How to Have an Eco Friendly Christmas

Why should you worry about how to have an eco-friendly Christmas? Well, because the holidays are a fun time of year, but they can be stressful and environmentally damaging. 

There’s no need to worry though because we have you covered with our sustainable Christmas guide. This eco-friendly holiday planning list will help you reduce all the waste created during the season so that your family can enjoy a green Christmas without sacrificing too much fun.

Our simple tips and tricks for an eco-friendly Christmas will keep your holiday stress-free and save you money in the process. We’ve got everything from how to throw an eco-friendly party, to buying gifts that give back while still being thoughtful presents for friends and family members. These ideas are perfect for anyone who wants to make this holiday season special without hurting Mother Earth in the process.

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christmas packaging, paper and lights indicating christmas waste

The environmental impact of Christmas

The biggest consumer holiday is fast approaching and the Earth is a bit concerned. While we certainly want to create magical memories for our family, we need to consider the overflowing landfills and fragile climate when planning our holiday festivities.

Want to know a few staggering facts when it comes to our current unsustainable Christmas activities? Keep a few of these things in mind while you shop and decorate your way through December.

  • Each year Americans use 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper (about seven billion dollars worth.)
  • One billion Christmas cards end up in the trash each year.
  • Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year.
  • 6 million Christmas trees are discarded every year 
  • $16 billion of Christmas gifts are unwanted and almost 4% of people admit to throwing them away.

So, you can see from the Christmas facts above that the holiday season has a tremendously negative impact on our planet.

mug of hot cocoa and christmas cookies under christmas tree witih text overlay 'Sustainable christmas guide'

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How to Start Your Sustainable Christmas Planning

This eco-friendly Christmas guide is a starting point for a long journey. It is NOT a green light to chuck everything you currently own and go on a green Christmas buying binge. In fact, that is the LEAST sustainable thing you could possibly do.

For me, this guide is the launchpad to a mindfully green Christmas. It includes some fun holiday activities you can do with your family while also making sure our planet doesn’t have a meltdown during the season of giving.

These tips for having an eco-friendly Christmas are simple and flexible depending on your lifestyle. You can take one or all of these steps to have a greener holiday season. And guess what? You can even use most of these tips after Christmas because saving the planet is something we should practice all year long.

Hopefully, this list helps get your family thinking about our planet during this festive time of year. So, take a seat, read through a few of these tips, and see what fits into your life right now.

car with real christmas tree strapped on top

Start with eco-friendly Christmas decor

Obviously, the most sustainable Christmas decorations are the ones you have right now. However, as you get rid of the old (hopefully through donating it or recycling it and not tossing it in the trash), you need to find new ways to decorate sustainably. Here are a few tips for eco-friendly Christmas decorations.

Consider a live Christmas tree this year

What’s the most eco-friendly Christmas tree? Well, that’s complicated!

A real tree is easy to find at your local garden center. When it is time to take it down, you can compost it, chip it into mulch, or find a local zoo that might take a donated Christmas tree.

Of course, plastic trees are also very popular. But, are artificial trees better for the planet than real Christmas trees? Check out my post on whether fake ones are just as good as the real thing to learn more.

You can also buy a potted pine tree that you can plant outside after the holiday is over.

Another option that is gaining in popularity is to rent a Christmas tree. Companies deliver a potted Christmas tree to your home for you to enjoy. Then, once the holiday is over, they come to retrieve it. They then care for it until next year when they rent it to another family.

