Image of woman hanging wreath on front door while man kneels next to brown dog on front porch

Sustainable holidays: Eco-friendly decoration, shopping, and giving ideas.

Last Updated: November 9, 2021

Here’s Grove's tips on how to make your holidays both festive and sustainable with eco-friendly gift ideas, reusuable wrapping, and zero-waste decor.

Ah, the holiday season. Seemingly getting longer and longer each year, the U.S. typically celebrates Thanksgiving and the winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's) near the end of each year. Since we've already explored food waste in this guide entitled, Sustainable Thanksgiving: How to Throw an Eco-Friendly Feast, all about reducing food and environmental waste during America’s favorite feasting week, we're now focusing on sustainable decorating, gifting, and wrapping in this little primer with some eco-friendly gifting tips and tricks. Think an eco-friendly party can’t be festive? Think again — and read on for proof!

Household waste increases by up to 25 percent in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, much of it having to do with the accouterments of the holiday season — lavish decorations, mountains of gifts, thousands of miles of ribbon and wrapping paper. This year, reduce your holiday carbon footprint by asserting your creativity and making a few small changes to your usual routine. With this helpful guide, you can green up your holiday decorating and gifting while giving life to new traditions.

4 tips for sustainable Christmas, Hanukkah & Kwanzaa decorations

Image of recycled aluminum foil box with bowl covered in foil behind it

American households spend around $230 a year on holiday decorations. These are a handful of the worst offenders, along with sweet sustainable swaps.


Those shimmery, silvery strands that give your tree an icy, fairytale finish are made from PVC and can’t be recycled. It's also virtually impossible to disentangle the decoration from a live tree, which can pose some recycling issues.

Sustainable swap: For an eco-friendly Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa decoration that adds a a touch of sparkle, hang some silver glass (not plastic) globe ornaments, or cut some recycled aluminum foil into circles, and glue them back-to-back along a length of cotton string for a gleaming silver garland.

Image of girl in red shirt holding a small potted plant on counter

Artificial greenery

Fake evergreen branches and wreaths — and faux mistletoe and holly — are made from toxic, petroleum-based products that require an enormous amount of energy to produce and which can’t be recycled.

Sustainable swap: Hit your local gardening center for materials and natural holiday greenery before buying more artificial greenery. There’s nothing like the natural scent of pine to bring holiday vibes to your home.

To keep the greenery fresh, cut the stems with gardening shears, and soak them in water overnight to fully hydrate before you decorate. To maintain your live holiday greenery, invest in a plant mister to regularly refresh your plants as well. Then, compost the greenery after the season.

Spray snow

Spray-on flocking, which you can get at your local craft store, goes on your tree and windows, mimicking freshly fallen snow. But this stuff is nowhere near as pure as snow. In fact, it typically contains solvents, propellants, flame retardants, and other toxic chemicals — and it’s very harmful to pets if consumed.

Sustainable swap: You can find dozens of recipes to make your own, nontoxic fake snow — or you can use cotton balls, polyfill, or leftover spider webbing from Halloween.

Holiday lights

According to NASA, some parts of Earth — including America’s suburbs — are up to 50 percent brighter between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The Energy Savings Trust reckons that the amount of carbon dioxide produced by holiday lights each year could power 15,500 hot air balloons.

Sustainable swap: As your holiday string lights go kaput, start replacing them with LED lights, which use 90 percent less energy than conventional holiday lights. Solar-powered outdoor string lights are the most sustainable option as they use zero energy, but they’re not as bright as you might like. If you do make the sustainable swap, don’t toss your old string lights in the trash — they can be recycled for their plastic, glass, and copper, but you may need to deliver them to the recycling center or find a holiday lights recycling dropbox in your town.

Artificial Christmas tree vs. real tree: Which is more eco-friendly?

Illustration of 3 green pine trees in front of 3 mountains

Are artificial trees better?

Not necessarily. Americans purchase 10 million artificial trees each year, 90 percent of which are shipped from China, adding to global carbon emissions. Most artificial trees can’t be recycled, so they end up in the landfill. If you have an artificial tree, use it for at least five years to help reduce its carbon footprint.

Here are some other things you can do to make your artificial tree more sustainable:

  • When it’s time for a new tree, donate your old one if it’s still in good shape.
  • Replace it with a high quality artificial tree that will last many years. Choose one that’s made in the USA to reduce shipping impacts.
  • Alternatively, make the switch to tree alternatives (see below).

Is it bad to get a real Christmas tree?

Around 30 million trees are harvested from tree farms each holiday season, and Christmas trees grow fast — plus, when one is cut down, one to three seeds are generally planted in its place.

But Christmas tree farms are typically monoculture farms that rely on pesticides that can permeate into waterways and soil, meaning they generally aren't the most sustainable option if you're looking for an eco-friendly fir.

Real trees typically are more eco-friendly than artificial trees, but some better alternatives are definitely cropping up — such as trees made from recycled plastic. Plus, if your holiday tree is sent to the landfill at the end of the season — as seven million trees are each year — it has a far larger carbon footprint than one that’s recycled or composted. Here are some tips to buy the most sustainable real Christmas tree:

Image of potted pine trees on wooden floor

What are other tree alternatives?

