lighted christmas tree

Practical Sustainable Holiday Tips for 2023

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the traditions of the most wonderful time of the year. From decorations, to wrapping paper to travel, there are many areas to improve when it comes to traditional holiday practices this holiday season. But, we’ve listed our top sustainable holiday tips we can test out this holiday season that are practical and fun.

By making a few simple, cost-saving decisions we’ve shared below, you can ensure that your celebrations are enjoyable, memorable, and more sustainable.

woman holding string lights
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

Sustainable Holiday Tip 1: Sustainable Decorations

  1. Holiday Decorations

    The most sustainable option you can choose this year for the holidays is what you already have. If you’re bored with your decorations, try decorating with a friend to see if they can help you get some new ideas or check websites like Pinterest for some inspiration.

    If you’re really itching for something new, consider buying used decorations! A few great places to check are your local thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, or even your community Buy Nothing Page. These decorations might be more unique than what you can find at a large department store. Etsy is also a great place to search for decorations and support small businesses.

    In the spirit of sustainable holiday tips, Try sharing or donating your unwanted decorations instead of trash to friends or your local community centers. And if you do decide to purchase new decorations, try to avoid buying plastic decorations if possible. 
  2. Lights

    While Christmas lights don’t use as much electricity as other things, switching to LED lights can save you around $50 on your holiday season energy bills because they use 90% less energy. Still not convinced? LEDs release very little heat and last about 200,000 hours, so you won’t have to replace them for a long time. And according to one study by the US DOE, if everyone in the US replaced their conventional string lights with LEDs, it would save about 2 billion kWh of electricity each month.

    If you need to replace your lights, Christmas lights are not able to be recycled in conventional recycling methods. So check to see if there is a local light exchange program through a major department store.

    Finally, don’t forget to turn off your lights or buy a timer to set specific shut off times for the lights when is not necessary to have them on!
  3. Christmas Trees

    While purchasing an artificial tree seems like an economic option, real Christmas trees are more environment friendly than artificial ones. Artificial trees are made from plastic and will take hundreds of years to break down.

    But don’t get just any tree — some growers use up to 40 different pesticides and even add chemical colorants! Ask your local Christmas tree seller about their practices or search for a sustainable farm near you. Besides using less pesticides, a sustainable farm will plant more trees than they cut down each year. And those that they do harvest will be selectively cut in patches to maintain healthy forest

    If you’re like me, and learning this information post-purchasing an artificial tree a few years ago, try to make sure your tree lasts you for at least 10 years. This will ensure a net carbon offset. You can always only put up a few pieces of the tree if you’re looking to downsize or raise your tree on a box or crate to give the illusion of more height!
lighted christmas tree
Photo by Brett Sayles on

Sustainable Holiday Tip 2: Gift Giving

Let’s face it, buying gifts can be an extremely stressful process. I like to take a while to think about which gifts will really have the most meaning to the recipient. Here are a few sustainable holiday tips for gift giving.

Sustainable Gifts that Give Back

  1. Buy Local
    Support local small business this time of year with unique gifts. Not only do you support your local economy, but you can reduce carbon foot-print from shipping from far away places. Some local businesses may be running promotions or gift cards for the season!
  2. Consider longevity of the gift

    One practice I like to think about when purchasing a gift for someone is the usable life of the gift. For example, a new outfit for my toddler niece will most likely only get a few wears, but something like a stuffed animal or books can be used for a long time.
  3. Consider an experience

    Over the past few years, many of our plans were upended, which means we missed out on many fun activities. So gift something that can be enjoyed in the future, like tickets to a game, comedy show, play, or concert, a fun day trip, a museum membership, guitar lessons, or even a gift card to a favorite local restaurant or business. You’ll be supporting a local business and giving your recipient something to look forward to!
  4. Consider gifting secondhand items

    The concept of a gift doesn’t necessarily need to be brand new. There are plenty of unique finds at thrift stores, flea markets, and consignment shops in excellent condition that would make an excellent gift this season. Art, Serving dishes, and jewelry are just a few great items to get started. I have given flowers in thrifted vases and picture frames with printed photos as gifts in the past. It’s a special gesture that goes beyond the price tag.
cheerful ethnic woman with gift boxes on christmas day
Photo by Liza Summer on

Sustainable Holiday Tip 3: Gift Wrapping

What looks beautiful under your tree, is decidedly less so elsewhere. Most mass-produced wrapping paper and gift bags are printed with unsustainable inks and coated with shiny foils. Many of these traditional offerings are not recyclable or biodegradable. Get creative and wrap gifts with materials you have around the house, like old maps, comics, packing paper, or even original artwork. You can also use any pretty, clean fabric like scarves, bandannas, or dish towels for a totally reusable wrapping. Create your own bows from strips of colorful paper and accessorize with twine, pressed leaves, and pinecones. Look for some more gift wrapping ideas here.

family celebrating christmas dinner while taking selfie
Photo by Nicole Michalou on

Sustainable Holiday Tip 4: Sustainable Gathering

The holidays are meant for gathering, and a lot of times that means generating waste. Try to think of these sustainable holiday tips to get together this season and all year round.

  1. Meals:
    For a more sustainable holiday meal, choose a few meatless entrees. Look at the recipes section of our website for countless recipes and recipe inspiration on how to be more sustainable in our kitchen!

    While preparing all your favorite holiday dishes, try to support local farmers that grow sustainable produce. Not only will fresh, local ingredients lend an extra vibrancy to your meals, the food will taste better too. As a bonus, you’ll be keeping your dollars in the local community, and supporting those who may have been hit by COVID-related economic shutdowns.
  2. Cutlery

    While using what you have is always my first suggestion, it’s common practice for many families to rely on disposable for easy clean up. However, silverware can go directly in your dishwasher to save you time and reduce your waste. But if you’re staying safe with disposable because of COVID, RSV, the Flu or any other illness or reason, consider compostable or biodegradable options. While these aren’t the most sustainable option, they will break down sooner than plastic.

rain of snow in town painting
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

Sustainable Holiday Tip 5: Sustainable Traveling

I am quite fortunate that I don’t have to get on an airplane to to see my immediate family for the holidays. It’s well established that traveling by airplane can be quite carbon intensive, but this holiday season, you can take an added step to offset your carbon footprint! The solution might not be perfect, but trying to make somewhat of an effort is better than no effort at all.

• Here are a few companies that plant trees to offset your impact:

  • Terrapass – Provides carbon offsets for flying, driving, etc.
  • CarbonFund – Provides a variety of carbon offset projects to choose from.
  • – Tree planting for offsetting carbon emissions

We hope that these ideas help make your holidays more sustainable this year and for years to come. Let us know in the comments section which sustainable holiday tip you are going to include in your traditions!

However you enjoy to spend your time, Happy Holidays from Made to Sustain!

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