The sustainable holidays

Trash Talk

editorial@sierrastarDecember 3, 2013 

Is it possible to have an environmentally friendly holiday?

One can only wonder when witnessing the amount of wrapping paper, packaging, party refuse, and other holiday waste.

It's estimated that the celebrations of just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day generate three billion extra tons of garbage annually. Can we have a simpler and more sustainable holiday, without being a Scrooge, party pooper, or adversary to the nation's economy?

Here are some ideas:

Check the Freecycle Network or Craig's List (free items) for holiday decorations.

For wrapping paper, consider making your own, reusing paper (that hasn't been wadded up and thrown away), using and reusing gift bags, or investing in reusable wrapping paper, a relatively new product on the market. Small boxes can be wrapped with colorful magazine pages.

If adding used wrapping paper to your paper recycling bin, remove most of the tape as it can gum up machines.

Styrofoam packing peanuts are not recyclable in most areas. Call 800-828-2214 or check out for referrals to the nearest locations that will accept them for reuse.

Check out for information and resources for other types of expanded polystyrene product waste. Some shipping companies (such as UPS and Mail Boxes Etc.) may accept Styrofoam products to be reused for shipping, but call first to inquire.

Check out the book A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith.

Recycle your Christmas trees, or use a live one and plant in your yard afterwards.

Use more efficient LED Christmas lights, if indeed you're displaying lights.

Shop at thrift stores and yard sales for decorations, or even gifts.

With friends and family implement something like the Hundred Dollar Holiday plan, (originally proposed by Bill McKibben and his church friends), wherein holiday spending is limited to $100. Check out his book, Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas.

Make your gifts. Needlework, crocheted scarves, knitted afghans, handmade quilts, food baskets, homemade marshmallows, a tin of fudge — the possibilities are endless, and the recipients (if they aren't children expecting special toys!) will be delighted.

If the gift of new sports gear is replacing old gear, see that the old gear gets reused. Check out or

Treat the family to a special outing rather than to things.

Be mindful of the quantity of food you're cooking for holiday meals. Making too much wastes money and resources.

Lastly, focus on generating the qualities of creativity, goodwill and thoughtfulness during this time. They last longer than the latest fad toy or video game.

Resources: Real Simple, October 2008; Sunset Magazine, December 2008;

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