How to Have a Green Christmas (and a Happy New Year)


In Boulder County, Christmas is a thing to behold. Between our beautiful snow-capped peaks and fresh powder practically begging for sleigh rides, skiing, and Christmas tree hunting, who could ask for more? 

But while all the décor and gifts can be exciting, the holidays can also be the most wasteful time of the year.

Piles of uneaten food from holiday feasts, wrapping paper galore, energy-sucking Christmas lights, packaging, extra travel, and more can put a lot of us on an environmental naughty list.

Despite our best intentions, waste is, unfortunately, built into our modern-day holiday celebrations.

Studies show that in America, we toss out 25% more trash during the holidays than in other times of the year. That means those stuffed stockings are turning into stuffed landfills.

Fortunately, there are little things each of us can do to reduce waste during the holidays without sacrificing the traditions that make it so fun. Plus, going green can save you some money on your electricity bill.

If you’re ready to make it a green Christmas and an environmentally happy New Year, read on for our tips on how to waste less this holiday season.

Use Recyclable Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper is a huge contributor to waste during the holidays because much of it has glossy films, glitter, textured layers, or metallic elements that make it impossible to recycle.

If you’re going to buy wrapping paper, look for recyclable options. Or you can use colorful pages from magazines or a newspaper for an alternative and environmentally-friendly wrapping option.

Another idea is to put your gifts into reusable containers, like reusable bags, decorative boxes, or popcorn tins that won’t head straight to the landfill.

Lastly, remember that when you receive gifts, you should save the ribbons and bows to use when giving gifts next year, so these don’t end up in the trash, too.

Give Experiences

Instead of another trip to the mall to buy your niece another sweater she won’t wear, why not give experiences that your loved ones will cherish forever in their memories?

Take them to a museum or a concert, give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant (or take them yourself), or buy their next year’s gym membership for them. These gifts don’t need wrapping, and won’t eventually end up in the trash.

Buy Green Gifts

Christmas is the season of giving. When you do buy gifts for loved ones, buy eco-friendly ones.

Gifts that are green include:

  • Long-lasting and durable items
  • Locally bought and/or locally made good (minimizes impact of shipping)
  • Recyclable materials
  • Hand-made gifts
  • Re-gifted belongings
  • Gifts that don’t require power

If you do give a gift that uses electricity, look for solar powered options, or buy rechargeable batteries to go with it.

Conserve Energy with Christmas Lights

If you haven’t yet, make the switch to LED holiday lights. They use 80% less energy than traditional bulbs.

But sure to turn off all your outside Christmas lights and Christmas tree lights when you go to bed or head out of town. Even better, put all your Christmas lights on timers so they automatically turn off after you’ve gone to bed and turn back on when the sun goes down the next day.

Use Efficient Woods in Your Fireplace

Nothing’s cozier than a warm, crackling fireplace on Christmas Eve.

And by using the most efficient and hottest burning woods available here in Colorado, you can get the most out of your fire and reduce how much you rely on your home’s heating.

Check out our guide to Colorado’s hottest burning woods for your fireplace »

You should also have your chimney cleaned before the holiday season gets into full swing to improve the efficiency of your fireplace. And when you’re done with the fire each night, be sure to close your flue to keep all that residual heat in your house.

Un-Subscribe from Physical Mailing Lists

A lot of retailers are mailing out special offers, gift catalogs, and more during the holidays.

Whenever you receive one, visit their website or call them to remove yourself from their mailing list. The paper used doesn’t go to waste, and it saves on the energy needed to make it and transport it to your house.

Make Eco-Friendly Holiday Meals

When preparing your holiday feasts, make them as eco-friendly as possible. Buying local and organic is a good start — local ingredients don’t come with a big transportation carbon footprint, and organic farming methods are better for our soil and ground water, and they require less energy.

Reducing the amount of meat you include in your recipe selection by even just a small amount can save a lot — calorie for calorie, meat takes a lot more water and energy to create than vegetables and other foods.

You can also reduce waste during Christmas dinner by using real dinnerware instead of disposable cups, cutlery, and plates. And when you go to buy everything for your meal, be sure to bring your own reusable totes to the grocery store to minimize bag waste.

At the end of your meal, make it a point to compost scraps and any leftover food. Thrown into a landfill, organic matter breaks down and releases methane, which is harmful to the planet. Composted, you can introduce nutrients back into the soil of your garden, house plants, and lawn!

Send Recyclable Cards

A lot of holiday cards have foil, metal, glossy coatings, and other materials that make them fun, but wasteful. These materials often can’t be recycled.

Look for a simple paper card that can be recycled (and that are made with recycled paper). You can also reduce waste by making your own cards, sending digital e-cards, or skipping the card altogether and calling your loved ones on the phone.

After the holidays are over, cut the fronts off of the cards you received and save them for next year. They make great postcards!

Be Smart with Your Christmas Tree

There are three options for an environmentally-friendly Christmas tree:

  1. Artificial: They’re affordable and you can use the same one for many years.
  2. Real: Go to a local Christmas tree farm and cut one down yourself, saving on the transportation of trees to hardware stores or other tree-sellers. When Christmas is over, have it chipped, mulched, and turned into compost.
  3. Living: Get a potted Christmas tree that you can repot and use for years to come or plant outside in your yard.

Recycle Everything You Can

Beyond wrapping paper and cards, be sure to recycle everything you possibly can. Here in Boulder, you can recycle Styrofoam (commonly used in packing large items and electronics) at CHaRM.

There are also options for recycling batteries, old electronics, holiday lights and more. Read our guide to recycling household items »

Consider Your Travel Plans

Cars and planes use a lot of fuel, the burning of which contributes to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Travel goes up big time during the holidays, so if you can plan your trips to save a little bit of fuel, it will make a real difference.

Plan your shopping trips to combine the all into one, carpool to parties, and limit the amount you fly for a green holiday travel season.

Clean Your Appliances

Your fridge, oven, and freezer will probably see more use than normal this Christmas. They all require energy to do their jobs, but they can use it more efficiently if they’re clean.

Defrosting your freezer, cleaning off your fridge’s coils, and running the self-clean feature on your oven are all good ways to increase the energy efficiency of your appliances.

Check out our full guide on how to clean your appliances for improved energy-efficiency »

Keep Heat In Your Home

Due diligence when it comes to insulating your home against the winter chill will both save you money on your heating bill and avoid wasting the energy it takes to heat a drafty house.

Here are a few tips on how to improve the heat efficiency of your house:

  • Eliminate drafts under doors and around windows
  • Open curtains during day to let sun warm the house — close them at night to hold heat in
  • Closed doors to unused rooms
  • Turn down the heat and opt for a sweater
  • Program your thermostat to lower heat when people aren’t home
  • Install additional insulation in attic

On a cold winter night here in Boulder County, the biggest enemy of a green Christmas is heating our homes. Not heating your home isn’t an option, but doing it efficiently is. It will save you money and save the environment at the same time.

Want to know more? Read our full guide to keeping your house warm this winter »