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12 Ways to Have an Eco Friendly Holiday

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Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away a million extra tons of garbage each week, including holiday wrapping and packaging. We also use more electricity on holiday lights than some countries use in an entire year. All this waste is really unnecessary.

Here are twelve eco friendly holiday tips to help you reduce your environmental footprint this holiday season.

1. Make Your Own Wrapping Paper or Go Without

Most mass-produced wrapping paper you find in stores is not recyclable because of the shiny coatings, foils and colors, and therefore ends up in landfills. And sadly, most wrapping paper and ribbon is produced in Asian sweatshops!

What a shame so much water, oil and trees are wasted every year solely to produce something that exists only to be torn off and thrown away!

Instead, here’s a great chance to get creative! Wrap presents with old maps, the comics section of a newspaper, or children’s artwork. Or use a scarf, attractive dish towel, bandana, or some other useful cloth item that is a gift in and of itself.

You could even go without wrapping your gifts altogether. A Small Footprint Family Facebook fan recently told me that at her home, she hides all the unwrapped presents around the house, and holds a scavenger hunt for the kids to find them.

What a fun, clever, low-waste idea!

LED Christmas Lights2. Buy Energy-Saving LED Holiday Lights

Thanks to technology, you can now decorate your house with LED lights that use 90 percent less energy than conventional holiday lights, and can save your family up to $50 on your energy bills during the holiday season! As an added bonus, LEDs release little heat, and they last about 200,000 hours. In the unlikely event that one does burn out, the rest of the lights keep on glowing. Whew!

According to one U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month. The savings would be enough to power 200,000 homes for a year!

LED lights are available online and at many major retailers.

Almost all holiday lights contain a tiny amount of lead between the wires and the plastic that covers the wires, so keep them away from children and wash your hands after installing them.

They are a bit pricier, but for the ultimate green holiday lighting, you can find lead-free, LED holiday lights here.

3. Add Organic & Local Foods to Your Holiday Feast

Support local family farmers who grow sustainable meat and produce. Not only does local, organic food taste better, but you’ll also be doing your part for your community and the planet too.

Find an organic turkey or humane ham and local vegetables for holiday dinner.

4. Get a Pesticide-Free Tree

Demand is on the rise for Christmas trees that are not covered in chemicals. Some growers use 40 different pesticides, as well as chemical colorants. The good news is that there are now a number of tree-farms that sell pesticide-free trees, so ask your local Christmas tree seller, or search for an organic tree farm near you.

An even more eco-friendly option is to get a plantable tree that you can put in the ground in your yard or a nearby park when you are done.

5. Recycle Your Christmas Tree

12 Eco Friendly Holiday Tips

Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. While your tree won’t fit in the recycling bin with your newspapers and bottles, you can recycle your tree: many cities offer programs to turn your tree to mulch or wood chips. Some cities even use your old trees to do important environmental projects like streambank stabilization.

Visit the National Christmas Tree Association or do a web search to find a “Christmas tree recycling program” near you.

6. Recycle Your Old Cellphone or Tablet

Getting a new cell phone or tablet for Christmas? Not sure what to do with the old one? Now, you can drop off that old phone at any Staples store, as part of the Sierra Club cell phone recycling program or possibly sell it to one of the many buyback programs online.

Each year, 130 million cell phones are thrown out, weighing approximately 65,000 tons. Recycling your old phone prevents hazardous elements like mercury, cadmium and lead from ending up in our landfills.

7. Offset Your Holiday Travel

If you or your loved ones are traveling more than 100 miles this holiday season, try to reduce air travel whenever possible, and consider offsetting the fossil fuel pollution generated by your trip, no matter how you travel. These companies can help you get trees planted to reduce your impact.

  • Terrapass – Provides carbon offsets for flying, driving, etc.
  • CarbonFund – Provides a variety of carbon offset projects to choose from.
  • Carbonify.com – Tree planting for offsetting carbon emissions

8. Donate Your Time or Money to an Environmental Cause

Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering! There are countless ways to help improve your community—and the planet—from cleaning up a local river to helping inner city kids experience the outdoors for the first time. Organizations and charities all over the country need your time and/or your money to make a difference, so you can have a great impact for a small amount of effort.

9. Make Handcrafts & DIY Gifts

There are so many ways to reduce your consumption impact when giving holiday gifts. DIY gifts like homemade ornaments, crafty picture frames with photos of loved ones in them, homemade vanilla extract, or handmade soap can be as much fun to make and give as to receive.

There are tons of ideas on Pinterest, and you are really only limited by your imagination.

10. Give Experiential Gifts

Here are some travel tips on how to have a great vacation with a smaller, more planet-friendly footprint...My favorite gift to give is the gift of an experience. By giving gifts that can be experienced, you can minimize wrapping and shopping, and still win points with the receiver. Anything that allows your loved one to spend quality time experiencing something fun, new or interesting will make a gift sure to be remembered for years to come.

Some ideas include: tickets to a ball game, play or concert, a trip somewhere interesting, a zoo or museum membership, lessons of some type, a drive in the country, or even a homemade dinner.

11. Purchase Eco-Friendly & Locally Made Gifts

Finally, if you choose to purchase retail gifts, try to select products that come in minimal packaging, are made from sustainable materials, and can be easily recycled. You could also choose gifts that help people live more sustainably, like a compost bin, a reusable water bottle, or a Wonderbag electricity-free slow cooker.

12. Stuff Stockings With Yummy, Natural Treats

Stocking stuffers tend to be small, plastic trinkets that end up broken, lost or in the garbage by the end of January. Instead, fill your stockings with yummy, healthy treats like dried fruit, nuts, clementines and even homemade holiday cookies.

How are you being green this holiday season?

We Wish You a Peaceful Holiday and an Abundant New Year!

—The Small Footprint Family

This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, pick up a copy today!

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.


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  • Dawn, thats a great list to go green while traveling. I recently committed to go green, reduce my carbon footprint and live a minimalist zero waste life to help the planet eco-system. Though compost bins is a great idea.. .What does reusable water bottle means.

    I thought all water bottles are reusables. No?

    • When you buy a plastic, single use bottle of water from the store, it is usually too flimsy to use again for long. A stainless steel water bottle, however, can be used to carry water forever.

  • Love the idea of a compost bin as gifts! I’ve been wanting to start my own after seeing a close friend do the same. There’s also zero-waste starter kits out there to help inspire others who aren’t familiar with it!

  • Great ideas and not just for the holidays. You could use a lot of these tips all year round. Birthday parties, gifts, even weddings. Making a lot of these things always looks so much better and had more meaning 🙂

  • Great tips. I often focus on 3 things : Reduce, Reuse and Recycle to make my trip an eco-friendly one. Its such a pain to see people throwing away papers without even realizing that so my trees are cut every year to produce it.

  • Great ideas. Another good option for a Xmas tree is to get a live one that can be planted after the holiday. Some cities now have companies that actually rent out live trees and then replant them for you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kirsten! For those who live in the right climate for it, getting a living tree to plant after the holidays is a fabulous idea!!

      Happy Holidays,

      Dawn @ Small Footprint Family