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15 Easy Sustainable Swaps for the Holidays

In my professional opinion, the holidays are the best time of the year. In New Jersey, we ~usually~ get snow at some point, which makes for the best dog photos. There are decorations and lights at 95% percent of the houses, not to mention the Christmas music playing everywhere. But, unfortunately, the holidays are also stressful and understandably so. With all the different gifts and (usual) gatherings to plan for, it's easy to let sustainability slip as a priority, which is why I've decided to make a comprehensive list of way more than 15 ways you can be a little more sustainable this holiday season. This list aims as suggestions for some things you can do to reduce your waste, don't feel pressured to do everything to make a difference.


1. Wrapping Gifts

  1. Reuse: one of the best methods to avoid waste when wrapping presents is simply reusing wrapping paper from the previous year or using newspaper/paper bags. This also goes for gift bags, tissue paper, and bows. For the first time, I've seen Earth Hero selling fabric for wrapping gifts.

  2. Recycled wrapping paper is a great alternative to the typical wrapping paper, and you can find some cute prints at one of my favorite eco-friendly shops- Earth Hero! (ps use code DRAGUN)

  3. Bags: if you must purchase, I would suggest a gift bag! This way, the person you're gifting to can reuse and inadvertently become more sustainable :)

  4. Boxes: reuse boxes you already have lying around at home and use them as your "wrapping paper." Or, if you're like me, you'll put the gift in a regular cardboard box and then put it in a reused gift bag with reused tissue paper to make it more festive and fun.

  5. Tape: I would challenge you to use paper tape or tape made from recycled materials! This is a small thing that totally slipped my mind when prepping for Christmas, and definitely something I plan to implement the next time I need to buy tape. (notice how I said need to buy because I'm going to use what I got then replace it!)

2. Gifting

  1. Plants/Herbs: who wouldn't want to add a little green to their everyday space?

  2. Sustainable swaps: this is my absolute favorite way to be more sustainable this holiday; I got my boyfriend's family metal straws and reusable tote bags. This is perfect, especially for people you know that may be open to eco-friendly products but haven't bought them yet. Also, this is a great way to treat yourself!

  3. Second hand: have you ever thought about thrifting gifts for your family and friends? Oh, you have? Well yeah, you should totally do that this year!

  4. Regifting is often seen as a negative thing to do, but honestly, if you're not going to use something and believe someone else will love it, then give it to them! You're saving the earth and making your loved ones happy, seems like a win-win to me.

  5. Experiences: IMO, receiving experiences is my FAV!! I mean, they're thoughtful, sustainable, and fun. I know this isn't the most practical suggestion considering the pandemic, but we will eventually participate in experiences like concerts and trips soon. So if you're best friend or significant other also love experiences, you should gift them one!

  6. DIY: Take a look around you; what do you see? Probably something you can DIY into a gift or try making something. Some ideas: handmade scrunchies, upcycled jars/bottles, and art (paint, drawing, digital, photos).

  7. Digital gifts: The first thing that comes to mind is digital gift cards to replace physical ones. You could also gift montages, games, or movies/shows.

3. Dining

  1. No more disposables! Set the table properly, with real utensils and dishes. Try purchasing (preferably thrifting) cute holiday-themed dinnerware that way you actually want to use it.

  2. Zero Waste Boxes: if you must use disposables, or you usually go to a different household that uses disposables, invest in a ZWB to recycle them.

  3. Smaller plates: utilizing smaller plates and cups will help you, and everyone else, eat less and hopefully save food from going into the trash.

4. Decorations

  1. Natural decorations: if you're reading this, you have most likely seen how to make dried fruit into garland or ornaments, but it's a good idea, so I'm emphasizing it here! Get real pinecones to give off that Christmasy tree scent, or follow a recipe for aromatics on your stovetop.

  2. Energy-saving lights: a must! And also, please turn your lights off; light pollution is a real thing, people!

  3. Less stuff: use fewer decorations. Don't get me wrong, I adore Christmas and NYE decor, but more does not equal better.

  4. Second hand: sometimes you just gotta get something new to add, and when you get this urge, I encourage you first to try to find something second-hand (whether online or in-stores). If that doesn't work, you could try switching/borrowing from a friend.

