and re-decorate it every holiday season. About 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in North America every year. If you decide to buy a cut tree, look into ways to recycle it after the holidays instead of wasting it to a landfill. Contact a solid waste department in your community or town about tree collection and mulching.
3. Gift wrap: Use recycled or reused wrapping paper, boxes and gift bags, or make your own from newspapers and magazines. Remember to save or recycle used wrapping paper for next season. Consider giving gifts that don’t require much or any packaging, such as gift certificates (restaurants, stores), tickets (museums, concerts), memberships (spas, health club) subscriptions (magazines, clubs) or paid trips/events.
4. Shopping bags: Bring your own reusable bags for holiday shopping, and help reduce the millions of paper and plastic shopping bags that end up in landfills every year.
5. Home and tree decorations:Make your own by recycling materials and products like light bulbs, toilet paper tubes, orange peels and many others. See more handmade decorating ideas from our friends at Me Gusta Reciclar and Sustentator. You can also make your holiday decorations edible.
6. Little gifts mean a lot: Make healthy cookies or chocolate goodies for your friends and loved ones and wrap them in reusable or recyclable packages. Not only are handmade gifts unique, they also show how much you respect our planet.
7. Make gifts from recycled materials: Keep an eye open for advertised “green products”, but always check product labels to verify that the item is made from recycled materials or materials easily recyclable. See more homemade gift ideas.
8. Rechargeable batteries: Buy rechargeable batteries with electronic gifts, and consider including a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of harmful materials going to landfills, and can save money in the long run. About 40% of all battery sales happen during the holiday season.
9. Turn holiday lights off during the day: There’s no need for your holiday decorations to be lit during daylight, so unplug them until it gets dark; you’ll save on energy, and your lights will also last longer. Look for ways to save energy in every season.
10. Holiday party gear: Avoid disposable products like paper towels, plastic tableware and cups. Instead, use cloth napkins, drinking glasses, ceramic plates and silverware. Despite the extra time and water needed for their cleaning, you are reducing waste–and making the occasion seem more special.
11. Avoid food waste and try composting: Once a holiday party is over, store your leftover food in recyclable containers and share them with family or friends or donate them to a local food bank or homeless shelter. If you have an access to a composting area, bring all fruit and vegetable scraps and leftovers there. Counter-top composters are also an attractive and practical holiday gift. Food waste is a problem that can easily be avoided.
12. Donate older toys: Once your children outgrow their toys, consider donating them to local charities. You can also check with your local library if they offer lending toys, games, puzzles or musical instruments, and you can donate them there. Organize toy swaps with friends, PTA members or local organization to allow toys to be loved a second time around.
Happy holidays! We hope our green ideas will inspire you in every season.