Sustainability Dreams: 9 Ways to Go Green for the Holidays

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Women Walking Down Sidewalk with Shopping Bags Buy at Art.comDo piles of crumpled wrapping paper make you cringe?

Do you pity the poor spruce that was sacrificed for the seasonal celebration? As a famous frog once said, “It’s not easy being green.”

During the holiday season, truer words were never spoken. With heightened Eco-consciousness, it’s hard not to be a scrooge as endless plastic bags and cardboard boxes fly through the doors of local stores. If you’re struggling with holiday wastefulness and dream of living a more sustainable dream life, here are a few suggestions on how to go green without going overboard.

1. No Paper Trail
Sometimes gift giving is a risky endeavor. There’s always the possibility your judgment of sizing and style doesn’t match with the recipient. Luckily, returns are an option as long as you keep the receipt. If you don’t want the long paper printouts, ask about a digital receipt. Many locations of popular stores such as Gap, Nordstrom and Sears have this option available and will email your receipt instead.

2. Cut the Consumption
According to the experts at Carnegie Mellon University, shopping online consumes less energy than shopping in-store approximately 80 percent of the time. Even though the window for ordering gifts online is closing, there’s one last opportunity. The fifth-annual Free Shipping Day is set for Monday, Dec. 17, when more than 1,400 merchants will offer free shipping, discounts and delivery by Christmas Eve.

3. The Plastic Alternative
With gift cards being the most requested holiday present again this year, a lot of PVC is going to wind up in landfills. However, Earthworks is doing its best to keep that from happening. Send them your empty plastic gift cards and they’ll make sure they get recycled.

4. Receive and Give
Everyone knows it’s better to give than receive, especially when you don’t have to spend any money doing it. Since a recent CreditDonkey survey found 83 percent of respondents are okay with re-gifting, you might as well have at it. A re-gift means less wasted packaging, prevents a trip to the store and keeps more cash in your pocket.

5. Recirculate
If you’re lacking in re-giftable items, you can still put presents back in circulation shopping for hidden treasures at thrift stores. Not only does this method prevent unnecessary waste, your purchase often contributes to a worthy charitable cause. Just remember to use your best judgment; there’s still plenty of junk out there.

6. Alternative Wrapping
Environmentalism aside, do you ever really feel good about paying for a roll of paper you know will wind up in the trash almost instantly? It’s unlikely your present won’t be accepted because it’s not ornately wrapped, so look to other alternatives you can re-purpose. Newspaper is always an easy option, and some even prefer the look of gifts wrapped with a brown paper bag.

7. Online Options
Everything important can be sent electronically these days, and Christmas cards are no exception. Save time and paper by creating custom cards at sites such as You’re free to upload personal photos and can include a message of your choice.

8. Shop Selectively
As a consumer, you have the power to choose where you want to spend your money. If environmental impact is a top concern, consider Newsweek’s list of the Greenest Retail Companies in the U.S. You won’t have to go out of your way to shop at some of the top-ranked stores. Best Buy, Kohl’s and Target all crack the top ten.

9. Think Outside the Box
While the focus is mostly on waste from wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, other simple recycling is often overlooked. Depending on how your family celebrates, a holiday get together can result in a large surplus of empty bottles and cans. It’s smart to bring an extra plastic recycling bin so there’s no confusion as to where empties go. If you’re really committed to the cause, Whole Foods offers a cork recycling program at many of their stores.

How are you living a more sustainable holiday this season?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Andrea WorochAndrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

  • Catherine

    If we cut down a tree, we recycle it and our gifts are only those that we need. I haven’t done the consumer store shopping thing in over 10 years. Great tips!

  • Caroline

    We use the kids’ artwork as wrapping paper whenever possible.

  • Love these ideas! My favorite alternative wrap is one that is useful – a pair of beautiful fabric napkins make wrapping unusual. I’m not sure I’m ready for the digital holiday card, but do love the idea!