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Sustainable Holidays

Reduce, Reuse & Rejoice This Holiday Season

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 (or un-shopping)

  • If you must shop, think ahead and consolidate trips to the store to save time, gas, and hassle. Look for stores that sell several of the items on your shopping list. Try to get your shopping done as close to home as possible and in one area where stores are located near each other. Better yet, carpool with a friend when shopping or take public transportation.
  • Make every gift count: buy gifts with value, purpose and meaning to the recipient. Purchasing items that the recipient needs or wants will ensure the gift will not be wasted.
  • 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. Instead of buying an item from a chain store, buy gifts from a local business or co-op. Shop at nearby farmers markets, craft fairs, nurseries, locally-owned stores, or from retailers that donate a portion of the profits to causes your recipient supports.
  • 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.
  • A truly eco-friendly gift should not contain plastics, polyesters, hardwoods or other non-sustainable materials. 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 clothing, books, DVDs and CDs, bikes, sports equipment, tools, cameras, children's toys, musical instruments and clothes. If you're still uneasy with the concept of giving a used item as a gift, write a note on the gift card that says "this gift comes to you at no added expense to the environment." Websites like and are also great places to get gently used gifts.
  • Online shopping. This keeps you off the roads, but consider how far your purchases have to travel to get to you.
  • Gift certificates to local museums, restaurants, theaters etc. are a great idea. Or give the gift of local experiences, such as, ski passes or tickets to a local concert or play. You could get your favorite gardener a garden plot in a local community garden and provide them with some seed packets. A share to a local CSA is also a great idea for those that enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. Or give nature lovers a gift card for camping or golfing at New York State Parks or an Empire Passport to New York State Parks.
  • 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. Dehydrate your own herbs and flowers to make custom tea blends. Give baked goods in holiday tins or baskets that can be reused. Hunters can make their own jerky to give as gifts.
  • Use your arts and crafts skills to knit a scarf, crochet a hat or mittens, paint a watercolor, or design your own jewelry. Other make your own gift ideas include; making a recipe book, putting together a photo album or taking plant cuttings that can be transplanted. The website Pinterest has countless gift ideas that you can create using your arts and crafts skills.
  • Make a family calendar and mark it with important dates. Use family photos for each of the calendar months.
  • Make a donation to a non-profit organization in the name of your loved one. Or contribute to a child's college savings account or give them a U.S. Savings Bond.
  • Instead of buying a gift, give your time and talent to your loved ones this year. Offer to make them lunch, walk the dog, or help with home repairs or yard work.
  • Before the holidays, plan a "re-gift" swap with your like-minded friends and family. We all have gift quality items collecting dust on our shelves that are not being used. Have a get together and trade these items for other items that are on your holiday gift list.
  • When shopping bring your own reusable tote bag. Rather than accepting a separate bag for each purchase use your reusable and remember to choose products that are minimally packaged. If an item has several layers of paper and plastic packaging, choose a similar product that has less packaging waste.

More about Sustainable Holidays:

  • Gift Wrap, Holiday Cards and Packaging - Save your holiday decorations for reuse next year. Donate decorations to local schools, churches, town offices or non-profit organizations. Use natural ornaments such as pine cones, shells, dried flowers or berries.
  • Holiday Decorations & Christmas Trees - Some communities recycle Christmas trees - chipping and mulching them for compost or landscaping materials. Trees must be free of tinsel, decorations, nails, tacks or any other foreign materials.
  • Holiday Food and Green Parties - With some thought, you can reduce, reuse and recycle during the holidays to give the environment the gift of less while saving yourself time, money and stress.
  • Sustainable Holiday Traditions - Don't sacrifice your traditions or your enjoyment to be kind to the environment and have a sustainable holiday.
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  • Contact for this Page
    Division of Materials Management
    Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-7253
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