It’s beginning to look a lot like landfill: Guide to more sustainable holidays

Charlotte Fishburne

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But, it’s also the most wasteful. Thankfully, there are small steps everyone can take to reduce the environmental footprint of holiday cheer. To aid you in making these eco-friendly choices, here is a guide to some of the easiest changes to implement in the upcoming holidays.


Gift wrap is the number one producer of waste during the holidays. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bows, bags and other holiday materials add 1 million tons of trash to landfills each week. While ripping open presents and tearing through tape and ribbon adds to the gifting experience, there are alternatives that can preserve the essence of traditional gift-giving while cutting down on waste. One option is to make wrapping paper out of paper grocery bags or old newspapers. This can be enhanced with drawings or messages to give the gift a more personal touch. Another possibility is to invest in reusable wrapping for the future. Fabric scraps, old napkins or tablecloths can be cut into perfectly sized eco-wrap. The easiest way to collect gifting material is to save and reuse boxes and ribbons previously received from others.

Gifting experiences instead of objects:

Physical gifts carry the obvious sustainability costs of manufacturing, but they also carry hidden environmental costs when the items are returned. Returning gifts can often be just as wasteful as throwing the gift away. According to Retail Dive, 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfills each year, which is equivalent to the trash produced by 5 million Americans. The process of returning items uses 1.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel and creates 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Gifting an experience is not only more environmentally conscious, but it can also make the recipient feel as if more effort was put into the gift. Some ideas include tickets to a concert, a museum or a sports game. When shopping for someone who wants to learn a new skill, set up a way for them to try something new, like through cooking, yoga or pottery classes. Spending quality time is equally valued when looking for a meaningful gift without breaking the bank. This can be achieved by setting up a picnic, hike or special adventure.

Holiday lights:
The holidays wouldn’t feel right without the shimmering strings of lights while driving through neighborhoods. There are ways to reduce the environmental impact of such a huge use of energy. By putting holiday lights on a timer, you can avoid unnecessary lighting and save money on the energy bill. Another solution is to upgrade lighting to more sustainable options. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, 9.9 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented, saving $850 million each year. With more efficient usage of holiday lighting, everyone can enjoy the holiday sparkle with a clean conscience.

Being sustainable during the holidays doesn’t have to mean turning into the Grinch. With a few smart steps, you can be just as festive without ending up on Santa’s eco-naughty list.