Did you know that every year the amount of trash produced in the U.S. increases by about 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, that extra 25% is equal to one million extra tons of garbage each week! It’s no wonder so many people tip their garbage collectors around the holidays. 

Now is the season for giving. 2020 has been especially difficult for everyone. Why not give back to our local communities and to the environment this year? Read the list below to learn how to lessen your environmental impact this holiday season.


Decorate a different way

Spread some holiday cheer, without the waste. Here are some more sustainable swaps for traditional holiday decorations.

Recycled snowflakes

These are one of my favorite decorations because there are so many ways to make them. They’re all super simple. By using discarded/recycled paper (or other recycled materials), you can make something beautiful from stuff that would otherwise end up in the trash; and it can be a fun activity to do with your loved ones! Check out these Youtube tutorials for 2D and 3D snowflakes, and for snowflakes from recycled toilet paper rolls.

You can also find tutorials for other recycled paper decorations, like this rolled paper wreath or this origami dreidel.

A guilt-free Christmas tree

Experts say that a traditional, real Christmas tree is actually a more sustainable option than a fake one. Even though fake trees can be reused, they’re made of non-biodegradable plastics & metals; and most are shipped from overseas, which causes more carbon emissions. If you celebrate Christmas with a tree, make sure to support your local economy by buying from a Christmas tree farm near you.

It’s a wrap on traditional gift wrapping

Does anyone else cringe at the mountain of discarded wrapping paper left after everyone opens their gifts? Consumers spend over one billion dollars each year on gift wrapping supplies, just for it to last a few minutes; and most gift wrapping options are non-recyclable, so they sit in landfills forever. One of the most harmful materials is glitter. Did you know that these tiny microplastics contaminate our water, soil, and air? It’s time we cancel out the unnecessary waste, with some eco-friendly wrapping alternatives.

Recycled wrapping paper

Save your old newspapers and paper bags! Many retailers launch festive paper bags during the holiday season. Starbucks’ and Panera’s bags are SO cute this year — which are perfect for wrapping gifts. Comic strips or grocery coupon flyers are also a fun option!

Try to use minimal tape when wrapping. Sometimes a glue stick works just as well, especially with newspaper.

Reuse last year’s bags

Make sure you avoid any awkward moments, by removing old tags or stickers from past seasons. (definitely NOT speaking from personal experience here). Remember to save any bags this year for future holidays!

Tags made from old holiday cards

Lots of holiday cards have cute designs that will make your presents pop.

Reclaimed ribbon

Try to use things you might have lying around (like twine!) before buying new materials. I like to save ribbon pieces from gifts and keep them all in a box. That way I always have something to spruce up the gifts I give.

You can also draw ribbon (or whatever you want) onto paper bags — get creative!

Shop smarter

Especially now during a global pandemic, it’s convenient to buy all of your gifts online; but unfortunately, online shopping (more specifically, shipping) really takes a toll on the environment. However, you don’t have to completely avoid shopping online to be more sustainable. Here are some smarter, more intentional ways to buy gifts.


Make a list (and check it twice)

If you’re buying gifts for multiple people, make a list of gift ideas for each person. Not only will this help you stay organized, but it will also make it easier to buy more gifts at once, from the same places. It can significantly decrease your environmental impact, by cutting down on shipping & transportation.

Avoid express shipping

Choosing regular shipping instead of express has less of an impact on the environment. If you order multiple items from the same place, giving the business more time to ship them means they can package everything together and avoid excess packaging.

Shop small & local

This year especially, small and local businesses need our support. Whether you’re choosing to shop in person or online this season, consider giving your money to small and local businesses instead of large corporations like Amazon.

Etsy is a great place to buy unique gifts while supporting small businesses from the comfort of your own home! Plus, Etsy offsets 100% of their carbon emissions: This means that for any carbon emissions released as a result of shipping items, Etsy invests in environmental projects that reduce carbon emissions by the same amount.

A gift that keeps on giving

Give your loved ones something they can use again and again: A reusable straw pack or utensil set, a reusable tote bag, reusable makeup remover pads… The sustainable options are endless!

Gifting an experience is a great, packaging-free idea. Consider buying your loved ones gift cards to their favorite local cafes or restaurants.

Stay in (and safe) this season

‘Tis the season for traveling — but not this year. With COVID-19 cases rising higher every day globally, it is incredibly important that we all take some necessary precautions to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. For many people, this means limiting or forgoing traveling for the holidays.

This certainly isn’t anyone’s ideal plan, but it does bring some good news for the environment. Significantly less travel by car and plane means significantly less carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. While the holidays are definitely different this year, that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate in safe ways.

Schedule a video visit

Thankfully, technology allows us to connect with our family and friends even when we’re not in person; and while it’s definitely not the same as being in person, video calls are the next best thing. Zoom recently announced that they will be lifting their 40 minute time limit for free video calls on Thanksgiving Day, and hopefully they will do the same for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

If you don’t use Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and Google Duo are also free options for video calls. Text or email your loved ones to set up a time to celebrate together — this is something you can do year-round!

Socially-distanced activities

Many places are holding local light shows from the comfort of your own car, or you can drive around at night and admire people’s yard displays. Christmaslightfinder.com lets you find nearby light displays using your zip code!

If you live somewhere with warmer winter weather, it’s perfectly safe to celebrate with others outdoors, while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. For more information and guidelines on safe holiday celebrations this year, visit the CDC’s website; and consult your local & state government websites for more specific information.

No matter what or how you celebrate this holiday season, make sure to do it safely, so that you and your loved ones stay happy & healthy even after the holidays are over. While the next few months may bring some stress, I and the rest of us here at Planet Home hope that you also experience a season of gratitude and joy. I hope this article has inspired you to make some sustainable changes in your holiday habits.