Department of Environmental Conservation

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Sustainable Holidays

Image of gifts with alternate forms of wrapping paper.

The holiday season is a joyous time of year, with celebrations, gifts, and time spent with family and friends. Unfortunately, it also can lead to an increase in the amount of waste we generate and energy that we use. Luckily, by making some of the simple, cost saving, decisions below you can ensure that your celebrations are more sustainable.

Tips for Green Holiday Shopping

  • Give gifts that encourages others to be more sustainable. Such as a cookbook for leftovers or a re-usable carry-out container.
  • Give the gift of experiences. Such as gift certificates to local museums, concerts, restaurants, theaters, etc.
  • 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.
  • Instead of buying a gift, give your time and talent to your loved ones this year.
  • 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.
  • Bring your own reusable tote bag when shopping.

Gift Wrap, Holiday Cards and Packaging

  • Wrap your gifts in re-usable bags. Learn more to make them with this DEC Instagram video.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Holiday Decorations & Christmas Trees

  • Use Energy Star qualified LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights. They are 90 percent more efficient than traditional lights and LED's last longer.
  • Recycle your old holiday lights but not into your home recycling receptacles. Each year big box stores offer holiday light exchange programs or you can 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 birds during the winter. DEC highly recommends that bird feeding activities cease by April 1 and resume November 30 if you live in bear country.
  • Cut 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.

Holiday Food and Green Parties

  • Plan your menu and exactly how much food you'll need to minimize food waste.
  • Buy and serve locally grown food whenever possible. Look for the NYS Grown and Certified logo (leaves DEC website) when in the store.
  • Cook multiple items in the same oven and run appliances on full loads.
  • Avoid buying individually packaged drinks.
  • Serve your guests with re-usable cups, plates, silverware, and utensils.
  • Tell your guests to bring reusable containers for leftovers.
  • Donate leftover food to local food banks. Compost food that is not donated.

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 tree to symbolize the value of nature.
  • Bundle up and take a stroll to admire the holiday lights in your neighborhood.