Tips for a Green Holiday Season

Every year Americans throw out about 25% more than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. That’s an additional 5 million tons of garbage! To reduce your impact, check out the following green holiday tips found on various web sites. Don’t be overwhelmed. Look for just a few ideas that might work for you.

Christmas Cards

Every year, there are 2.65 billion holiday cards sold in the U.S. That’s enough to fill a football stadium field 10 stories high!

  • Choose Cards with Recycled Content: Send greeting cards made from recycled paper to reduce the amount of virgin paper used during the holidays. Avoid cards with glossy, shiny or gold foil coatings since these cannot be recycled.
  • Use E-Cards: You can also try sending electronic greeting cards (“e-cards”) to reduce paper waste as well as save money and time.
  • Make Your Own Cards: You can make your own cards out of scrap paper found around the house.  You could use old cards as name tags for presents or for colorful artwork to decorate your house.  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
  • Recycle or Reuse the Cards You Receive: Remember to recycle any paper cards you receive. Or save the cards that you get in the mail, cut off the front pictures, and reuse as “postcards” next year.

Christmas Trees

Approximately 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in North America every year.

  • Try a Potted Tree: To help prevent waste from cutting down and disposing of live trees, you can buy a potted tree and plant it after the holidays. Check with a local nursery.
  • Green Tree Trimmings: Try edible or compostable items like popcorn or cranberries on a string, gingerbread cookies or items made from “found” objects around your home.
  • Recycle Your Tree: Make sure to leave your tree out after Christmas to be picked up and recycled (mulched).

Christmas Lights

  • Use LED lights: Use light emitting diode (LED) holiday lights. LED’s use only 0.04 watts per bulb, compared to the more common miniature bulbs that use ten times as much electricity. The older standard C7 bulbs gobble up more than 100 times as much per bulb!
  • Turn Off Lights During the Day: Turn off or unplug holiday lights during the day. Doing so will not only save energy, but will also help your lights last longer.


You are drowning in mail order catalogs at this time of year, all of which need to be transported to you and hauled away by truck. Groan.

  • Recycle: Make sure to recycle all the catalogs that you receive
  • Get off of Mailing Lists: Remove yourself from catalog mailing lists. Call the company’s 800 number and ask that you be removed from their mailing list.
  • Try Catalog Choice: Where you can indicate which catalogs you do and don’t want to receive.


  • Try Lafayette First: It keeps our dollars in our town ($68 of every $100 spent stays in the community), helps the environment by reducing driving, and nurtures our community (local businesses donate to community causes).
  • BYOB: Bring your own tote bag to carry gifts, avoiding the waste of paper and plastic bags.
  • Plan Ahead: Consolidate your shopping trips to save gas. Shop locally, or skip driving altogether by shopping online.

Gifts – What to Look For

  • Choose Durable Items: Look for gifts that are long-lasting and durable, or that can be passed onto someone else when your recipient has finished using it. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing you money.
  • Look for Earth Friendly Materials: Try to purchase products made from organic or recycled materials, in minimal, recyclable packaging. Check product labels to determine an item’s recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available.
  • Energy-Efficient: If you’re buying electronic or household items, look for the most energy-efficient models. You can ask store clerks for this information or research products online. Choose solar powered instead of battery powered products. Or better yet, ones that require no power at all.
  • Zero-Waste: Give gifts that don’t create any waste at all: concert or movie tickets, dinner at a restaurant, or an IOU to help rake leaves or repair a leaky faucet. Or choose gifts that get “used up”: candles, soap, or seeds for next year’s garden.

Green Gift Ideas

  • Give a Donation: Make a donation in someone’s name to a charity he or she would appreciate.
  • Green Gift Guides & Catalogs: To find stuff with a more socially responsible edge, try OneWorld’s holiday gift guide, or the Eco-Shopper website or Co-op America’s Holiday Green Gift Catalog. One of our favorites is the Real Goods catalog.
  • Second-Hand Items: There are many items like books, furniture, sports gear, etc. that can be just as good as new, but require no resources to produce or transport. Craigslist is a great place to find used stuff.
  • Find Green Stores and Products in the East BayTry out which is a new service that provides a directory of the best green and local products in the East Bay.
  • Buy Rechargeable Batteries: About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away, and can save money in the long run.
  • Gifts with a Purpose: Look for gifts with an environmental purpose: a book with green living tips, a refillable water bottle, a canvas tote bag, a battery recharger or items made from recycled materials.
  • Homemade Gift Certificates: Offer to do yard work, shovel snow, babysit, walk the dog, or cook dinner.
  • Food Gifts: Make cookies, breads, or jams and present them in reusable tins and jars, or give a pre-made, frozen gourmet dinner right in the baking dish.
  • Give a Tree or Plant: Give a new tree or plant which have no packaging and will permanently enhance someone’s yard or garden. Native plants are best.
  • Find Special Items in Your Home: Find items in your home that you no longer need and give them as gifts, with a history attached.
  • Buy Nothing: Join people from dozens of countries around the world who are taking a break from the holiday consumer frenzy. Celebrate Buy Nothing Day with family and friends!

Reducing Focus on Gifts

  • Draw Names: Draw names from a hat with your family and friends, so each person gives a gift to one person. You can focus on a meaningful present for one instead of feeling pressure to give to all.
  • Family Traditions: Focus on family traditions or create new ones to spend quality time with your family: host a big potluck dinner, play games, read holiday books, spend time outdoors, etc.

Gift Wrapping

  • Creative Gift Wrapping: If each American household wrapped three gifts in reused materials, enough paper would be saved to cover 45,000 football fields. Try using old wrapping paper, gift bags or boxes, Sunday comics, old posters or maps, or make cloth bags in which to present your gifts.
  • Minimize Wrapping: Give gifts that don’t require much packaging, such as concert tickets or gift certificates.
  • Reuse: Reuse gift wrap, ribbons, bows, boxes, and bags. Cut up old greeting cards or calendars to make reused gift tags. Sew reusable gift bags out of old sheets, towels and scraps of fabric.
  • Use Reusable Containers: Give gifts in reusable or recycled packages: tins, reusable bags, or recycled and redecorated boxes.


  • Avoid Disposable Items: Entertain with dishes and glassware rather than paper and plastic. This is cheaper in the long run and more elegant. If you don’t have enough for parties, borrow from a neighbor or buy odds and ends at your local second-hand store.
  • Recycle: Make it easy for your guests to recycle cans and bottles at holiday celebrations.

Holiday Pictures

  • Go Digital: Use a digital camera so that you don’t have to use film and only print the pictures you want to keep.
  • Skip the Disposable: Use your own camera instead of a disposable one to reduce waste while capturing holiday memories.