12 Easy Ways to Green Your Holidays

Follow these money-saving tips from the Oregon Environmental Council to minimize the eco impact of your gift giving and decorating.

By Allison Jones December 12, 2014

Every holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans throw out 25% more trash. This year, it pays to green up your holidays—and keep more green in your wallets.

These eco-friendly holiday tips from Oregon Environmental Council, one the state's leading conservation and consumer awareness organizations, are a great place to start.

Shopping and gift giving

Americans spend $228 billion every year on holiday gifts and celebrations, enough to build 168 Empire State Buildings. Follow these tips to minimize your impact, and remember to donate any unwanted appliances and used quality goods to second-hand stores.

  • Bring reusable bags on shopping trips: It's a no brainer when it comes to weekly outings to the grocery store or farmers market, but we often forget our totes and carry-alls when it comes to other kinds of shopping. Convenient as they may be, disposable plastic bags require petroleum ­­­to make, can be difficult to recycle, and add up to a lot of waste.
  • Smarter gift giving: Plastic, electronics, and battery-operated items can leach toxic materials into our waterways when they end up in the trash. Instead, consider giving homemade (and economical) edibles or “experience” gifts like gift certificates and concert tickets.
  • If you need to power up: Be sure to choose rechargeable batteries if your gifts require juice. You’ll save money in the long run and reduce your waste.
  • Buy locally made and sustainable goods: Cut down on the carbon burden of shipping goods and boost your local economy with home-grown and home-made goodies. We've got some ideas...


Americans spend $8 billion annually on holiday decorations, many of which end up in the trash shortly after the tree is taken outside.

  • Check second-hand stores: Thrift stores have charming holiday decorations at discount prices, many still in the original package.
  • Skip the tinsel and glitter: Tinsel, foil and glitter frequently end up as waste and make tree and paper recycling a chore. Durable or recyclable materials are better choices, or you can make your own gingerbread ornaments or garlands of popcorn and cranberries.
  • Choose efficient lights with the “ROHS” label: Many Christmas lights—even energy-saving LEDs—can contain harmful lead in the cords and bulbs. ROHS labeled lights are lead-free. (Be sure to wash your hands after handling non-ROHS designated lights.)

Gift wrap

Half of all the paper America consumes goes to wrapping and decorating consumer products. Instead of adding to the problem, consider these alternatives.

  • Choose recyclable: Paper with heavy dyes, plastic coating, tape, glitter and foil can’t be recycled. Instead, choose plain paper for your gift-wrapping, or re-use colorful paper from other sources.
  • Re-usable ribbons: Every year, we throw away enough ribbon to tie a bow around the Earth! Choose durable ribbons made from cloth or yarn that can be saved and reused year after year.


Holiday cards can quickly fill your mailbox—and your trashcan. Every year, the total amount of holiday cards sold could fill a football field 10 stories high! Try making cards out of calendars, paper bags, or other reusable materials around your home. If you must buy new, make sure the card is from “post-consumer recycled content” that didn’t require a tree to be cut or new materials. Or better yet, send an electronic card: they’re waste-free and won’t put a dent in your wallet.

After the holidays

For general questions on how to handle holiday waste like packaging peanuts, electronics, batteries and more, the Metro recycling hotel (503-234-3000) is a great resource. In some Oregon locations, you can recycle Christmas trees, gift wrap, and greeting cards right at the curb.

  • Light recycling: Major retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer free recycling programs and discounts on new, energy-efficient purchases.
  • Fresh air: Don’t forget to promote clean indoor air during the “cozy” season! If you have a fireplace, only burn seasoned hardwood or other materials designed to burn cleanly. If you are using candles or doing holiday cooking, take a moment to get fresh air from an open window or ventilation fan in the kitchen or bathroom.
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