Zero-waste holidays are the only holidays I do. I primarily buy things secondhand, make something special, write a kind letter, or re-gift something I no longer use. I spend a lot of time learning what others’ love language is, and a good portion of the time, people don’t want something physical, they want some quality time or kind and loving words.
Kat Woerner, climate activist and youngest elected executive committee member at Nebraska Sierra Club
Old school, incandescent holiday lights are a major electricity drain. LED lights use at least 75% less energy — and last way longer, per the U.S. Department of Energy.
The upfront cost is typically more for a string of LEDs, but the emissions and money you’ll save over the years is well worth it. Plus, you can connect up to 25 strands of LEDs plugged into a single outlet without overloading the socket.
Protect the ecosystem (and minimize your carbon footprint — yes, even LEDs contribute) by:
Channel the Maccabees and burn olive oil, or light your menorah with paraffin-free Hanukkah candles. Beeswax is a popular alternative; but if you want to go vegan (the ethics of beeswax are questionable), opt for responsibly-sourced plant-based candles.
It’s certainly okay to invest in quality decorations that you’ll use for decades, but using recycled ones is even better — especially if you expect your tastes to change.
Before buying new, check local thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, and online vintage and secondhand stores; and ask family and friends if they have any leftover or unwanted decor. Whether you’re looking for something specific or open to whatever catches your eye, you can likely find it secondhand.
If you’re tired of your own decor, be mindful about how you get rid of it. Arrange a swap with loved ones, donate directly via a “Buy Nothing” group, or seek out specialty recycling programs for items beyond repair.
Many wrapping papers can’t be recycled because of the dyes, inks, plastic, glitter, tape, and other embellishments they contain. The same goes for ribbon, which can be a nightmare for recycling facilities. And yet, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation, Americans toss an estimated 38,000 miles of ribbon every year.
Instead of adding to the waste, sustainably conceal your gifts with magazine pages, brown grocery bags, fabric scraps, old maps, and even scarves and t-shirts. Have a bunch of canvas totes lying around? Use those, too.
Artificial trees are often made of a plastic called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which can’t be recycled and creates far more carbon emissions than live trees — especially when you consider the fact that almost 90% of fake trees in the U.S. are shipped from China.
As The Nature Conservancy points out, when you buy a real tree, you’re helping keep farms in business and, in turn, preserving healthy forest habitats. Just be sure to buy it from a local, sustainably managed farm.
There’s no reason any Christmas tree should end up in a landfill.
Real trees can be composted or recycled and turned into mulch, depending on where you live. Most rural garbage services pick up trees during the first two weeks of January; just call ahead to be sure.
If you live in a city where you can’t leave trees on the curb, inquire with your local Parks and Recreation Department about how you can responsibly dispose of your tree. Most cities have drop-off locations in major parks.