Department of Environmental Conservation

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Sustainable Holidays

The holiday season with its accompanying buying, wrapping and celebrating substantially increases the amount of waste and electricity we generate. From wasteful purchases to disposable dinnerware and high electricity bills, the holiday season takes a toll on the environment. However, there are many opportunities for the consumer to be more sustainable during the holiday season. Shop locally, make your own gifts, and reduce waste to reduce your environmental impact this holiday season. Keep in mind, the best way to have a sustainable holiday is to simplify. When you simplify the holidays you often reduce your costs, stress and waste.

Tips for Green Holiday Shopping

  • If you must shop, shop as close to home as possible in an area where stores are near each other. Better yet, carpool with a friend or take public transportation.
  • Consider giving a gift that is eco-friendly, such as; items made with recycled content, items that are locally produced, organic, and/or fair-trade. Shop at nearby farmers markets, craft fairs, nurseries, and locally-owned stores.
  • Give gifts that encourage others to use less stuff, like a book about making crafts from reusable items, a cookbook for leftovers, or a re-usable carry-out container.
  • Purchase gifts that are long-lasting or that can be reused and later recycled.
    Look for gifts that don't require batteries.
    If you must buy a product that needs batteries, buy rechargeable batteries and give them with the gift.
  • Give the gift of apps to kids with smartphones.
  • Used gifts are kinder to the environment. Consider giving vintage and used clothing, books, DVDs, CDs, sports equipment, tools, cameras, children's toys, musical instruments, etc.
  • Online shopping: keeps you off the roads, but consider how far your purchases have to travel to get to you.
  • Give gift certificates to local museums, concerts, restaurants, theaters etc.
  • Give a local gift: get your favorite gardener a garden plot in a local community garden.
  • Make your own gifts: edible gifts such as breads, cookies, cakes, dried fruits, nut mixes, canned goods, jams/jellies, or herbed vinegars make fantastic gifts. Use your arts and crafts skills to knit a scarf, crochet a hat or mittens, paint a watercolor, or design your own jewelry. Make a calendar by using family photos marked with important dates.
  • Make a donation to a non-profit organization in the name of your loved one.
  • Instead of buying a gift, give your time and talent to your loved ones this year.
  • Plan a "re-gift" swap with your like-minded friends and family.
  • Bring your own reusable tote bag when shopping.

Gift Wrap, Holiday Cards and Packaging

  • Instead of wrapping a gift add a bow or ribbon to product boxes or gift boxes.
  • Make the wrapping part of a gift. Gardening pots are easy to fill with gardening supplies. A mixing bowl or stockpot makes an excellent package for your favorite cook.
  • Soft wrapping items like scarves, blankets, or towels are a great alternative to traditional wrapping paper.
  • Choosing tree-less sources of wrapping paper and holiday cards are friendlier on the environment than traditional wrapping paper. Use postcards to eliminate envelopes and excess paper.
  • Be creative about giving old materials new life: magazines, newspapers, maps, posters, children's artwork and calendars make great wrapping paper.
  • Only use the amount of wrap that you need: loop string around gift boxes, then lay it out on paper to determine how much to cut for your gift wrap.
  • Gift bags/baskets are a great wrapping alternative and can be used over and over again. Save clothing boxes, ribbons, bows and wrapping paper to reuse next year.
  • Avoid buying metallic and plastic wrapping paper it is not recyclable.
  • Use last year's holiday cards to create this years "to" and "from" labels.
  • Hide your unwrapped gifts and put clues to where they are around your house.
  • Save trees by sending e-cards instead of paper cards.
  • Make your own cards from paper embedded with wildflower seeds.
  • Ask companies to ship your packages using paper instead of polystyrene packing peanuts. If you do receive packing peanuts bring them, and other styrofoam packaging, to shipping stores for recycling.

Holiday Decorations & Christmas Trees

  • Energy Star qualified LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are 90 percent more efficient than traditional Christmas lights and LED's last longer.
  • Better yet, buy solar powered LED lights. Connect lights to a timer to turn lights on at dusk and off when you go to bed.
  • Recycle your old holiday lights. Each year Home Depot offers a holiday light exchange in November or recycle them at your local scrap metal dealer.
  • Go light-free: candles, the starry night sky and reflective ornaments and menorahs provide electricity-free holiday cheer.
  • Skip the tinsel for the tree and avoid buying plastic decorations.
  • Nature provides beautiful ornaments and other holiday decorations: gather a basket of evergreen branches, berries, flowers, fresh fruit, etc. and arrange as you desire, or make ornaments from twigs, bark, flowers, herbs, etc.
  • Make edible ornaments like seed bells, suet, and pinecones with peanut butter to hang around your yard and feed the local wildlife.
  • String together popcorn and cranberries, or make garland out of old jewelry, small stuffed animals or toys, trinkets, memorabilia, cookie cutters, buttons, etc.
  • Cut Christmas trees are a greener choice than artificial trees. Potted Christmas trees can be replanted after the holidays and reused all year long and for years to come. Consider buying a potted tree with a root ball that is native to your area.
  • Instead of buying a tree, decorate a tree in your backyard.

Holiday Food and Green Parties

  • Locally grown food travels fewer miles and creates fewer carbon emissions. Serve bite-sized or finger foods to minimize plate and utensil use.
  • Use smaller serving utensils and plates to encourage smaller portions reducing the amount of food waste left on plates.
  • Use recyclable aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap to store leftovers.
  • Plan your menu and exactly how much food you'll need.
  • Send electronic party invitations instead of paper invitations.
  • Use re-usable cups, plates, silverware and utensils instead of using disposable plastic, paper or styrofoam at your party.
  • Avoid buying individually packaged drinks.
  • Donate leftover food to local food banks. Compost food that is not donated.
  • Cook multiple items in the same oven and run appliances on full loads.
  • Turn down the thermostat for your party and let your guests be the heaters. Run your ceiling fan clockwise during the party distributing the heat throughout the house.

Sustainable Holiday Traditions

  • Participate in the annual Christmas Day Bird Count. Take a family nature hike. Bring a garbage bag to collect any litter you see along the way.
  • Plant a small tree to symbolize the value of nature.
  • Bundle up and take a stroll to admire the holiday lights in your neighborhood.
  • Bring back a fading tradition by organizing a caroling party.