Season’s greetings, Recyclebank readers! We have enough environmental cheer to go around this time of year, so we’ve made a list of our favorite holiday tips as our gift to you. Regardless of your holiday’s color scheme, these tips will help you green your Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Festivus, anything! From tidying up and decorating to baking and shopping, we cover all the ways for you to get in the sustainable spirit and create a waste-less winter wonderland!
1. Choose a really green Christmas tree (we’re not just talking color).
These days, there’s an overwhelming number of Christmas tree options. You can cut one down on your own, buy a plastic one that’s ready to go, or try out a live tree in your home. There are many options, each with its own environmental pros and cons. For example, a live tree is great because it allows you to replant it when you’re done, but it takes up a lot more space than a cut tree. A plastic tree can be a good choice if you plan to reuse it for many years to come — however, plastic trees are not recyclable, which means that plastic will end up in a landfill. A locally-cut pine tree cuts down on travel-related greenhouse gas emissions, but removing cut trees can drain nutrients from soil. Weighing these pros and cons when developing your family’s traditions can make sure your tree is the greenest option for you.
Read More: What’s the Greenest Christmas Tree of All?
2. Be even wiser when getting rid of your chosen tree.
As we said above, if your plastic tree is beyond being “spruced” up, it unfortunately cannot be recycled. But, if you’re just upgrading and your old plastic tree is still in good shape, consider donating it to a local homeless shelter or other community organization. For real cut trees, many cities have drop-off locations and/or curbside pickup programs, and they’ll “recycle” them for you, by turning them into mulch, using them to rebuild sand dunes, or for erosion control.
Read More: Because You Asked: Is Mulching Really the Best Option for Old Christmas Trees?
3. Find a new use for old or broken ornaments.
Whether you’re decorating the tree or putting it away, ornaments are never safe from destruction! Amidst overexcited children, unstable branches, and worn out ornament boxes, there are endless ways for ornaments to crack and crumble under the holiday stress. Glass ornaments are the most prone to this, and unfortunately, they aren't recyclable. So when it all comes crashing down, get out your DIY upcycling gear and create a new ornament from the debris (literally). If any ornaments survive a bit longer than you’d want, consider donating them!
Read More: Because You Asked: Can I Recycle Old Christmas Ball Ornaments?
4. Recycle holiday lights.
From Christmas’ red and green to Hanukkah’s blue and white, don’t just trash your lights when they stop twinkling. When one broken light spoils the whole string, there are companies like HolidayLEDs.com that offer special mail-in recycling programs. When buying replacements for those recycled strings, choose LEDs — they save energy, and when one bulb burns out, the others stay lit (so you can replace a single bulb instead of starting all over again).
Read More: Greener Holiday Lights
5. Make meals and treats at home.
Whether it’s cookies for Santa, rugelach for Hanukkah, sweet potatoes for Kwanzaa, or any other goodies you’re whipping up for the holidays, keep in mind ways to cut down on your kitchen waste: Buying ingredients in bulk and making holiday meals from scratch help cut down on all the unnecessary packaging that can come from store-bought items. And, if you use reusable baking mats, you can also eliminate parchment paper waste!
Read More: The List: 9 Ways to Optimize Your Holiday Baking
6. Give experiences, not stuff.
Giving an experience over stuff has a lot of benefits: If you buy yourself a ticket, it’s like giving yourself a gift, too (which is definitely a win), you get to watch your gift recipient enjoy their gift in real-time, and you can make memories that will last for many holidays to come. Coupon sites like Groupon are our favorite ways to brainstorm experiences and save money — they offer tons of discounts on fun classes, shows, and other local events that you and your friends and family could experience together!
Read More: The List: 7 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain (In Your Trash Can, That Is)
7. Shop sustainably.
If you’re not sold on the whole experience idea, at least cut down on the waste generated from the physical gifts you buy. When you’re out on the town shopping, be sure to bring your own reusable bags to carry your presents home. If you forget a bag, don’t fret! Just be sure to reuse or recycle that plastic or paper bag as much as possible — with a little upcycling it could even double as a giftwrap option! Also, many stores will wrap your goodies in bubble wrap if they are somewhat fragile — if you’re not planning to mail the gift over long distances, consider skipping that step to cut down on plastic.
Read More: 10 Ways to Be Green as Told by Your Favorite Holiday Movies
8. Pare down the packaging.
If you’ve fully embraced the 21st century and do most of your shopping online, try your best to order from a single place and all at one time to avoid unnecessary extra cardboard boxes and plastic bags/fillers, and to cut down on the amount of gas used in travel to get your gifts to you. If you have lots of stockings to stuff, consider buying those little treats and goodies in bulk to save on even more packaging. If you do end up with tons of packaging, do your best to recycle it all, since most of it (especially cardboard boxes) can be easily recycled or reused.
Read More: Because You Asked: What Should I Do With All The Packaging From My Online Orders?
9. Wrap it up (sustainably).
When it comes time to wrap your gift, there are four common options to choose from: Wrapping paper, gift bag, gift box, or a bow. When it comes to paper, try to reuse scrap paper you already have, or get creative with some old newspapers or magazines. For gift boxes and bags, see if you can use boxes and bags you already have on hand, like those you might have gotten when ordering the gifts themselves, or ones you’ve saved from a gift you previously received. As for bows, reuse any string, ribbon, or twine that you have around the house (if you're anything like us, you probably have a lot of leftovers saved from old DIY projects). After the gift-giving is done, be sure to save any reusable giftwrap to use next season.
Read More: Beautiful Ways to Wrap and Decorate Gifts with Scrap Paper
10. Don’t trash that candle wax.
You're bound to burn through a bunch of candles during the holiday season. Whether you’ve lit candles on a holiday dinner table, decorated your windowsills with candles, or celebrated a more secular holiday (tradition states that Hanukkah candle wax should not be repurposed), there are tons of ways to reuse the melted, leftover wax. You can use it to create a DIY fire starter, to melt into new candles, or to help fix sticky zippers.
Read More: The List: 4 Ways to Wrap Up Hanukkah More Sustainably