Five Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season

a string of holiday lights in front of a blurred blue background

Those string lights better be LED. Photo by iStock/winyuu


Five Tips for How to Have an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season

Rule number one: ditch the wrapping paper and ribbon

December 3, 2021
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Hey, the holidays are here, but that doesn’t mean climate change is taking a rain check.

In fact, the holidays have a massive impact on the world’s carbon footprint thanks to long-held traditions like sending greeting cards and wrapping presents in nonrecyclable paper and festooned with nonbiodegradable ribbon. 

Want to feel less guilty about celebrating the season? BU Today rounded up five easy tips for making your holidays as eco-friendly as possible, from opting for LED bulbs for your indoor and outdoor lights to putting presents in reusable bags (so much easier to wrap!). And if nothing else, remember that if it glitters: It. Cannot. Be. Recycled.

Happy environmentally responsible holidays!

Forego the wrapping paper

We know, we know, the living room looks so festive with colorful presents wrapped in pretty paper and topped off with bows under a tree or piled next to the hearth. But, only some of that wrapping paper is recyclable—if it’s got glitter, metallic or foil details, glossy coatings, or velvet, it’s not—and bows and ribbons are decidedly not recycling bin–friendly. Switch to cloth wraps or reusable bags, which can last for years if you treat ’em right. (If you do recycle paper gift bags, remember to remove any rope or ribbon handles before tossing.) 

Set on wrapping everyone’s presents in paper? Look for simpler styles or sustainable wrapping paper made from recycled materials.  

Send digital holiday cards

Remember when everyone was elfing themselves? Sure, it was annoying—but Aunt Nancy was onto something. This year, consider sending a virtual greeting card (they don’t have to be lame!) in lieu of a physical one. Why? In the States, mailing holiday cards produces almost as much carbon as charging a whopping 22 billion smartphones every year. Plus, with the stress on the postal service, there’s a good chance a paper card might not arrive until after the holidays have passed anyway. Happy Groundhog Day, maybe?

Shop local, and small

Shopping local—and in person, if you can—is one of the easiest things you can do to offset both your carbon footprint and your conscience this holiday season. Instead of giving your money to massive corporations that ship your goods from warehouses with shady operating practices (you know who we mean), put your money back into your community by supporting the businesses around you. Bonus points for shopping small—as companies continue to bounce back from the pandemic, bottom lines mean a lot more to the family business on the corner than the big box in the mall.

And if you’re doing your shopping in Boston, check out our local holiday gift guide, packed with fun and affordable ideas for everyone on your list. 

Get smarter with your lights

Say it with us: LED. This year, make sure your string lights all have LED bulbs. They’re a little more expensive than regular string lights, but they also consume 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last about 25 times longer. (Heirloom LEDs, anyone?) Also, if you’re putting up lights outside, remember to stick them on a timer so they don’t stay on all night and jack your energy bill up.

And check out solar-powered LED lights, which are about as environmentally friendly as you can get. 

Opt for a live Christmas tree

Fresh-cut Christmas trees are actually better for the environment than fake ones. But a dead tree is still a dead tree, even if it’s biodegradable. An increasingly popular option is a live Christmas tree, or a tree that still has its roots attached so that it can be replanted after the holidays. 

Don’t have the yard space to replant? Consider a mini live tree, which you can find at your local plant nursery or from online retailers like Bloomscape or The Sill. Just keep it as a houseplant after the holidays have passed and enjoy its forest-y vibes year round. 

And if you do have a cut Christmas tree, be sure to recycle it. Many towns now have curbside pickup and local farms sometimes offer drop-offs and use the trees to feed their goats. 

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Five Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season

  • Alene Bouranova

    Writer/Editor Twitter Profile

    Photo of Allie Bouranova, a light skinned woman with blonde and brown curly hair. She smiles and wears glasses and a dark blue blazer with a light square pattern on it.

    Alene Bouranova is a Pacific Northwest native and a BU alum (COM’16). After earning a BS in journalism, she spent four years at Boston magazine writing, copyediting, and managing production for all publications. These days, she covers campus happenings, current events, and more for BU Today. Fun fact: she’s still using her Terrier card from 2013. When she’s not writing about campus, she’s trying to lose her Terrier card so BU will give her a new one. She lives in Cambridge with her plants. Profile

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