The winter holidays are my favorite, but as someone who tries to be environmentally conscious, the excesses of the season can be challenging to navigate. Between the food, gifts, decorations, lights, and travel, the season brings a lot of waste and not enough thought about responsible consumption. As a parent, I love giving gifts and making the holiday season magical for my kids, but I also want to keep sustainability in mind. It IS possible to have an Eco-Friendly holiday!

It might seem overwhelming to change up your holiday routine, but there are small changes you can make this holiday season to be more environmentally conscious—to shop and declutter responsibly, to reduce waste, to save energy.

Here are some ideas for how to have a more environmentally friendly Christmas and winter holiday season.


I try to be a minimalist but I also enjoy giving gifts. What I don’t enjoy is the significant carbon footprint associated with the production, packaging, shipping, and wrapping. Not to mention that receiving something new often means something old goes to the landfill. Here are ways to give more responsibly:

  • Give experience gifts. There are so many fun things to do in Austin; give your loved ones the gift of an experience they will always remember.
  • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
  • Give someone the gift of your time: babysitting, meal preparation, a massage, a chore you’ll take off their hands.
  • Shop small and local, or shop at secondhand stores. Austin has some great markets where you can shop for gifts from a bunch of local artisans in one place. My favorite is the Blue Genie Bazaar, which runs until Christmas Eve.
  • Try to avoid rush shipping, which is less energy efficient.


Did you know that if your wrapping paper has glitter or metallic/shiny elements, it can’t be recycled? Same goes if it has plastic tape on it. If you put it in your recycle bin, it will most likely still end up in a landfill, and will also contaminate the whole batch of recyclables. The glittery paper also results in microplastics, which harm bird and marine life. Some better options:

  • Buy wrapping paper from a sustainable brand like Wrappily. Etsy is also a great place to find eco-friendly wrapping paper, and Paper Source sells stone wrapping paper (made from stones, not trees!). Or plain brown kraft paper is a great option that you can personalize.
  • Reuse materials from home as wrapping paper, like magazine pages, newspapers, kids’ artwork, old maps and calendars, and paper grocery bags.
  • Use wrapping materials that are not single-use, such as fabric, tins, or baskets.
  • Use paper tape, like washi tape, instead of plastic tape.


Growing up, I loved the colorful holiday lights my parents would put up outside, and it’s a tradition I like to continue for my kids. Here are some ways to save energy with your holiday lights display:

  • Switch to LED holiday lights, which use 85% less energy than traditional lights. They will also save you money on your energy bill and last about 200,000 hours, so you won’t have to replace them for a long time. Also make sure your lights are on a timer so they aren’t left on all the time.
  • Purchase laser lights and LED projectors that come with programmed patterns and festive designs that you can project onto your home, as these options use less energy than traditional lights.
  • For other decorations, consider shopping secondhand stores, asking in your local Buy Nothing group, or going old-school and decorating with consumable materials like popcorn, berries, and live greens.


Real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly than fake ones. You would have to keep a fake tree for at least 10 years for it to have the same carbon impact as a real tree, and that doesn’t even take into account the damage done to the environment as they break down in landfills, which takes hundreds of years. If you get a real tree, here’s how to do it sustainably:

  • Try to purchase your tree from a local, sustainable farm that uses less pesticides and plants more trees than they cut down. Evergreen Farms in Elgin plants at least one tree to replace each one that is cut down during the holiday season.
  • Recycle your tree. City of Austin customers can leave their trees on the curb to be recycled, and other residents can drop trees off at Zilker Park, where they will be turned into mulch.
  • Use LED lights on your tree and ornaments made from materials like wood and fabric instead of plastic.


If you send holiday cards, choose an eco-friendly option that’s made from recycled or recyclable paper, or go with an e-card! For photo cards, Paper Culture is an awesome company that makes all of its cards and envelopes from 100% recycled paper or bamboo, and they plant a tree with every order.


I’m going to sound like a grinch on this one, but stocking stuffers bug me, in particular the plastic junk that barely gets played with before eventually being thrown away. We have the equivalent of two garbage trucks full of plastic going into the oceans every minute. At that rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. In light of that, here are some ideas for more sustainable stocking stuffers:

  • Bulk candy or other snacks
  • Craft supplies, like washi tape, beads, or non-toxic paint
  • Homemade play dough
  • Chalk
  • Socks, underwear, hair ties
  • Money/coins
  • Bamboo toothbrushes
  • Notebooks or coloring books made from recycled paper
  • Seed packets or bulbs
  • Thrifted toys


Reduce food waste by planning your meals ahead of time and only getting what you need. Shop locally-sourced ingredients when possible, and eat, reuse, or compost leftovers. Join your local Buy Nothing group, another place where you may be able to donate leftover food. Finally, think about swapping out one of your meat-based dishes for a veggie recipe.


Receiving new toys and gadgets for the holidays often means getting rid of the old ones. Here are some ways to declutter responsibly:

  • Sign up for Ridwell, a service that comes to your door every two weeks and picks up hard-to-recycle items.
  • Heartening is an Austin-based website where you can enter what you have to give away and find places where you can donate that item and fulfill a need in the community.
  • Join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Buy Nothing groups are hyper-local gift giving platforms where neighbors can give away items and ask for things that they need.
  • Utilize the city’s Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center for hard-to-recycle items like styrofoam, electronics, and appliances.
  • Donate items to places in the community that do the most good. Here’s a list to get you started.


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