Sustainable Holiday Tips from the Canopy Team

By Canopy Team on December 18, 2020

The holidays are often viewed as a time of abundance. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati, another cultural or religious tradition, or nothing, you have likely seen photos of intricately decorated homes, piles of gifts, and spreads of decadent foods.

The circumstances of this year, however, have altered the ways in which we will celebrate. But they need not dampen our creativity or our spirits! They may even provide us with a reminder that the abundance we seek in this season need not be so material. Here are some tips from Canopy staff for fun ways to embrace the season and revel in the abundance of holiday cheer without creating an abundance of waste – or spending too much of your hard earned money. 

We wish you happy hearts and happy homes this holiday season. And if you can’t physically be with those you love this year, we hope that you are at least able to practice traditions that make you feel close to them.

Did You Know…

Christmas Tree graphic with recycle symbol

Did you know that your Christmas tree can be recycled (if it’s a real tree) and reused as mulch to help other plants grow? Mulching it keeps it out of the landfill and reduces its carbon footprint by 80%!

Click below on your city to find out more, and read our post The Great Christmas Tree Debate to learn the environmental pros and cons of real versus plastic trees.

More questions about holiday waste? Learn what goes in which bin in this cleverly reimagined jingle from Rethink Waste, Baby It’s a Sorting Guide.

Tips from Staff

Tip #1: Reuse Wrapping Paper and Give Experiences

“I remember a specific Boxing Day many years ago when the pile of wrapping paper and empty boxes in a corner of the living room seemed as tall as one of the children. Knowing that a similar pile existed in many other homes around the world and that a lot of it would be headed to the landfill, my family decided to make a change. 

Since then, we have been saving gift wrap and holiday gift bags. We’re actually quite happy to re-discover them each year! And there are more than we need as we exchange more experience-related gifts than objects these days, so many of the presents come in tiny envelopes.” – Catherine Martineau, Executive Director

The holiday “aftermath” from Peter Spier’s book Christmas

Tip #2: Make Your Own Ornaments with Natural Items

Maika Horjus, Sr. Development Specialist

“When I was a kid, we made salt dough ornaments every year. They’re the perfect eco-friendly decoration, especially if you use natural dyes or food coloring. They use basic ingredients and tools that you probably already have at home, they’re fun to make with kids, plus they’re budget-friendly too!

One note of caution, however: they can end up looking good enough to eat but they are NOT delicious. Don’t ask me how I know…” Maika Horjus, Senior Development Specialist

P.S. Feeling creative? Add sea glass or natural fragrance for extra unique ornaments!

salt dough ornaments
A selection of Maika’s family’s crafty and colorful salt dough ornaments

Tip #3: Give the Gift of Laughter with Comic Wrapping Paper

“My household is old school and loves receiving the newspaper every Sunday, in print. Growing up, my sisters and I always looked forward to the comic strip section and used to keep the ones we liked to read again later. After some time we had a small collection of just the comics section, so when the holidays came around, we used it to wrap our gifts instead of traditional wrapping paper. 

This saved time, money, and the resources used to acquire wrapping paper. Using comic strip paper for wrapping is a good way to recycle paper and jokes at the same time. It’s a unique way to tailor jokes, and people receiving the gift get the bonus of some funny or clever comic strip to read and keep – it’s like an extra gift!” – Gabby Trudeau, Community Forestry Coordinator

gifts wrapped in comic papers

Examples of Gabby’s comic-wrapped gifts with tailored jokes

Tip #4: Decorate Gifts with Foraged Nature Items and Use Bags Instead of Gift Wrap

“Something I’ve been doing more and more is using paper bags as wrapping paper. We have so many extra bags this year, since the pandemic forced stores to only allow new paper bags. I decorate the bags with things like Chinese Pistache berries, or branches from our tree! Instead of using glittery wrap and ribbon (glitter is just small plastic!), I encourage people to use biodegradable decor. 

Because wrapping paper can’t be recycled and ends up in the landfill, my family mostly uses bags and tissue paper now. The tissue paper that gets pulled out of each bag is usually intact. So, I fold everything up nice and flat and store them for next year. Sometimes the gift wrap that is used isn’t torn up, so we keep that too!” Maya Briones, Community Forestry Coordinator

A gift that Maya decorated with sprigs of Chinese pistache

Tip #5: Buy Second-hand Trees and Ornaments

“Be a first-class sustainable decorator and gift-giver by shopping second-hand decorations and gifts! This year, one of my friends got me a pair of adorable squirrel ornaments at a thrift store, which my housemates and I have put on our hand-me-down tree from one of our parents. I’ve also been known to make my own ornament “creatures” out of seed pods, feathers, and twigs…

Some bonuses of second-hand purchases are a lower price tag and oftentimes more unique items. Thrifting also creates less waste by eliminating the production, packaging, and shipping of new items. Waste in the US increases by 25% during the holiday season, so just remember that being thrifty is nifty! (For the planet and for your wallet.)” Vanessa Wyns, Environmental Educator

A Christmas tree owl that Vanessa made

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