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How to Make Christmas More Sustainable

December 03, 2021 3 min read

It’s unlikely anyone would also call the most wonderful time of year the most environmentally friendly time of year, too. By its nature, Christmas is about consumerism and, most of the time, consumerism means waste and lots of it.

Small changes in almost every aspect of the holiday season--from the presents you buy, to where you shop, to the food you eat--can have a huge impact on the environment. This blog will focus more on making sustainable decor choices than anything else, but keeping that age-old “reduce, reuse, recycle” adage top of mind is, maybe, the most important first step towards a more sustainable holiday.

The Tree

Small Tree

If you’re like me, the most important Christmas decoration is the tree. Whether you’re Team Real or Team Fake, the jury is still out on which is better for the environment. However, a study done by the American Christmas Tree Association using comparative life cycle approaches (meaning they evaluated the impact of real and fake trees from creation to disposal) found that real trees generate less greenhouse gas emissions per holiday season than artificial ones, but that the findings begin to skew the longer your artificial tree is around. You’ll have to use the artificial tree for at least eight years to really reduce its carbon footprint. If you opt for a real tree, get it from a local, sustainable tree farm that doesn’t use pesticides, and remember to compost it properly at the end of the season.

Wrap it Up

Wrapped Presents

Now, onto gift wrap. I think it’s just as much a part of the decoration as the tree and I spend A LOT of time trying to set my aesthetic for the year (though I almost always stick with the traditional red, green, and gold patterns).

Using eco-friendly paper and materials makes a huge difference. Look for paper that CAN be recycled and consider cutting up last year’s Christmas cards to make name tags (see, we’re reusing now). My family always saves the “good” ribbon, boxes, and tissue paper to use year after year. It becomes a fun tradition to see them under the tree in new ways. A Stanford study found that if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. Wow!

The Details

Hanging Star

As for what goes on the tree (and your railing, mantle, table, and anywhere else you decorate), stick with homemade decorations as much as you can. I always love the traditional garland made by stringing popcorn and cranberries (dried slices of citrus fruits and cinnamon sticks work great, too).

Just like with artificial trees, the longer you use artificial garlands, the more you reduce their carbon footprint so try to make them work year after year, even if you change your overall aesthetic.

Essentially, you should be sure you understand what items will become trash and what can be safely recycled. Recycle mail-order catalogs, cardboard, and paper boxes, plain wrapping paper, holiday cards, and envelopes (without glitter, glue, and foil), and reuse plastic bags or take them to a grocery store for disposal. DON’T recycle lights or tinsel, bubble wrap, bows, or foam packaging.

How do you try to reduce, reuse, and recycle for a sustainable holiday with all of the festivity and much less waste? Please share with us in the comments.

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