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Greening the Holidays

by Lia Evard

While most of us notice an increase in spending during the holiday season, we don’t always see the increase in what we send to the our landfills.  Americans throw away about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve than the rest of the year.

If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, we would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! 

The idea of changing the habits that we’ve all become accustomed to can seem daunting, but even the smallest actions can help you reduce your carbon and ecological footprints. In the past few years, my focus has been on how to cut down on the number of products I consume. 

Below are some ways you can cut down on your consumption around the holidays and go green! Choosing a few of these actions will take a small amount of effort but have a big impact. Not only will you contribute to sustainability and health, but chances are you will also simplify your life and discover new interests. Going green can help sort out what really matters from the chaos of the holiday season: enjoying the company of family and friends!


Make sustainable choices regarding your holiday tree.

  1. Buy an artificial tree that you can reuse for years to come.

  2. If you must buy a real tree, buy a living tree that you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays, or purchase one that was grown locally to help cut down on the environmental costs of transporting trees from afar. 

  3. Dispose of your tree through your waste company’s curbside collection so it can be chipped and composted. Flocked trees are NOT compostable.

Choose energy-efficient LED lighting.

Use energy efficiently and be creative with what you already have.

  1. Consider using fewer or no lights in your holiday decorations. If you must use lights, decorate with energy-efficient LED strings.

  2. Plug your decorative indoor and outdoor lights into a timer to save electricity.

  3. Decorate creatively and inexpensively with natural materials from your yard or with items you already own.


Be thoughtful when shopping for gifts. Don’t buy things simply for the sake of having something to give someone. About 35 percent of Americans have an unused Christmas present from past years collecting dust in their closets!

Use fewer resources when you shop, give presents, and wrap gifts.

  1. Save money and resources by making your own gifts: knit, sew, bake, or build something, or create art, make calendars or recipe books using your own photos.

  2. Give in ways that support your community: tickets to local theater performances, concerts, sports events, local attractions, museum memberships, gift certificates for dinner at local restaurants and cafes, a massage at a local spa, and as to local gift shops or consignment/charity shops. 

  3. Give your time and skill: coupons for doing household chores, preparing meals, gardening, cleaning, window washing, car detailing, dog walking, or teaching computer or smart-phone use for seniors in your life.

Give the gift of shared experiences.

  1. Donate to a favorite charity or a service organization in the name of a friend of relative who supports that cause.

  2. Give gifts that are durable, energy-efficient, recyclable, or made of natural products. Purchase gifts that are fair-trade, locally made or grown, or organically grown.

  3. Remember to bring your own bag (keep them in the car or near your bike so they’re always available).

  4. Conserve energy when shopping by combining trips, using mass transit, carpooling with a friend. 

  5. Use creative materials for wrapping gifts: scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs, old maps, sheet music, advertisements, reusable tins, baking pans, or other home or garden items.

Consider sustainability when buying toys.

  1. Look for toys made from natural materials and fair-trade toys.

  2. If you give electronics, choose energy-saving items.

  3. If you must provide batteries for a gift, be sure to buy rechargeable ones.

Green your holiday greetings

  1. Send email cards or make your own.

  2. Buy cards made from “post-consumer” content and printed with non-toxic inks.

  3. Reuse the fronts of old cards as holiday postcards or gift tags.

  4. Give cards that are eco-friendly, such made from recycled paper, or that consider sustainability in their production. prides itself on its sustainable cards. also offers eco-friendly options. Or give cards that support an organization that you care about.

Holiday food

Eat sustainably-sourced food and avoid disposable containers and extra packaging.

  1. Research sustainable food choices in your area. Buy locally, such as at your local farmer’s market. (Note that the Los Altos Farmers’ Market is closed for the season, so visit the Mountain View or California Avenue Farmers’ Markets instead). 

  2. If buying seafood, use Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide to sustainable seafood

  3. Consider eating lower on the food chain to reduce your carbon footprint.

  4. Consider the energy efficiency of your cooking.

  5. Purchase snacks and beverages in bulk to avoid extra packaging.

  6. Serve food with washable/reusable utensils, plates, and glasses, rather than disposable items.

  7. Make homemade eggnog, hot chocolate or iced tea to avoid additional packaging.

More information on greening the holidays, can be found on the Center of A New American Dream’s Simplify the Holidays booklet.

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