Greener Holiday

INFORM’s Tips for a Cleaner, “Greener” Holiday

green_pinesOne of the enduring images of the December holiday season is the imposing mound of garbage that follows the wrapping and opening of gifts, the office party, and the holiday dinner. But the holidays can be just as much fun, just as meaningful, and just as colorful without being so wasteful. How?

By celebrating a clean environment along with the holidays, and by giving “green” gifts during the holidays.

As managing our garbage becomes an increasingly costly and difficult problem, environmentalists and many government leaders have come to realize that the best solution to the waste problem in the US is to prevent the creation of garbage in the first place. We can all play an important role by shifting our buying habits from disposable products to more durable and long-lasting goods.

Why is this so important? At home, in school, at work, and at play, US residents throw away more than twice as much waste per person as citizens of other industrialized nations with comparable standards of living. Each year, we discard billions of razors, pens, plastic and paper plates, cups, and bags. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day alone, Americans produce an extra one million tons of trash per week compared to any other time of the year.


Shopping around for a new piece of electronic equipment this holiday season…perhaps a cell phone? Before replacing your old phone, bring in your used unit to a wireless store so it can be recycled or refurbished and reused.

Give gifts that are unpackaged or minimally packaged, without unnecessary plastic wrap or cardboard, and buy gifts made from recycled materials when available.

Give durable and long-lasting items that replace disposables or highly polluting items, such as:

  • Cloth or linen napkins, and napkin rings.
  • Men’s or women’s handkerchiefs.
  • Refillable pens and pencils.
  • Nondisposable razors.
  • A mug for the office; an insulated mug or thermos for commuters.
  • A ceramic, glass, or plastic pitcher for drinks made from concentrate.
  • A vintage lunch box with reusable bags or containers.
  • Loose tea and tea ball (you may be able to find an interesting antique tea ball).
  • Canvas or other reusable shopping bags.
  • A reusable seltzer canister with rechargeable cartridge.
  • Manual or solar-powered appliances, rather than battery-operated or plug-in ones.
  • A set of rechargeable batteries and charger.
  • A perpetual calendar that never needs to be replaced.
  • Erasable message boards.
  • Long-life light bulbs.
  • A solar watch or calculator.
  • A water-saving low-flow showerhead.
  • A refurbished computer instead of a brand new one. (Or give a leased computer — the dealer will take back the old one upon renewal!)
  • A bicycle or rollerblades (to encourage alternatives to motor vehicle use).
  • A backyard composter.
  • Houseplants or a garden (for example, give seeds, gloves, or gardening tools).
  • Biodegradable soaps and shampoos.

Or give a gift that isn’t an object, such as:

  • Membership in an environmental, philanthropic, or relief organization.
  • An experience: a vacation, lessons, a day at the spa, gift certificates for a meal at a restaurant, guided tours, tickets to concerts, theatre, museums, or the movies, etc.
  • The gift of time, such as a gift certificate for an afternoon of companionship, helping with household chores, babysitting, running errands, or going on an outing.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name or donate a tree planted in someone’s honor (or plant a tree yourself!).
  • A savings account or savings bond for a child.

Or give a reused item, such as something bought at an antique shop or thrift store.

Don’t put usable items in the trash! Donate unwanted gifts, clothing, furniture, and housewares to a local charity or thrift emporium.


Gift Giving

Try to avoid unnecessary wrapping. The average consumer wraps 20 gifts during the holidays. If just three of those gifts were wrapped in reused paper, the paper saved could cover 45,000 football fields!

  • Wrap gifts using the gift itself (for example, use a scarf as ribbon).
  • Use decorative newspaper ads, colorful pages from magazines, old maps, calendars, or color comic strips as wrap. When buying new wrapping paper, purchase recycled-content paper.
  • Wrap music gifts in old sheet music and use the tape from an unwanted audiocassette as ribbon.
  • Wrap gifts in fabric, reusable cloth bags, pillow cases, or baskets.
  • Reuse old ribbons and wrapping paper (if wrinkled, press with a warm iron).
  • Use an old necktie or scarf as a bow or ribbon.
  • Use the fronts of old holiday cards as name tags for this year’s gifts.

Packing for the Mail

  • Consider these alternatives for your holiday mailing needs:
  • Biodegradable-starch packing peanuts.
  • Used packing peanuts from previous gifts. (Unwanted peanuts, if they are clean, are accepted by certain packaging stores for reuse. Call the Plastic Loosefill Council’s Peanut Hotline at 1-800-828-2214 for the names of local businesses that reuse them.)
  • Crumpled newspaper or pages from magazines.
  • Use old cardboard boxes to ship presents and reuse peanuts and bubble wrap.


  • Use your own shopping bags and consolidate purchases into one bag.
  • If you shop by mail-order catalogue, remember to cancel the catalogues you don’t need so they don’t end up piled in the trash.
  • Shop early and consolidate trips to save fuel.
  • Walk and use public transportation when practical.


Holiday Cards

  • One year’s worth of holiday cards would fill a football field 10 stories high!
  • Send e-mail or Internet greetings to friends and family, or send a holiday postcard to save paper and envelopes.
  • Create your own cards made out of used paper.
  • When buying cards, choose ones made with recycled paper.
  • Recycle old holiday cards. Send them to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, a home for abused children in Nevada, where children make new cards from old ones and sell them to support the ranch. Used cards can be mailed to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, 100 St. Jude Street, Boulder City, NV 89005, or call (800) 492-3562.



  • Consider buying a potted Norfolk pine, fig tree, or indoor house plant that can be reused every holiday season.
  • Purchase a tree from a tree farm rather than cutting one down in the wild.
  • Make use of your tree: use boughs to protect plant beds, convert leftovers to mulch or compost, and use trimmed branches for decorating around the home or making wreaths. For more information on what to do with your trees in New York City, contact Eve Martinez at INFORM, Inc., 212-361-2400, ext 229. Eve is the Director of the New York City Waste Prevention Community Coordinators Program, a new program that is helping to reduce the residential waste stream in New York City.

Tree Ornaments

Try these alternatives to buying new items:

  • Popcorn and cranberry strands (use them as birdfeed after the tree comes down).
  • Old jewelry.
  • Small stuffed animals and toys.
  • Memorabilia such as a child’s first shoe.
  • Edible cookie ornaments.
  • Buttons knotted on a sturdy length of string.



  • Use reusable plates, flatware, glasses, tablecloths and linen, or rent them rather than buying new ones.
  • Make sure you have a recycling system for aluminum cans, plastic, and glass bottles set up for your party. Show your caterers, helpers, and guests where to put items and demonstrate to them that you care about the environment!
  • Use washable pans instead of disposables for cooking. It’s much cheaper to buy a roasting pan than to purchase foil pans all year long.
  • Buy fresh, unpackaged foods when possible.
  • Plan meals wisely and send guests home with leftovers or donate them to food banks rather than throw food out. In New York City, contact City Harvest at 917-351-8700 or to arrange a pickup of your leftover food.
  • Take holiday photos with a standard camera, not a disposable one. Did you know that purchasing film in rolls of 36 instead of 12 reduces waste by 67% and saves about $4.00, or 40%?
  • Cook multiple items in the same oven.
  • Run appliances on full loads.

Other Tips

  • Save energy (both fossil fuel and the stress associated with looking for parking places) when going shopping or to parties by walking, using public transportation, or carpooling if you have to drive.
  • Turn the heat down before your guests arrive. The extra body heat they generate will warm up the room.

For information on how to design and implement effective solid waste prevention programs in your community, see INFORM’s Community Waste Prevention Toolkit (

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