How to recycle your real Christmas tree:

  1. Curbside pick-up for recycling – Most areas will collect real trees during their regular pickup schedules on the 2 weeks following Christmas. Make sure to remove ornaments, lights, etc. If your tree is flocked you may not be able to recycle it. Call and ask your local trash hauler. They’ll usually turn it into mulch, which may be free for you to pick up if you want it.
  2. Non-profits that pick up – Call for an appointment to have a non-profit in your area pick up your tree. Some Boy Scout troops often offer to pick up trees for mulching. Some may ask for a small donation.
  3. Drop it off – Take your tree to a drop-off recycling center. Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county, often with no charge associated with it.
  4. Yard waste pickup – Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.
  5. Leave it in your yard– If you have the backyard space, toss your old Christmas tree into the woods and let nature take its course. It will provide a home for small animals and break down eventually as do all things outdoors.
  6. Use it for outdoor firewood: While you shouldn’t burn pine in an inside fireplace, if you have an outdoor firepit, cut the pine tree into manageable small pieces and enjoy an outdoor fire.

closeup of christmas lights on a christmas tree

Be conscious of holiday lighting

Make sure all the lights you use are LED lights or incandescent bulbs since they will last longer and be more efficient in your home. While you may not notice a reduction in energy bills, LED bulbs are still better for the planet.

If you need outdoor lights, try to use solar-powered outdoor lights as much as possible. These are simple to install and will save energy.

If your Christmas lights are still working, but you want to switch to more energy-efficient alternatives, you can donate them to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or local thrift store.

If your lights no longer work, call your local hardware stores. In years past, True Value hardware stores, along with Home Depot and Lowe’s, have taken customers’ used Christmas lights for recycling, and have even sometimes offered coupons as a reward for recycling. 

Use fair trade decorations

There’s no reason to buy angel or Santa figurines made by children in sweatshops. Not only are the environmental costs high, but the ethical implications are also staggering.

As you decorate your home this year, take a look at the ornaments and decorations on store shelves. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Chances are that you’re purchasing items made by children who were paid for their work with pennies a day. Look for fair trade decorations that give back to impoverished countries around the world.

Make sustainable Christmas decorations

Want festive decorations this Christmas? Make your own! Garlands can be created using mixed dried fruits and popcorn or fresh oranges for pomander balls. Another possibility, collect pine cones or acorns from a local park, spray them with eco-gold paint or sprinkle on eco friendly glitter.

Other earth-friendly Christmas ornament ideas are ones that are made with natural and biodegradable parts.

This cinnamon stick Santa and Elf craft is so simple to make.  Or try my bottlecap snowman upcycled Christmas ornament. Of course, using natural foliage from your backyard is a great way to have a more sustainable Christmas. Check out my post on things to do with pine cones for some inspiration!

Make your own wreath with coat hanging ribbon and foliage and bake edible cookies that hang from the tree.  There are loads of things in your recycling bin or backyard that can be turned into sustainable Christmas decorations.

natural paper wrapped gifts under a christmas tree

Reduce your paper waste this Christmas

Wrapping paper and other paper waste is a huge part of our carbon footprint during the holidays. Here are a few ways to minimize your paper footprint this Christmas.

Holiday invitations

When you are preparing for holiday parties, and other festivities, remember to reduce your paper waste by printing only what you need.

If you do happen to print something, be sure it is on both sides of the paper so you will be taking advantage of your paper’s full potential.

You can also choose to send Evites instead of paper invitations and eliminate the waste entirely. Enjoy the festive season by gathering with friends… just be mindful of how you invite them!

Choose eco-friendly wrapping paper

The holiday gift wrap you choose is important when figuring out how to have an eco-friendly Christmas. 

Is wrapping paper recyclable? Some of that depends on your trash hauler. However, in general, regular and glossy paper is recyclable unless it has non-paper additives like metallic flakes, colored shapes, glitter, and plastics. Foil, metallic, and heavily laminated wrapping paper should also be thrown away instead of recycled.

If you want to buy eco-friendly wrapping paper, look for a label that says it is made from recycled paper. Recycled wrapping paper or a gift bag that is leftover from previous years are both good choices.

Of course, there are many ways to wrap a gift that doesn’t involve paper.

Cotton gift bags are a sustainable choice for gift wrapping since they can be used year after year as storage sacks for Christmas decorations and mementos. 