  5. Fixing old instead of buying new: this is pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes all it takes is a coat of paint or glue to fix a decoration. Fixing old items is so much more sustainable than buying new ones.

  6. DIY: so... many... options... my favorite at the moment is using plastic to shrink it into cute designs (this has been a popular option for keychains as well)

5. Trees

  1. Real vs. fake: real, if you wanna be sustainable :)

  2. Recycling: there are tree recycling programs, so I suggest googling it to discover if any exist in your area.

  3. Plant: decorate your favorite (or biggest) houseplant instead!

  4. Wooden/Non-tree material: see below!

6. Food

  1. More plant-based options: eat your veggies and fruits and almond milk and vegan dessert to save both the animals and planet this month

  2. Compost your leftovers and food scraps, but after you've attempted to reuse them

  3. Reusing: whether we like it or not, leftovers are practically inevitable whenever there's a gathering or holiday. It's what we do with those leftovers that matter in terms of sustainability. There are many ways to reuse leftover food or food scraps: sandwiches, soups, smoothies, or simply heat them up!

  4. Making less: of course, the one way to avoid food waste is by making less food.

7. Holiday Themed Outfits

  1. Thrift: this is a no brainer in the sustainability world. For online thrifting, I suggest checking out ThredUp, Curtsy, Poshmark, and Depop

  2. Rewear: wear what you already have!

  3. Borrow: or swap with friends and family for a cheap, easy way to look cute and be sustainable.

8. Travel

I'd like to preface this category for the obvious reason of our ~friend~ COVID-19. I would advise against unnecessary travel, but if you are venturing out in the world this year or the following years, here are simple swaps for eco-friendly travel.

  1. Water bottles, utensils: refuse plastic!!!! Bring your own water bottle, utensils, straw, napkins, and anything else you might need that way, you can avoid plastic.

  2. Carpooling: if your destination is within driving distance, carpool with the rest of your family or friends going to the same place or direction.

  3. Cloth masks: either sew one yourself or purchase one to avoid those terribly wasteful disposable ones. Although, if you do end up using them, ZWB has a PPE recycling solution for you.

9. Shopping

  1. Reusable bags: get a reusable shopping or tote bag and bring it everywhere you go!

  2. Supporting small businesses & sustainable shops/brands: yes, shop small and sustainable when you're buying things this holiday season.

  3. Limit returns: returns generate a lot of waste literally, and from the shipping and packaging it takes for online returns. It's okay to return things but make an attempt to either use or regift the item.

10. Waste

  1. Recycle as much as possible when you do produce waste this holiday, and remember that it's okay!

11. Cards

  1. Earth Hero: they have beautiful tree-free holiday and Christmas cards

  2. No cards: opt for no cards; I started doing this a long time ago and have never looked back. I honestly just didn't see the point in them because they get thrown out almost immediately.

  3. Ecards: if you can't go without giving cards, try doing ecards instead! If you opt for this option, you have the opportunity to make them more fun with digital effects. And not to mention they produce no waste!

12. Giving

  1. Donate to eco charities and local charities

  2. Donating sustainable swaps: donating things like reusable bags, napkins, and feminine products would benefit both those in need and the planet.

13. Traditions

  1. Create new traditions surrounding sustainability: this can mean whatever you want it to mean! I intend to encourage my family to stop wrapping gifts this year and be a tradition to us. Other ideas would be to plant a tree, have an ugly sweater swap, or every year make a new vegan dessert together.

14. Pets

  1. Outfits: this is a tricky one because I'm not well educated in the realm of pet outfits, but I'm going to give generally the same advice as humans: thrift, re-wear, and borrow. Another solution could be turning your old sweaters into a doggy sweater.

  2. Gifts: choose sustainable toys this year. More and more stores offer sustainable pet stores, like Bob & Vespa, Earth Hero, and Package Free.

15. Cleaning & Storage

  1. Cleaning products: make your own! Vinegar is a fantastic disinfectant so next time you're out of chemical cleaning products, pick up some vinegar instead to clean up before and after your guests' visit.

  2. Storage: how can you avoid all that plastic? Well, sometimes it's okay too if you're reusing it. But if you're thinking of going out and buying big plastic totes, try using cardboard boxes, hemp bags, cotton/canvas bags, or shoe boxes to store away decor.

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