eco holiday Christmas tips ornament on tree

4 simple ways to have an eco-friendly holiday season

Oct 19, 2019 | Lifestyle, Sustainability



Are you wondering if it is possible to have an eco-friendly holiday

If you struggled to get the lid of your garbage can to close last year — because it was stuffed to the brim with wrapping paper, boxes and plastic — it may seem impossible.

This year, I’m looking for easy ways to have a more eco-friendly holiday season — without missing out on any of the joy and celebration. 

The good news is with a little bit of planning, you can significantly reduce your environmental footprint during the holidays this year — without becoming the family grinch. 

In fact, it can be an opportunity to spark new holiday traditions.



For a more eco-friendly holiday season, there are three main areas to consider – each with its own environmental impact:

  • gifts
  • food
  • travel 

Here we’ll break down easy ways to tackle each of these three areas so you can have an eco-friendly holiday – even if you have kids – and banish the post-holiday guilt.


In this post we’ll cover:

How to have an eco-friendly holiday this year


1. Make new holiday traditions

2. Reduce food waste

3. Make smart travel choices

4. Give eco-friendly gifts


Want to have an eco-friendly holiday season, but don't want to be the family grinch? Grab these simple tips for a low waste, eco-friendly holiday this year. Click To Tweet




How to have a more eco-friendly holiday


Make new traditions

Often we get caught up in the buying and gifting of “things” during the holiday season. But think back to your best memories of the holidays as a kid.

Do you remember specific gifts you received or the little things that you did every year that come to signify the holidays?

Take the opportunity to create some new family traditions that don’t revolve around the mall, lots of gifts, big holiday parties and — subsequently, the waste that comes along with them.


several small children being pulled in sled on snow



Here are a few holiday tradition ideas:

  • Go for a Thanksgiving day hike or beach walk
  • Have a holiday movie binge session with popcorn and cocoa
  • Spend an afternoon baking cookies or decorating gingerbread houses
  • Drive the neighborhood looking at holiday lights
  • Attend local community events such as parades, tree lighting, concerts, etc.
  • Take the train into the city to see holiday displays and shop
  • Join the Elf on the Shelf craze or use a reusable advent calendar  
  • Write a letter to Santa and/or put carrots and cookies out for him
  • Volunteer as a family with your favorite nonprofit
  • Start the new year with a New Year’s Day paddle or surf



Reduce food waste


One of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases and climate change is our food waste. Who would have thought? 

But think about all the land, water, fuel, and packaging that goes into growing, harvesting, transporting, refrigerating and packaging our food — before it even gets to our shopping cart.

And sadly, 40% of food produced is wasted. It is literally like throwing all those resources into the garbage right along with our leftovers. This cute movie brings home the point






Doesn’t food just biodegrade?

You may assume that food in the trash simply biodegrades. But in fact, the conditions at the landfill (namely, a lack of oxygen) means our food creates methane as it decomposes — which is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Scary stuff. 

The holidays are a food-centric time of year. Between Thanksgiving, holiday parties, and Christmas dinner (or whatever holiday you celebrate), how often do you find yourself scraping excess food into the trashcan or tossing leftovers a few days later? 



Tips for limiting your food waste this holiday: 


Keep your menu simple. Let’s be honest, your holiday meal probably doesn’t need 5 courses and 14 dishes. (Side note, who has time for that?) If you are a family of four, do you really need a 20 pound turkey? Keeping your menu simple and realistic for the number of people will greatly reduce your food waste and expenses.

Check the Guestimator to get an accurate amount of food needed for your party.


Have a plan for your leftovers. Nobody loves the same mashup of turkey and stuffing 3 days after Thanksgiving.  But you can easily spice up those leftovers if you have a plan before they go bad. Don’t let leftovers be an afterthought.

Find a few simple recipes that use ingredients from your planned feast, and grab any necessary ingredients while you shop. Here’s a few suggestions:


Freeze your leftovers. Things like meat, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce keep well in the freezer. Dole out meal size portions into containers before freezing. Then you can easily grab some to use as a weeknight meal later in the month.


Compost anything that can’t be saved. If you do have leftovers that can’t be saved, compost them instead of tossing them in the garbage. When composted, food waste can decompose using oxygen, which doesn’t produce methane like it does when it decomposes anaerobically in the landfill.

holiday meal with pumpkin pie on table



Make smart travel choices


The holidays are a common time to travel whether to visit family or sneak away for a warm week in Hawaii. If you are planning a trip this holiday season, consider your options.