Other sustainable ways to wrap a gift include things like using a basket, using newspapers, or a new Christmas towel, or a pretty scarf.

Or avoid buying anything and wrap your gift in brown paper bags during this festive period. 

Buy Sustainable cards

When choosing your Christmas cards, you have several options to help reduce your paper footprint.

Nowadays, you can buy recycled Christmas cards which are incredibly festive. You can also buy plantable Christmas cards (cards that can be planted after the holidays).

You can also send electronic holiday cards instead that use no paper at all.

roasted chicken on a table with natural decor and text overlay 'sustainable holiday meal planning tips'

Plan a green holiday meal

A green holiday meal only requires a few simple changes to your regular food preparation routine.

Plan ahead and buy organic food

If you buy from a local farmer, ask about what methods they use to grow their food as well as whether or not they use chemical pesticides. If you can buy local, seasonal foods, you will do your part to reduce global warming compared with buying from overseas or out of season.

Related article –>> How to save money on organic food.

Plan your Christmas dinner to minimize waste

Serve only the amount of food that you will eat and try to have leftovers for lunch on another day. There is a substantial amount of food waste in this country, especially during the holiday season.

Try to stay away from processed foods

Foods that include preservatives, additives, and other ingredients you cannot pronounce are less healthy for YOU and usually come with more packaging than simple foods that get cooked from scratch.

Here are a few simple holiday recipes for you to try

Choose meats that are organic and free-range

Try to use fewer meat products in your cooking. Try using only a little bit of meat and supplement it with beans and veggies for added protein. You can also try using tofu as a substitute for poultry or beef.

Be sure to ask the butcher how the animal was raised. Choosing free-range and pasture-raised meats have a smaller impact on the planet than traditionally raised animals. Check out my post on the benefits of organic meat for more information.

Skip the disposables

Not only is it wasteful to buy paper plates and plastic utensils for your holiday party or meal, but they are not recyclable in most places. Instead, opt for reusable glass or ceramic dishes and holiday cloth napkins.

close up of wine being poured into wine glasses

Drink Eco Booze

Want to have a more earth-friendly Christmas this year? Don’t have to give up your hot chocolate or holiday cocktails. You just need to rethink how you prepare and serve them.

A good way to reduce the amount of waste from beverages is by preparing drinks ahead of time and letting guests serve themselves.

Crockpot hot cocoas and mulled wine are both great options for this.

Use bamboo or reusable straws instead of plastic and skip the bottled water and other single-serve beverages.

Go with nonplastic straws. There are many types of reusable straws on the market these days, and most of them hardly look any different than the plastic ones you find in fast food joints.

Check out my posts on sustainable wine and green beer for more information about buying alcohol that has a smaller footprint.

Christmas gift cookie mix and chocolate drink in glass jar on dark wooden table. Layers of flour, cocoa powder, sugar. Ingredients for ginger bread.

How to choose sustainable holiday gifts

There are so many options when it comes to buying Christmas presents that will have a smaller impact on the environment. Your gift choices, from secret Santa gifts to green toys for the kids, can make a huge difference.

Be mindful while shopping during this festive season. Keep your recipient in mind, rather than buying just for the sake of giving. That way you can avoid giving unwanted gifts. Here are a few sustainable gift ideas that might work:

