The Holiday Season is one of the most joyous times of year. From Thanksgiving through to Christmas and New Year it’s a time to be with friends and family, exchange gifts, indulge around the dinner table, and even let your hair down at the office Christmas party. But all of this comes at a cost to the environment. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas the amount of waste produced by American households goes up by around 25%. 

That amounts to around 25 million extra tons of garbage ending up in landfills during this period. Plus, there is the fact that in 2021 shoppers splashed out a colossal $8.9 billion on Black Friday and an even more dizzying $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday (with almost $3 billion dollars on phones alone). Not to mention Christmas and Thanksgiving gifts.

Let’s take a closer look at the stats. The average American produces about 5 pounds of trash per day. During the Holiday Season that goes up to 6.25 pounds, or 43.75 pounds per week. Amongst all that extra waste is 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper that generally ends up in landfill. Then there are the unwanted gifts. Returns are responsible for around 15 million tons of carbon emissions every year and it’s estimated that around 8.75 million packages are returned each Christmas, with many never making it back into the marketplace.

There’s more. The energy consumed by holiday lights during this period is enough to power 800,000 homes for an entire year. The greetings cards we send produce as much emissions as charging 22 billion smart phones. And if every family in the US used just two feet less ribbon it would save enough to tie a bow around the whole planet.

Now, of course, we are not advocating canceling Christmas or saying goodbye to Thanksgiving. These are very important holidays that have a tremendous potential for positivity and well-being. However, there are ways in which we can still celebrate the Holiday Season but in a more sustainable and ethical way. The below 5 top holiday season sustainable tips should help you to cut back, save energy, reduce spending, enjoy a sustainable holiday season, but still have a wonderful time.


Use LED Christmas lights

It’s estimated that around 6.3 billion kWh of power will be used to power holiday lights across America during this holiday season. That’s more than the entire annual energy use of countries such as Ethiopia, El Salvador, and Tanzania. This energy use will also produce an extra 2 million tons of carbon. However, by switching to LED lights, these numbers can be reduced significantly. Yes, that’s still a huge amount of energy but because LED lights use 85% less energy, then at least it’s a start. You can do more by turning your lights on for fewer hours each day and putting them up a little later in the year.


Rent your tree

What would Christmas be without a tree? Bringing a tree indoors for the festive period is a great tradition but have you ever stopped to think about the impact of chopping down a perfectly healthy tree just to look at it for a few weeks as it slowly dies? One option is to choose a tree that is in a pot so that it can be planted after the holidays, or you can even rent Christmas trees.

If you do end up buying a pre-cut tree, then at least use it for mulch or firewood after the holidays are over. And never be tempted by a fake tree. Yes, they might save a real tree being cut down, but the vast majority of fake trees simply end up in landfill after a few years. Plus, most of the 11 million fake trees bought in the US each year are imported from China, further adding to the emissions impact.


Choose sustainable options

Try to use wrapping paper made from recycled materials and then reuse it again as packaging or decorations. Think about whether your gifts really need to come wrapped in a bow, paper, and a bag. Use candles made from natural alternatives such as beeswax and soy, as these are much more friendly to the environment.

Instead of sending dozens of greetings cards you could send an e-card greeting. And if you do really want to do it the old-fashioned way, then look out for sustainable holiday card certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that prioritize sustainably-sourced materials. The same goes for any sustainable holiday decor you might want to buy.


Upcycle gifts or give an experience rather than goods

Rather than buying new gifts that have an impact on the environment, try and upcycle products, buy second hand, or even make your own. This applies to holiday shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday too. A repurposed phone or tablet can significantly reduce your impact and help to prevent some of the 20% of all electric goods that go straight to landfill. Or you might consider giving a gift of experience, such as tickets to a show or sporting event.

If you are buying gifts, then try and shop local and buy from smaller independent retailers rather than the online giants. Shopping locally can really reduce your footprint and is a welcome boost to your local economy. You should also try and shop for ethical brands. This can be challenging when it comes to electronic goods but there are certain brands who at least try to offset some of the damage. You can find a list of them here.


Think about mealtimes

Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about big family meals and excessive eating. But consider the fact that the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says 200 million pounds of turkey meat alone is tossed out around this time of year. That’s 25.6 billion grams of protein or enough calories to meet half a billion adults’ daily food intake. And it’s not just the meat itself that ends up in the trash, it’s also all the water, food, and energy. According to the NRDC, the water used to rear all the wasted turkey meat is equivalent to every household in America running a faucet for six hours straight.

The US Department of Agriculture advises that you plan your meal in advance. If you need some help working out what you’ll need, then the NRDC has created this guestimator to help you cut down. You should also encourage guests to come with a container for leftovers, or give anything that is unused to a local foodbank. And be sure to try and compost any appropriate food waste that can’t be reused.

Try and avoid buying individually wrapped or packaged items such as drinks or snacks. Cook multiple dishes in the same oven, if possible, and try to source an ethical turkey that comes with USDA and Certified Humane labels.


As you can see, there are plenty of small changes you can make – from turning lights off to choosing ethical brands – that can add up to make a big difference this Holiday Season. No one is saying we shouldn’t get together and celebrate but we need to realize that unless we are aware of the issues, it can be very easy to cause a lot of excess damage at this time of year. But being aware of our impact, this can really help us all to have a sustainable holiday season.


For more information about how to live a zero waste life, including more top tips about zero waste products and swaps, check out our blog or visit our shop.