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11 Ideas for a More Sustainable Holiday

Here at UnMake Your Mark, I want you to remember none of this list below is about shame. Sure we all feel a little guilty about our wasteful habits, but in truth, the system has set us up to fail. We have all contributed to the problem. So, technically, we are all hypocrites for preaching actions to help the planet when we are not 100% zero-waste. But we are not going to feel guilt or shame; we are just going to do the best we can, do a little better each day moving forward, and know that even if we participate in creating waste – it doesn’t mean that we can’t join in the solution to reduce waste. 

Here are some simple things you can do TODAY to have a less impactful holiday as far as waste goes. 

1) Use Cloth Napkins

Why on green earth do people say, “Don’t use those. Those are the fancy napkins.” Use the napkins. Have a designated spot where you put dirty ones, and then wash and use them again. I last bought paper towels over 18 months ago! We use cloth napkins for dinner, to wipe up small spills, and to dry our clean hands in the kitchen. Using cloth napkins is not groundbreaking; it is how your grandma did it, and you can do it too. Sustainably Chic has a great guide on eco-friendly napkins

Holiday napkins

2) Gift Experiences

Need help shopping for the person who has everything? Are you tired of last-minute shopping where you throw something in your cart and hope they like it? Here are some low-waste gift ideas that are activities or experiences:

  • Massage/Spa Gift Card
  • Cleaning Services
  • Concert/Sporting Event Tickets
  • Cooking Class
  • Trip or Vacation
  • Flower Bouquet Class
  • Pottery Class
  • Theme Park Tickets
  • Gift of Time (help walk a dog or babysit)
Green Living

3) Limit Plastic Toys for Kids

Nothing is worse than a massive pile of plastic toy pieces from past holidays/birthdays that clutter your home for years to come. Not to mention all of their broken parts. Why do we keep doing it? For instant gratification!? Let’s be creative in what we gift to children. Here are some ideas of things that will last for years and years to come:

  • Stuffed animals
  • Special blankets
  • Wooden blocks/logs
  • Books
  • Giving funds to a college account
  • Cookie-making supplies
  • A fun experience

We must begin thinking beyond plastic in all aspects of our lives. Here are some more ideas for eco-friendly children’s gifts

4) Don’t Buy New Decor

Use what you already have! Adding to our already awesome holiday decor collections is optional. If you feel like you’re missing something, try a Buy Nothing group on Facebook, where you can find tons of people giving away holiday decorations. Or host a Decor Swap! Have over friends for a potluck and have everyone bring a few holiday decor items they no longer need and maybe take home something new to you.

5) Gift Cookies in a Reusable Container

I love getting cookies from my neighbors for the holidays, but I don’t love the plastic wrap on top. I haven’t purchased soft plastic wrap in years (minus slowly using up the last little bit that the previous owner of my house left). It’s super fun to use tins or a plate from the thrift store, perhaps with aluminum foil on top instead (remember, aluminum is INFINITELY recyclable). Think of creative ways to get around plastic for your next cookie swap; here are 7 ways to get you started!

6) Make Recycling Easy for Your Guests

If you’re serving cans or glass bottles, ensure a recycling bin is next to the trash can. The readily available recycle bin will encourage your guests to avoid tossing everything in the trash can. While you’re at it, use as few single-use items as possible. Have your friends or family help with the dishes before they leave; it’s better than throwing away plastic cups and paper plates. 

7) When Giving Gifts, Quality Over Quantity

These days people are bombarded with so much stuff. Whatever happened to the days when you received a handful of nice things as gifts that you truly appreciated or wanted? Oh great, more pajamas. Another throw blanket. If you find yourself at a big box store just throwing things in the shopping cart for your loved ones, take a moment to consider if they would genuinely use it, need it, or appreciate it. Also, consider giving perishables like a nice bottle of olive oil or some lovely spices for cooking. People don’t want crap as much as you don’t want to buy crap

8) Shop Local or Shop in Bulk

News flash, choosing free next-day shipping for 1 item is horrific for the planet. Talk about maximum CO2 emissions. Shop smarter, make a list, buy things in bulk and have them shipped simultaneously, or better yet, buy local, so you don’t need shipping. This immediate gratification and convenience culture are stripping us and our planet of so much. Let’s be more mindful and more conscious of our shopping habits. Remember, free and fast shipping costs our world more than it saves you. Shop small businesses this holiday season; they will thank you for it. 

9) For Wrapping, Skip the Frilly Plastic Stuff

Try looking for recycled or recyclable gift paper or even old newspapers/magazines to wrap gifts. The worst offenders for the plant will be glitter and ribbon & bows (unless you keep reusing them). Most of this stuff is made from plastic or a plastic derivate and will not biodegrade for a very long time once plopped into the landfill. There are other fun ideas, such as: using a scarf or reusable cloth as gift wrap (see Furoshiki), decorating with nature (pinecones, rosemary), or using inside-out paper grocery bags. Skip the name tag and write the recipient’s name directly onto the paper. You can get so creative here. My strategy is to keep almost anything and everything I receive as wrapping to reuse. Therefore, it has been many, many years since I purchased a single bit of gift wrapping. 

Reducing plastic waste through green living.

10) Reduce Food Waste

Did you know that 8% of all global emissions (in this case, methane gas) come from the food we waste? Check out this video on about our food waste problem. During the holidays, we tend to overdo things. Tell your guests to BYO to-go containers and send everyone away with food, especially if you know the leftovers are too much for your household to consume. Buying food in bulk also helps cut down waste from packaging (ex., if you know you’re going to use a lot of nuts this season, try buying them in bulk instead of smaller packages). Try to compost or make veggie stock from the parts of the foods you don’t eat. Reducing food waste is a big way to reduce your carbon footprint, and you can start today.

Reduce food waste

11) Switch to LED Holiday Lights & Recycle Old Lights

Y’all know I love Earth 911. This website tells you how to recycle almost anything! In my area, I found a place that accepts “old string holiday lights” for recycling, with a simple drop-off. Now, switching to LED helps because … they are the longest lasting, they are the most energy-efficient, and they contain no mercury. Read my blog post about how to properly recycle lightbulbs here.

LED Lights

Above are just a few things you can do; there are many more!

This list helps give you ideas on how to have a happy holiday that is less wasteful than last year. Remember, anything and everything you do matters. This time of year is about family, friends, tradition, delicious treats with loved ones, and giving thanks for all we have. It’s not a time for gluttony, overspending, overgiving, and overdoing. 

Allow yourself to rest your mind and body. Try to avoid getting caught up in the spending culture that our society pushes upon us. 

Happy Holidays to you and yours,


#unmakeyourmark #sustainableliving #greenliving #ecotips #ecofriendly