  1. Offer services instead of goods. Remember that you don’t have to always give a tangible gift. Sometimes, the best presents are intangible.  You could babysit, do yard work, walk their dog, help with errands around the house, etc.
  2. Give experiences.  Tickets to a concert, a whitewater rafting adventure, or the opportunity to go skydiving all make great holiday gift ideas. Help others find joy with less waste.
  3. Give flowers to enjoy. They are a great way to bring nature inside during the sometimes dreary days of winter.
  4. Homemade edibles It’s much more meaningful to give a gift that you actually made yourself rather than buying it at a store. Bake or cook something, then package it in pretty jars with labels to identify your homemade goodies. Try my maple walnut truffle recipe
  5. Sustainable jewelry. Rethink your traditional jewelry purchase and be more mindful of how it was created. Check out my post about environmentally friendly jewelry for more information.
  6. Give “Used” Gifts. This should be discussed beforehand, however, second-hand gifts often work just as well as new ones. If you are trying to go plastic-free, second-hand presents come with less packaging waste.
  7. Battery-Free Giving. Electric toys can be a big source of environmental impact. If possible, opt for presents that won’t need batteries for kids to enjoy them.
  8. Buy mindfully. Choose natural materials like organic cotton and hemp instead of synthetic materials like plastic. Christmas time in most major stores is very plastic heavy. You may have to shop online to find plastic-free gifts.
  9. Buy things made from recycled materials. Whether it’s a backpack made from water bottles or LEGO made from recycled plastic, choosing gifts made from recycled materials is environmentally friendly.
  10. Shop locally. You can have a wonderful time at a local farmer’s market or craft fair just browsing through unique holiday gift ideas. Buy a homemade advent calendar decorated with plant-based glitter from your local crafter and never worry that they will get the same gift from someone else!

If you are looking for specific recommendations for earth-friendly gifts, check out a few of these posts for more information.

close up of branch with red berries in the snow

Connect with nature during the holidays

Why do you want to learn how to have an eco-friendly Christmas? Ideally, it is because the earth matters to you, right? Well, learn to appreciate it AND share that appreciation with friends and family.

Start a family tradition of giving back to the earth and connecting with nature during the Christmas season. Choose one of these earth-friendly, Christmas family traditions:

Annual Christmas day bird count

Grab your binoculars, a field guide to local birds, and a small notebook for each person and walk through your neighborhood, local park, or countryside.  Jot down all the birds you see as you stroll.  Get more information from the Audobon Society about their annual Christmas bird count.

Decorate a tree for the birds

If you have access to a backyard, make your own bird feeder and put it up as an annual family tradition.  You can customize it to your yard size and type of feed, but you’ll want to make sure the location is an area that the birds will quickly discover.  This is a great activity for kids and offers an important food source for birds during the winter. (check out my post on winter feeding tips for birds for more information)

Collect garbage in your neighborhood.  

The day after Christmas is always a big trash day, so why not help keep the planet clean by picking up some of that discarded packaging and other debris.

Go for a nature walk

Go on a nature walk with kids. Collect pinecones and acorns to create your own DIY nature crafts. Learn to appreciate the simplicity of the world around you.

Go ice skating

Science has shown that the simple act of being out in nature is scientifically proven to lower stress, boost your immune system, and increase overall happiness. Be mindful of the winter wildlife. See if you can spot an animal’s tracks in the snow or visit a nearby bird feeder to see who is stopping by for a meal.

Take a holiday lights walk

If you live in a place where there are holiday lights, take a walk at night with friends and family. Make a night of it and go caroling with friends and family.

Snuggle up with a backyard campfire

What’s more festive than a winter campfire, right? Add in a Christmas story and hot cocoa while you bundle up under a pile of blankets.


eco friendly christmas place setting and small pine tree on table

Progress Not Perfection

Remember, you are not going to have a perfectly green holiday season right off the bat. Learning how to have a green Christmas is a slow process.

Make a few small changes this year. Then, as things break or need to be replaced, shop mindfully. Do what your budget allows and don’t go broke trying to buy your way to a smaller footprint.

When your tree lights stop shining or you need new decorations, head out Christmas shopping with the earth in mind. Look for sustainable materials and skip the plastic packaging. Go with natural decorations and shop at local craft fairs.

I hope this sustainability guide helps you have a Merry Christmas with a slightly smaller carbon footprint. You can at least rest easy knowing you did your part to reduce landfill waste, even if you have yet to get a handle on the whole zero waste lifestyle.

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