Recycling Holidays

Green Guide to the Holidays

An Ecology Florida Feature

December 2022 

Monica Starr

Americans produce considerably more waste during the holiday season. Specifically, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we throw away 25% more trash compared to the rest of the year [2]. Last year, I wrote an article explaining various ways to make mindful and sustainable choices. This year, I will continue to expand on that guide with more ways to consider the environment while participating in the holidays. I have come up with a few more ways to create sustainable habits to preserve our beautiful state. I always encourage the support of the incredible local business that we have here in Florida. Take some time to research your local shops before starting the shopping process. According to the State of Small Business Report in 2020, we have 2.5 million small businesses. Being mindful of where you are purchasing items from is important during the holidays and throughout the entire year.

Gift giving is a trademark during the month of December. Wrapping paper is something to be considered when giving a gift and afterwards when it comes to recycling (or not recycling) certain materials. It is estimated that over 4 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced in the United States annually and half of it ends up in landfills [3]. The other half that doesn’t end up in landfills is probably thanks to grandmas everywhere who have absolutely no problem reusing that wrapping paper. Instead of continuing to buy something that uses countless resources to produce to be used once, torn apart and thrown away, let’s use wrapping alternatives and avoid buying it all together. Here are some items that can be used to wrap gifts: old maps, book pages, newspaper, thrifted scarf/bandana, scrap pieces of cloth, cloth bags, wallpaper, baskets, thrifted jars/tins/containers, coloring book pages, recycled store shopping bag, recycled boxes (especially when mailing packages), lace, tea towel, dish cloth, sheet music, pages from old calendars, Christmas stocking, fleece blanket, useable storage box, wicker basket, thrifted cosmetic bag, tablecloth and probably so many other things. Another negative thing about wrapping paper is the fact that it is not recyclable (unless specified). If your wrapping paper is metallic, has foil, glitter, texture, or other decorations on it, it is not a recyclable product [3]. There are many companies that prioritize sustainability by producing wrapping paper made from recyclable and compostable materials. 

Another major part of the holiday season is food. This is important to consider throughout the entire year, but during the holidays there are some steps we can take to make a holiday meal healthy, delicious, fresh and vibrant. We are lucky that Florida has such great weather which allows for crops to grow for extended periods of time. Supporting local family farmers and food producers in your area offers you beautiful and nutritious food while still prioritizing the environment. This organic food both tastes better and allows us to support our communities based around food. Allowing yourself to spend extra time researching these local products is a way to incorporate those practices into your regular routine. A sustainably produced holiday meal is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to our friends and family. 

The last consideration a lot of people need to make during the holiday season is: real vs. artificial tree? Both options have benefits and drawbacks, as most things do. Cut or potted live trees are considered an overall greener choice than an artificial tree [3]. During a Christmas tree’s 6-8 year life, it provides wildlife habitat, sequesters carbon and protects the surrounding soil [3]. Also, these Christmas tree farms can provide good jobs for people living in rural communities [3]. A downside to this and agriculture in general in that some growers use pesticides and chemicals to alter the trees in various ways. Some farmers do sell pesticide-free trees and the overall greenest option is a potted, native tree that can be planted after the holiday season [3]. 

Artificial Christmas trees can last many years which would seem to be a more sustainable option, but you would need to use the same tree for at least 10 years for it to equal carbon impact as getting a real tree [3]. Most artificial trees are made up of polyvinyl chloride or PVC which is a non-renewable petroleum product that requires fossil fuels to manufacture and transport it [3]. This type of pollution adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and the artificial trees cannot be recycled at the end of their life. 

The best thing to do with your potted, live tree is to either re-plant it in the ground or recycle the tree. The tree can be chipped into mulch, used for firewood, composted, or fed to goats who eat literally anything [3]. Most cities have programs to recycle Christmas trees into mulch or wood chips. This website allows you to find a recycling facility in your local area:

With the new year approaching, it is a starting point to be more mindful of the things we are buying and of the products that we are using. Hopefully this information along with last year’s sustainable guide will inspire new consumer habits during the holiday season. 

Monica Starr holds a master’s degree in Global Sustainability from the University of South Florida. She is the editor of Ecology Florida News.

Citations and Sources






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