Ten Tips for Greener Holidays

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If you’re celebrating and giving gifts this holiday season, a few easy shifts will lessen your environmental impact.

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December brings us the gifts of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and many other festivals and parties, large and small, secular and religious. However you celebrate, do it in a greener fashion with a few simple tips.

1. Go Local and Small

Considering how the holidays have devolved into a spasm of consumerism, it’s probably best to forgo gifts altogether. But it’s tough; people enjoying giving, and getting isn’t so bad either! So the first bit of advice is to shop local (not your local big box store, but a truly local, small business). Your patronage means so much more to small businesses, and is MUCH better for your local economy, not to mention the environment.

2. Forget Wrapping Paper

One thing that will make your life easier AND greener is dispensing with gift wrapping. A staple of my youth was the huge bag of gift wrap tossed into the trash Christmas afternoon. But in recent years, the reusable gift bag has made life so much easier and greener. If you absolutely must wrap, use recycled paper, or use a brown paper bag for a rustic look (you can add some decor with markers, stencils, stamps, and reused ribbon). Brown paper packages tied up with string! Fun fact: You can usually get paper bags at the grocery store for free! Deconstruct them to use like wrapping paper.

3. Gift Food

Everyone eats, and with a gift of food, either made at home or thoughtfully purchased from a local small business, you’re offsetting other consumption for a net-zero thoughtful gift. In a pinch, a gift card will do.

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4. Get Real

If you get a Christmas tree, make it a real one. Christmas trees are greener than most other crops, and a locally grown tree is the best option. If you are insistent on an artificial tree (maybe you’re allergic?), get one made from recycled plastic. Or a vintage/used one. Or there are funky wood options out there on Etsy that look pretty sweet.

5. Give the Gift of Giving

Charitable donations are a great way to spread caring, and most environmental or other good-doing groups offer holiday specials or special ways to recognize gift donations. (And, no, George Costanza, the “Human Fund” doesn’t count!)

6. Brighten With LEDs

If you’re into light displays, go with LED bulbs. These super-efficient lights will allow you to spread cheer and save money. There are even solar options.

I have friends I gather with every Christmas. We used to give gifts, but it got unwieldy, and we just stopped. Instead, we make time for each other. Instead of a gift, give a visit. Or a phone call.

– Jim Miller

7. Ban Plastic

A good general green rule is: STOP BUYING PLASTIC CRAP!!! … Okay, I lost it for a second there. But plastics are a big no-no. Whatever you’re buying, buy metal, wood, ceramic, paper. And if you’re throwing a party and need a ton of glasses or plates or silverware, go to your local thrift store, buy a bunch, and then donate it back later. This could even be cheaper than buying “green” disposable/compostable dinnerware. Just stop with the plastic, I’m begging you.

8. Gift Your Time

I have friends I gather with every Christmas. We used to give gifts, but it got unwieldy, and we just stopped. Instead, we make time for each other. Instead of a gift, give a visit. Or a phone call. Or if you must, how about spending your time on a homemade gift like these from the garden?

9. Offer Plant-Based Foods

Holidays are filled with opportunities to stuff your face, so why not do it in a way that’s better for you AND the planet. Plant-based foods are significantly less polluting, and it’s a great way to introduce friends and family to how delicious plant-based treats can be. Try this Ginger-Spiced Pear Upside-Down Cake and these Cheesy Seeded Vegan Crackers.

10. Buy Smart

Bluedot Living has put together a few gift guides that can help you with your wish list. Our BuyBetter Marketplace has the best sustainable gifts. We’ve vetted Gifts for Women, Gifts for Men, Gifts for Teens, Sustainable Stocking Stuffers, and Gifts for Hosts. Buying through these links also helps support Bluedot Living at no cost to you, so you can feel doubly good.


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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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