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Five Steps to Make the Holidays a Season of Sustainability

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

With delicious food, loved ones and fun festivities, the holiday season certainly creates a sense of joy. Unfortunately, the season can also create a sense of panic with all the hustle and bustle over getting the right gifts and creating the perfect meal. Having a sustainable holiday doesn’t always make it on the list. However, you may want to check that list a second time: over one million tons of extra holiday waste is created from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

From the time you hang up the first decoration to the time you clean up the last piece of wrapping paper, there are easy ways to make this season more sustainable.

Here are our five steps to take for eco-friendly festivities:

Step 1: Holiday Decorating. You could create a holiday home worthy of a magazine cover by buying brand-new holiday decorations. However, using recycled materials can give you the same look or an even better, more unique one. Leftover wood pallets, plastic buckets and even wine bottles can be remade into DIY decorations. Use leftover wood to create snowman décor for the front step or put LED lights inside of a wine bottle for a soft lighting feature. Use rechargeable batteries whenever you can. Bonus tip: After the holidays are over, use your Christmas tree as mulch or a bird sanctuary.

Step 2: Buying Gifts. By shopping local, you not only help the local economy, you also limit the extra waste created from big box stores or online shopping. Give your gifts a personal touch by making them yourself. You don’t have to be a master crafter; the gift could be as simple as a DIY candle with leftover mason jars. Another option is to gift items you already own. Instead of throwing out quality clothing or household items you no longer care for, gift them to family or friends that would appreciate them.

Step 3: Wrapping Gifts. You spend a lot of time wrapping gifts just for the paper to be torn off within minutes (or seconds if you have children). Here’s a better wrapping solution: reusable gift bags so the receiver can re-use the bag for future gifting. Another option is to re-use brown paper, newspaper and even fabric as wrapping material. If every American family wrapped just three presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Step 4: Planning the Holiday Meal. During the holidays, many families get together and prepare meals large enough to feed a whole football team. Making or bringing more food than needed to holiday parties is common. The online Guest-imator can help you figure out the right amount of food to make for the number of guests you’re having, so you can prevent food waste. If you do have leftovers, freeze them or repurpose them in a different recipe. Don’t forget to encourage guests to bring reusable containers to take food home.

Step 5: Gift Opening. When gifts are opened and wrapping is spread across the whole room, that’s usually when people really notice holiday waste. Before you hurry to throw it all away, take a look at what can be salvaged. Wrapping and tissue paper that is in fairly good condition can be reused for another gift-wrapping session; unfortunately, tissue paper and most wrapping paper as well as bows and ribbon are not recyclable and should be put into your garbage. Gift bags and boxes can always be saved for another season or used for storing items.

Making sustainable choices can really help simplify the holiday season. It can help you focus on what matters; not more gifts, more food or more decorations. Check out the Brown County Resource Recovery website for Recycle Right tips at Also, be sure to check out our Pinterest page for ideas on recycling items for holiday decorating and gift-giving at

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