Tips for Sustainable Holidays


It can be difficult to celebrate sustainable holidays with a culture centered around single-use items. But reducing waste can be simple year-round and the financial savings add up! The “3 Rs,” lengthened to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” don’t appear in random order. By first reducing waste, we save the most money with the least complexity. Reusing saves more without adding in the industrial necessities of recycling. Here are five holidays tips toward a sustainable holiday, starting with the pretty trappings under the tree.

  • Zero-waste gift wrap reduces or replaces single-use wrapping paper or plastic trimmings that may not decompose.
  • Finding eco-friendly holiday decorations avoids purchasing PVC imitations that end up in landfills.
  • With food prices rising, zero-waste kitchens keep expensive edibles out of landfills.
  • If you’re ready to move past sustainable holidays, take steps toward a zero-waste home.
  • Go full-circle into sustainability by cultivating a zero-waste homestead.

Several years ago, on my town’s Facebook community page, someone started a thread: “Do you need something this year? Post here, and see if someone else has extra!” Permitted only during the holidays, this post brought the town together and helped reduce costs for many people.

One mother replied, “I sure could use some wrapping paper.” All of her money had gone to gifts for her children, and she didn’t have enough left for the pretty paper. In my garage, I had a box of unused and unopened paper from several years ago. I met her and passed on my surplus.

The same year, my sister sewed aprons for all her siblings. They arrived in a cardboard box, already wrapped: in pretty fabric scraps, tied with yarn fragments. She knew we would all appreciate it!

Gift wrap is just the beginning of the waste story. Most gift-givers wrap their presents, creating an industry worth billions of dollars — with that money coming from consumers’ pockets. Also, that wrap is rarely environmentally friendly. It may contain inks, plastics, foam, or foil that cannot properly decompose. Starting a tradition of reusable or recycled “https://www.motherearthnews.com/sustainable-living/green-homes/zero-waste-gift-wrap-zm0z18ndzpop/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>zero-waste gift wrap can create holiday fun as family members search for usable items: brown paper grocery bags, newsprint, leftover cloth, or pages from a catalog. Gourmet treats and cookies often come in decorative tins or fabric boxes that make great gift containers. Or try the Japanese art of “furoshiki,” which involves folding an attractive piece of cloth around a gift then fastening it without any pins or tape. You could even wrap the gift with a colorful scarf also intended as a gift!

Holiday decorations, though they can be reused for many years, also create waste when they become tattered — or when a family decides to change up their décor. According to the University of Illinois Extension, most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC plastic. Though fire-retardant, can take centuries to break down in a landfill, leaching phthalates into the environment as they decompose. Also, 80 percent of artificial trees are manufactured in China, meaning they require petroleum fuels to arrive stateside. Real trees and pine wreaths can provide wildlife habitat once discarded, and their use evokes nostalgic themes of mid-1950s magic or old-world celebrations. Balsam, pine, and fir release refreshing fragrances that are associated with winter holidays. Not all homes can find or utilize real trees, though. And some households, though they would like to feed discarded pines to livestock, cannot find any raised without pesticides. A cost-effective and time-saving option, for many families, may include tinsel or lights tacked onto walls in the shape of a conifer. Or they may decorate a potted plant or bring in some sagebrush from a nearby lot. Other eco-friendly holiday decorations may include wreaths of dried fruit, popcorn threaded onto biodegradable string, or ornaments made from homemade suet and seeds then hung to feed birds after the holidays. Plus, children will enjoy a new family tradition of crafting inexpensive décor then watching animals enjoy it later.


Food prices continue to rise, but a “https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/food-scraps-to-good-use-zm0z15amzsor/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>zero-waste kitchen makes use of every scrap. Feasts usually mean leftovers, which families enjoy for days or weeks afterward. But some foods contain inedible portions, such as large bones in turkey or ham. Add these to a pot along with some water, onions, carrots, and herbs, then boil it for hours until you achieve a tasty stock. If you cannot use this stock all at once, measure it into freezer containers, leaving about an inch of headspace at the top, and freeze it until time to use it. Fresh herbs can be chopped then frozen in ice cube trays, surrounded by a protective liquid such as water, broth, or oil. When it’s time to use them, simply drop a cube or two into sauces. Thrifty households have created a multitude of recipes to use up scraps, such as adding fruit to muffins, making “dump” stews, or stuffing from stale bread. And, if the food is too-far-gone, you can turn fruit into vinegar or make compost with plant waste. Soon, these money-saving tips encourage families toward a zero-waste home.

A “https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/zero-waste-homestead-ze0z1509zbay/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>zero-waste homestead, though achievable in larger yards or on acreage, uses the concepts of thrift, minimalism, and upcycling for as much sustainability as possible. This system feeds food scraps to livestock, puts inedible scraps into compost,and then turns both the compost and manure into gardens in order to grow more food. It transforms old windows into greenhouses, creates chicken coops from pallets, and uses fallen logs as fencing or to grow mushrooms. After practicing these thrifty tips on a smaller scale, the homestead realizes the value of all things reused and avoids purchasing new items when old ones suffice. By choosing a different laundry detergent, they can reuse wash water as “graywater” for orchards and fields. Some even go as far as composting humanure, so indeed nothing at all goes to waste or ends up being someone else’s problem.

Whether you hope to save money, avoid dumping into landfills, or want to upcycle or recycle as much as possible, a few tips can help you avoid adding to the most wasteful time of the year.


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