If you're truly looking to green up your Christmas decorations and holiday greenery, consider an alternative to your traditional tree, which ranges from rentable to replantable to repurposing the plant life you have around the home.

  • Rent a tree — try Googling "Christmas tree rentals" for options in your area, like Rent a Living Christmas Tree.
  • Buy a potted tree that you can plant after the holiday season.
  • Buy a long-lasting alternative made from sustainable materials or recycled plastic.
  • Decorate the plants you already have at home with festive lights. (Just make sure they're sturdy enough to hold up the added decoration weight.)

The 9 best eco-friendly tree decorations

Tree ornaments and holiday decoration knickknacks are often made of plastics and resins that have a big environmental impact. You can make your tree extra-special by trimming it with these earth-friendly adornments that won’t take a toll on the environment.

Image of girl with two braids stringing balls onto a string with help from parent
  • String traditional garlands of popcorn and cranberries.
  • Fashion a long construction paper chain.
  • Make salt-dough decorations with the kids.
  • Find things in nature to string up with a hanging wire — pinecones, shells, feathers.
  • Dry slices of lemons and oranges in the oven — they come out looking like stained glass — and loop a string through them to hang.
  • Hang origami cranes and other paper creatures.
  • String up dried red chiles.
  • Make snowflakes with twigs and hot glue — put a button or gem in the center.
  • Look around the house for odds and ends you can turn into ornaments. Think empty thread spools, buttons, mason jar lids, bottle caps, marbles, old game pieces, nuts and bolts, and other flotsam and jetsam.

Grove Tip

Shop secondhand decorations and ornaments

If your heart is set on traditional ornaments, shop the thrift stores, which have a huge selection of holiday home decor at this time of year. Chances are, you’ll find something that’s one-of-a-kind and destined to become a holiday heirloom.

Grove's ideas for sustainable gifting

Stuff is fun, but do we really need more of it? The average U.S. home contains more than 300,000 items, and each year we add to each others’ household clutter, which is a major source of stress for one in four Americans. It’s also a blow to the environment when we give or receive gifts that never get used or end up in the landfill.

Image of paints and art supplies in white Grove caddy carried by child

7 unique shopping ideas with low carbon footprints

1. Shop locally owned shops and boutiques to find uncommon gifts for everyone on your list.

2. Visit local vintage or antique shops for a one-of-a-kind gift — jewelry, old books, record albums, dishes, collectibles.

3. Find a local artist collective with an online shop, and give the gift of art.

4. Give experiences instead of things — a zoo membership, an online course, a local spa certificate, a national park pass.

5. Consider a useful and practical gift that gives all year long — house cleaning or lawn mowing services, monthly massages, a local brewery or farm produce subscription box, certificates to the car wash.

6. Give children's gifts that aren’t made of plastic — books, art supplies, or toys made from post-consumer recycled materials.

7. Bake up a storm, and give the gift of tasty treats.

Image of Grove Box with handwritten note on box on doorstep

5 ways to reduce the environmental impact of online shopping

1. If you can, opt for curbside pickup at your local store.

2. Choose shipping options that bundle multiple items together in one box.

3. Religiously recycle your cardboard boxes. If your curbside recycling service doesn’t accept the plastic packing materials, save them, and after the holidays, take them to a facility that does.

4. Consider having gifts shipped directly to the recipient instead of mailing it yourself.

5. Choose green gifts when possible — things made from recycled materials, reusable items, gifts that can be recycled or composted.

Sustainability Tip

Don't rush online shipments

For every day you're willing to wait on shipping, you save the carbon emissions equivalent of 200 trees — so think twice before you opt for rush or priority shipping.

Image of Grove branded cardboard insert with leaf illustrations next to potted plant

5 ways to make your holiday cards more green

Americans send two billion holiday cards each year — enough to fill a football field with cards stacked 10 stories high. The most eco-friendly holiday cards are of the electronic variety — but if e-cards just won’t cut it for you, here are some ways to reduce the environmental impact of this beloved, 160-year-old holiday tradition.

1. Buy cards made from recycled materials and printed with soy-based ink.

2. Buy locally if possible — see if your favorite local artists or organizations sell cards.

3. Avoid glossy cards and those with glitter or metallic coatings — they can’t be recycled.

4. Consider sending holiday postcards, and skip the envelopes.

5. Think about paring down your list — maybe send e-greetings to the tech-savvy recipients on your list and the ones you see on social media every day, and save the paper cards for your beloveds who choose a lower-tech lifestyle.

How to reuse and recycle gift cards you've recieved

If you send a lot of holiday cards, you probably receive a lot, too. Here’s what you can do with them at the end of the season.

