Simply Having a Sustainable Christmastime

Show of hands. How many of you have completed your Christmas shopping? How many of you haven't started? (As I raise my own hand.)

As you wrap up your shopping (and if you still need inspiration, head over to my Green Gift Guide), learn how to plan any gatherings and decorate the house without being extra wasteful.

Wrapping Gifts

One of the most wasteful parts of the holidays is all the gift wrap that's thrown away after one use. And most wrapping paper and tissue paper are NOT recyclable. Shiny, glittery and waxy wrapping paper is often made with metallic foil and plastic, and tissue paper is too thin to go through the sorting process.

Choose recyclable white or brown kraft paper or bags, and for extra flair, customize the wrapped gift with stamps, or choose holiday-printed kraft paper. Bonus: it’s less expensive than fancy gift wrap! Pick up a large roll, and especially if it's plain, you can use it for any gift-giving occasion throughout the year. (If you enjoy decorating the plain paper, stock up on a couple stamps for each holiday.) One thrifty option is to reuse newspaper for wrapping or tissue paper.

This week, Kasha over at Green With Style shared a link to Wrappily, a small business that makes 100% recyclable and compostable wrapping paper printed on recycled newspaper with soy-based inks. Each sheet is reversible, and all patterns are created by independent designers. They also utilize old newspaper printing presses.

Reuse all those boxes from your online purchases instead of buying gift boxes. 

Put the final touch on your eco-friendly gift with reusable fabric ribbons or natural items like jute string, twigs or Christmas tree clippings. And get creative with it! Use a stretchy headband for a female's gift, and she can use it after she opens the gift. Reuse a necktie to make a nice ribbon. You might be surprised what you can find around the house that works as gift embellishments.

Make your own gift tags with scrap wrapping paper (you know you have a ton of too-small scraps!), reuse store-bought tags year after year (especially within your immediate family), or simply write recipient names on the gifts themselves.

My favorite zero-waste option is to use a cute cloth shopping bag to hold your gift - it’s like two gifts in one!

Make it easy when your family or group opens gifts: designate a bag for trash and an empty box for recyclables/reusables. Save any gift boxes, bags, tissue paper, ribbons and bows you receive, in good condition of course. The more you can save to reuse, the less trash you'll send to the curb and the more money you'll save next year!

Share time. This is my collection of tissue paper. Not one of these sheets I purchased. It's all been collected from previous gifts (and cough, donated from a couple baby showers), and I spent this past Black Friday folding tissue paper and color coordinating it in order to get it looking this organized. It was tedious but very therapeutic. And very helpful in the future.


For your interior and exterior lights, go LED. They're widely available, use less energy than conventional lights, helping to lessen the impact on your utility bill at a time when you're already spending extra money. LEDs stay cool to the touch better than conventional lights, making your tree less of a fire hazard.

Our 2015 Christmas tree featuring 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights. Or just four strings of cool white LED lights.

Decorative solar-powered outdoor lights work well if you have an open yard, and especially if you don't have outdoor outlet access (say that three times fast).

Use natural elements instead of glitter, styrofoam and other shiny stuffs to decorate. Think Pinteresty: burlap, twine, wood, recycled clean food jars and cans, even spray painted wine bottles for vases.

If you have a real Christmas tree, trim a few branches (no one will notice if there are a few bare spots in the back!) to use in floral arrangements or table centerpieces.

Burn candles made of soy wax instead of the more toxic paraffin wax.

Look for locally made ornaments to add some personality to your tree. In the first photo up top, our magnolia ornament is made from redfish and garfish scales by Cajun Ornaments. I believe I picked it up at a small local festival where they had a booth set up. Plus, we've got a few other local ornaments adorning our baby tree this year.

Vintage Christmas decorations and ornaments are a great way to incorporate holiday flair with a nostalgic feeling. Over the past few years, my parents have given me some of their older decorations, and I love using them in my own home. By reusing decorations for many years, or finding vintage decorations, you're keeping unique, nostalgic items out of landfills.

Make paper snowflakes with scrap printer paper, newspaper, paper shopping bags or even junk mail. It's a fun way to get children involved in decorating!

Party Time

If you're having a holiday gathering, the most eco-friendly dinnerware is the kind you use normally. Make sure your dishwasher is empty before the party starts! Alternatively, you can go a little more casual by using melamine plates and bowls and acrylic drink glasses, even though the materials are not the greatest. They are at least reusable and work well in a larger party setting. And there are BPA-free options, which makes them better for children especially.

Reusable plates and wine glasses from our Thanksgiving lunch.

But if you're having a large gathering and choose the disposable route, look for plates and bowls made of recycled or compostable material instead of styrofoam, which cannot be recycled and is not biodegradable. Wheat straw, plant-based, and bagasse are all sustainable and functional options.

Choose drinks in cans instead of bottles. For water, provide a pitcher and let guests use their own cups. 

When you're prepping for your holiday get-together, remember to recycle as much as you can. And before the guests arrive, set out your trash can and add a recycling bin next to it. If you have more than one trash can set out, place a recycling bin next to each one, so no matter what, your guests have a convenient alternative. You can even pull other items for double duty as a recycling bin, from a lined basket to a plastic storage bin.

To make the distinction easy for guests, place a sign on the recycling bin labeling what can go in it. Since I'm in the giving spirit, I made a festive printable PDF that you can tape onto or above your recycling bin! Click on the image below to download.

Download this sign to label your recycling bin.

Now, back to decking those halls!

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