Sustainable Holiday Tips

Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of year? That extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week! So, to help cut back on that waste and have a sustainable holiday season, Climate Smart Glacier Country has a few tips to help you have a greener holiday.

Wrapping paper, gifts and cards

  • If you can, shop local and support local businesses, which is more important than ever right now due to the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. You’ll not only help the local economy but also reduce transportation emissions and associated packaging costs when you buy through a locally sourced supply chain. So be sure to visit your local stores, or check out for more Montana-made gift ideas.
  • Gift thoughtfully to reduce waste. Repurpose materials and focus on DIY gifts. Give edible items like food or beverages that won’t end up in the trash. Potted plants are another great option that provide an ongoing benefit, but you could also gift experiences instead of things. Things like quality time, homemade items, services or passes to places like national parks are gifts that make sure nothing is wasted! Or maybe this is a year where you might consider making a donation in a love one’s name to a food bank or other charitable organization to cut back on waste while helping others.
  • Wrap gifts sustainably. The easiest thing you can do is to reuse gift bags and gift boxes from previous holidays or use materials you have around the house like newspaper, magazines or brown paper bags to avoid buying new wrapping paper. You could also use fabric or mason jars if you have small items to wrap. If you end up needing to buy wrapping paper, avoid papers that are covered with glitter or embossed with foil as those are not recyclable. And here’s a fun fact: if every family in the US wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields!
  • Send holiday cards made of recycled paper. Before shopping, check to see if you have any leftover cards you can use. You can also re-use or upcycle old cards to create new cards by cutting them up and using your favorite parts. If you need to buy new cards, try to shop local and remember that the same rule of wrapping paper applies to cards, so avoid cards with glitter or foil lining as they are not recyclable.
  • If you receive a new tech gift like a laptop, tablet, phone or other electronic device, recycle the old one. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality offers recycling options on their website.
  • If you’re giving a gift that needs batteries, include a set of rechargeable batteries to cut back on waste and help extend the life of the gift. Rechargeable batteries are also recyclable once they no longer hold a charge. Some retailers like Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and Home Depot offer battery recycling, so be sure to check your local retailer.


  • Let’s start with the question of the tree. Consider a potted tree that you can replant later, but for something without roots, the greenest tree you can buy is one that you buy locally and recycle. Many local municipalities offer tree recycling in early January, which is the best way to recycle a cut tree after the holidays. Check with your local officials about tree recycling in your area.
  • If you already have an artificial tree at home, please re-use it for as many years as possible! Generally, you need to re-use an artificial tree for 20+ years given the resources needed to produce it in order to match the impacts of one real tree.
  • Use energy-saving LED string lights. They last much longer than traditional incandescent lights and don’t need replacement bulbs over the years. They also don’t put out nearly as much heat when they’re turned on, which means they can be a bit safer when placed on cut trees or live vegetation. If you have old string lights that you’d like to replace with new LED lights, don’t throw the old lights in the trash! Check with your municipality to see if they offer a recycling service, or ship your old lights to this free recycling service.
  • For other décor on your tree or around the house, skip items like tinsel and plastic-based items derived from oil and use natural items like real garland and branches or re-usable materials like fabric and wood. You can also pick up a few pinecones outside and use them as is or paint them! If you already have plastic decorations at home, please be sure to re-use them as long as possible or turn them into other DIY projects to keep them out of the landfill.


  • Minimize food waste. This is a big area of waste over the holidays. In fact, over 70 billion pounds of food waste go to the landfill every year, contributing to methane emissions and wasting energy and resources across the food supply chain. To avoid that waste, be sure to check your pantry or freezer before buying more food you may already have at home. Once you’re at the store, stick to your shopping list and try not to buy more than you can realistically eat.
  • Avoid using paper plates or using plastic plates, plastic forks and spoons at holiday gatherings, or when giving food as a gift to others.
  • Get creative with leftovers and use them for breakfast and lunch. If you can, share extra food with loved ones, or freeze them to be used later.
  • Instead of throwing out food waste, try composting!

Finally, if you travel this season, off-set carbon emission travel by making a donation to a nonprofit that is addressing environmental or climate issues.  You can support our work or donate to other climate-focused nonprofits.

We wish you a safe and sustainable holiday season!