  • Cut out the images you like, and save them to make gift tags or decorate homemade cards or presents next year. You can also use images and words from the card for your scrapbooking projects.
  • Frame your favorite cards to make new, eco-friendly decorations for next year.
  • Cut off the front of the cards, and send them to the Recycled Card Program at St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, which turns them into new cards. (Note: due to copyright laws, they can’t accept Hallmark, American Greetings, or Disney cards.)
  • Nice, thick greeting cards make fabulous little gift boxes for tiny trinkets — here's a simple box-folding tutorial to try out.
  • Recycle cards that aren’t glossy or metallic.

Sustainable gift wrap

Americans spend around $2.6 billion on holiday gift wrap each year, and the British throw away enough wrapping paper during the holidays to circle Earth nine times. Unfortunately, many types of gift wrap can’t be recycled, so even if you put it all in the recycling bin, all that expensive, useless paper goes straight to the landfill.

How to tell if gift wrap is recyclable

Ribbons, bows, and tissue paper can’t be recycled — but you can save and reuse them. While some wrapping paper is recyclable, not all recycling mills accept it, so if you end up with gift wrap you want to recycle, check with your provider. Wrapping paper can’t be recycled if it:

  • Is laminated
  • Contains non-paper decorations, such as glitter or plastics
  • Has metallic gold or silver features
  • Is too thin to have good quality fibers
  • Has sticky tape attached to it
  • Doesn’t pass the scrunch test — scrunch it up into a ball, and let go. If it doesn’t stay scrunched up, it can’t be recycled
  • Is made of ribbons, bows, and tissue paper

Keep in mind that even if your wrapping paper is recyclable or made from recycled materials, it still takes an enormous amount of resources and energy to produce, contributing to environmental pollution. So, how can you wrap up all those doodads and gewgaws while maintaining a carbon-neutral footprint? We’re so glad you asked!

Sustainable wrapping paper ideas

Image of child putting leaves in twine bow wrapped around muslin wrapped box

These sustainable wrapping paper ideas are way cooler than the rolled-up stuff — and some of them are probably lying around your house right now. Pro tip: If you need to make bigger sheets for large gifts, just tape smaller sheets together.

  • Decorative paper shopping bags — cut up any bags you recieved from your actual holiday shopping to make custom gift wrap, or present gifts in them as-is.
  • Old magazine pages — find something that relates to the recipient for added impact and have your kids help you tape them together collage-style.
  • Maps — old maps you have lying around make unique, colorful gift wrapping.
Image of Grove delivery box made into a kid's doll house for play with a kid standing above it
  • Posters — collect all kinds of posters throughout the year from thrift stores and garage sales.
  • Your kid’s artwork — grandparents will go gaga for this one.
  • Newspaper — a classic gift wrap that never goes out of style. Go vintage or foreign language to make it extra cool.
  • Paper grocery bags — cut them into sheets, and, if you want, decorate (or have the kids decorate) the wrapping with cut-potato or rubber stamps, markers, or collage.
  • Sheet music — your favorite musician or music-lover will appreciate the nod.
  • Packing paper — the packing paper in your Grove box, for instance, and other packages often comes in large sheets perfect for wrapping big presents. Crumple it up into a small ball, then smooth it back out for interesting texture.
  • Greenery — instead of tinsel or ribbon, find greenery from your tree, wreaths, or out in your yard to decorate the gift for a natural, seasonal vibe. (Scroll down for more gift topper ideas to replace bows!)

How to wrap gifts in fabric (furoshiki)

Furoshiki is the traditional Japanese art of gift wrapping — more specifically, it’s the squares of fabric used to wrap and store things. Furoshiki can be big or small, depending on the size of the gift you’re wrapping. You can find numerous furoshiki folds for wrapping things of all different shapes and sizes. Turn these items into festive furoshiki:

  • Scarves — visit the thrift store to stock up
  • Tea towels — pretty kitchen towels are great for wrapping cooking-related gifts
  • Scrap fabric — your stash of fabric scraps, including old clothes, can net you some beautiful furoshiki


Grove Sustainability Tip

Potato chip bag gift wrap hack

Potato chip bags aren’t recyclable, because the shiny, silver interior coating is made from mixed materials — usually plastic and aluminum. Instead of tossing them in the trash, wash chip bags out with a mild, natural dish detergent, and cut them into flat sheets to use for gift wrap.

They’ll end up in the landfill eventually, but making them pull double duty helps to reduce their carbon footprint and makes your gifts super festive.

Alternatively, try these other gift-wrap options:

The dust bags that your shoes, sheets, or Crown Royal came in

A tote bag, which becomes part of the gift

Old (but clean) patterned pillowcases — tie them at the top with twine or recycled ribbon

Image of mother and daughter standing around wooden dining table looking at green centerpiece

How to find green gift toppers

A little two-sided tape or a hot glue gun will work wonders as you embellish your eco-friendly gift wrap with some combination of these clever, classy alternatives to store-bought bows.

  • Twine/yarn/string you already have lying around the house
  • Tiny paper chains (includes some kid arts & crafts action)
  • Secondhand brooches or other baubles
  • Old ribbon — iron it to straighten
  • Evergreen sprigs
  • Baby pine cones
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Candy sticks
  • Things you collect in nature, like berries, pretty dried leaves, or interesting sticks
  • Bows made from scrap fabrics

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