Air travel produces a lot of carbon dioxide. If possible, consider driving or taking the train instead of flying. These options produce less carbon dioxide per passenger, so are better options – especially if you have several people in the car. 

If you really must fly, choose to fly non-stop. Much of the emissions are created during take off and landing compared to high altitude flying. Also consider buying carbon offset credits.

While purchasing credits doesn’t solve the issue of carbon emissions — we need to emit fewer — it does help projects that can reduce the impact of carbon emissions like planting mangroves or installing solar. Purchase credits at 




Give eco-friendly gifts


The joy of giving gifts at the holidays can be dampened by the heap of plastic packaging stuffed into our trash cans and forgotten toys cluttering up our homes a few weeks later. There are ways to not be a grinch, but still reduce the amount of crap in your house and landfill this holiday season. 


Give experiences instead of things

Instead of spending money on more stuff, spend it on giving your spouse, kids or family memorable experiences. These gifts produce less waste, and last a lot longer. Plus, research suggests that experiences give people more happiness than possessions.

There are endless possibilities for great experiences to gift, but here are a few:


For adults or older kids

  • concert tickets
  • yoga classes
  • gym memberships
  • tickets to sports events
  • State Parks pass
  • massage or spa treatments
  • surf or paddle board lessons
  • plan a weekend away 


For younger kids 

  • dance classes
  • swim lessons
  • trips to the zoo, aquarium or petting zoo
  • laser tag
  • tickets for “live shows” like Disney on Ice or Paw Patrol
  • season pass to amusement park
  • online classes that teach kids to cook, sew, draw, paint, code, play an instrument, organize their room or much more. Udemy has a bunch of kid-centric classes, but there are many sites just for kids too.



Gift items that will last 

Let’s be real, your kids are likely expecting there to be something under the tree for them to open.

When buying physical gifts, focus on giving fewer high-quality items that will last, instead of cheaper, more disposable items. Your kids (and other family members) will use the item longer and cherish it more. It will be repaired and passed onto another person, instead of getting sent to the landfill. 

Things like bicycles or surfboards will last a kid a long time, and can be sold or gifted to someone else when they outgrow it.

Plus, you can find many of these items second hand at Play It Again Sports, Craigslist, Ebay, or elsewhere. 


simply wrapped presents with a sprig of greenery in ribbon



More eco-friendly gift ideas


Shop at second hand kids stores for clothes, toys and books. Consider grabbing fun clothes and/or jewelry from a second hand shop and make your kid a dress up costume box. 

Encourage people to live with less waste by gifting them zero waste gifts. Reusable water bottles, thermos/mugs, reusable straws, lunch box kits, stasher bags, and more. I got a Yeti mug for Mother’s Day last year and I LOVE it. 

Support their water hobbies by buying sustainably made wetsuits, boards or swimwear. 

For neighbors, teachers, and random gift-givers consider having a small stash of consumable gifts. Consumable gifts are great because there is nothing to throw away — as long as the packaging is minimal or reusable. Some ideas are food items or personal body items. 

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Cheeses
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Baked goods
  • Wine or beer
  • Bath scrubs, soaps and shampoos


Be mindful of the packaging. Packaging can be really wasteful, so look for items that are not wrapped in 45 pieces of plastic, if possible. 


Bring your bags and mugs. And of course, when you head out to do your holiday shopping don’t forget your reusable shopping bags and coffee cup for that pumpkin spiced latte. 



Eco friendly gift wrapping

You can easily cut down on a bit of waste by using recycled or reusable items to wrap your gifts. I usually opt for gift bags. I save any gift bags I’m given and reuse them when I have a gift to give. Side bonus, I rarely have to buy gift bags. 

You can also find a cute canvas or reusable bag and make it part of the gift. 

Newspaper or paper shopping bags can easily be used and dressed up with a little bit of ribbon. I also save ribbons and bows that I receive to use on these occasions. 

Santa Christmas ornament hanging on tree


Progress, not perfection

That’s it — a few ways to make a small difference this holiday season in the amount of stuff that gets sent to the landfill — and into the environment.

And remember, it’s not about being perfect. There will likely be some plastics and wrapping and food waste. But even making a few small changes this year can make a difference and start something new for you and your family.

Comment below to let me know what you are going to do this season to make your family’s holiday a little more environmentally friendly.  

4 simple ways to have an eco-friendly holiday season

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