Published: Dec. 15, 2016
Brightly-lit Christmas tree with a warm fire in the fireplace

Though just 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. creates half of the globe’s solid waste. Americans generate an average of 25 percent more waste—or 1 million additional tons per week—between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Here are 10 ideas courtesy of Eco-Cycle, Boulder's non-profit recycler, to incorporate into your work and home lives to help reduce waste while you eat, drink and make merry this holiday season. 

  • Use LED holiday lights. Holiday lights in the U.S. use more than 2.2 million mega-watt hours (MWh) of electricity, enough to power 173,000 homes for a year. LED lights, however, use 80 percent less energy, are more durable and can last up to 10 times longer than traditional lights.
  • Bring your own bags shopping. Instead of using retailers' bags at checkout, bring your own. Declining the extra tissue paper, ribbons and stickers that are so often included in holiday purchases will also help decrease waste.
  • Switch to rechargeable batteries. Batteries are not recyclable and are often thrown away after just one use. Replacing alkaline batteries with rechargeable ones can really help the environment, especially during the holidays when about 40 percent of battery sales occur in the U.S.
  • Make your gatherings zero-waste. Skip the disposable dishware in favor of reusable dishes and utensils, and decorate the table with seasonal fruits and veggies to cut back on waste.
  • Stop junk mail. One quick tip is to request to be removed from mailing lists as soon as you receive an unwanted piece of mail. Learn more from Eco-Cycle.
  • Wrap it and pack it eco-style.  Instead of using traditional wrapping paper, which is difficult to recycle due to its high-clay, low-paper content, get creative with recyclable alternatives like comics, posters, maps, blueprints, calendars, fabric or cloth gift bags.
  • Go digital. Approximately 1.5 billion holiday cards are sent in the U.S., which requires 300,000 new trees to be harvested each year. Consider using holiday e-cards this year and give the trees a break. If you must send holiday greetings via snail mail, be sure to choose recycled and/or recyclable cards.
  • Try an alternative Christmas tree. Instead of cutting down a tree, decorate a favorite houseplant or buy an artificial tree that can be reused year after year. If you do opt for a traditional tree, you can have it turned to mulch at the end of the season. 
  • Plan for green dining. Selecting a menu of seasonal, local food is a great way to make your holiday meals eco-friendly. Prevent food waste by sending leftovers home with guests in reusable containers or get creative with holiday-leftover recipes.
  • Choose eco-deco. 38,000 miles of ribbon alone is thrown out annually—enough to tie a bow around the Earth! When planning a party, avoid decorations designed for one-time use. Try to decorate with what you have and choose locally-grown flowers, food or potted plants for centerpieces.

Instead of contributing to the influx of holiday consumption, it is also important to stay eco-conscious when giving gifts. Here are a few suggestions for meaningful gifts that are easy on the planet and don't break the bank.

  • #GiveHeifer. With Heifer International, you can donate an animal to a family in need, fund a community project or support sustainable farming for families around the world. A flock of chicks is only $20!
  • Give a Kiva Card. Kiva gives loved ones the chance to help change a life, by lending as little as $25 to a borrower of his or her choice. Once the borrower repays the loan, the lender can use it to fund new loans—the gift that keeps on giving!
  • Give a service or experience. More than three in four Americans wish the holidays were less materialistic. Share a talent or give a service in lieu of a material gift, or give the gift of experiences and activities.

For more information on having a waste-free holiday season, see Eco-Cycle's 2016 Holiday Guide and Holiday Recycling Guide