Tips for a more environmentally responsible holiday season

Trash can full of wrapping paper and christmas tree


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The holidays are a time of family, fellowship and cheer, but they are also a time of tremendous waste. Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage.

Many of us want to find ways to be more environmentally responsible during the holidays, but don’t know where to start. Below are some tips and ideas to be greener when giving and celebrating this holiday season.

Greener giving

Giving to loved ones is one of the most cherished holiday traditions. However, once the opening frenzy is over, we are often left with a pile of trash. Here are some tips for greener giving.

WeAct chart for greener holiday options

  • Scrap the wrap. Or, at least get creative. You can wrap gifts in old newspapers, children’s art, or even an old map. Or use a cute bandana or dishtowel. Even better? Skip the wrapping all together and create a scavenger hunt with clues for kids or family members to find their unwrapped gifts.
  • Give green(ery). What is better than a gift that helps sustain life!? Gifting a pretty plant or tree helps the earth and the recipient. If your loved one isn’t a plant-person, what about gifting your time or an experience (spa treatment, anyone?).
  • Shop local (and/or online). Support your local economy and reduce transportation by buying from local, family-owned businesses. This includes family farmers who sell grass-fed meat or reduced antibiotic turkey and grow produce for that can be used for holiday meals. Or, if you can’t find what you need in a local store, purchase sustainable gifts online … try to make one bulk purchase, to limit the number of deliveries that need to come to your residence.
  • Reuse and recycle. If every American family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. And, if every family wrapped just three presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. So, reuse what you can and recycle what you can’t.

Want more green gifting ideas? Check out our WE ACT gift guide and our top six sustainable gift ideas.

Food, festivities and fun

It’s not just gifts and wrapping that create waste during the holidays, food and decorations also have a negative impact on the environment. Here are some ideas to keep the fun and traditions without such a significant footprint.

  • Feast in a more eco-friendly way. Millions of pounds of food are wasted during holiday feasts. However, there are simple ways to plan ahead and reduce food waste. Find a few of our favorite ideas here
  • Recycle your tree. Each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. While we might not be ready to give up this beloved tradition, you can reduce its impact by recycling your tree when you’re done. Visit the National Christmas Tree Association web site for some recycling ideas.
  • Make the switch. As your incandescent holiday lights start to go, replace them with LED lights. It seems simple, but it can have a big impact. In fact, to put it in perspective, Americans use more electricity on holiday lights than some countries use in a year.  
  • Offset your impact. While we can all take steps to reduce our personal footprint during the holidays, you can also offset your personal impact by purchasing carbon offsets from a company like TerraPass. Carbon offset companies use purchases to support emission reduction projects in communities around the United States. TerraPass also partners with local organizations to enable offsets to benefit communities, such as with Missoula's Footprint Fund - Home (

Of course, the holidays aren’t the only time when environmentally preferable purchasing and environmentally sustainable food practices are important. As part of our efforts to become carbon negative by 2030, Providence has an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Policy, which provides guidelines that will allow us to get the goods and services we need while minimizing damage to human health and the environment. See a simplified version here. We are also working to decrease our food waste on system and local levels. You can learn more here.

Food as a Solution to Reduce Emissions and Waste 

Watch our latest LinkedIn Live event below featuring Providence caregivers who discuss how you can reduce waste and have a more environmentally friendly holiday. 


Help Providence become carbon negative by 2030

Providence caregivers have several options to help advance us to our carbon negative goal:


Find a doctor

Providence caregivers work to improve our planet and can improve your health. You can find a Providence provider in your area by searching in our online provider directory

Related resources

Climate change and health: Caring for our patients and the Earth

Is A Zero-Waste Lifestyle A Plus for Your Health?

Our climate crisis is a public health emergency 

Eco-anxiety is real and it’s impacting our children 

Earth day can’t wait: We need to act now on climate change 

How climate change impacts your health 

Providence's Climate Action Plan

Share your efforts to #GoGreen every day with readers @providence.

About the Author

Beth Schenk is the executive director of environmental stewardship for Providence, leading a cross-functional commitment to reduce operational pollution while addressing environmental justice and climate resilience in the communities we serve. Beth has been a Providence caregiver for over 30 years. From serving as an ICU nurse at St. Patrick in Missoula to leading nursing research across the Providence organization, Beth has nurtured her passion for environmental care. Her first successful recycling project was over 25 years ago. Since then she has led Montana’s award-winning Green 4 Good program. She co-founded Providence’s first regional environmental stewardship council. She has co-led a system-wide monthly meeting on environmental stewardship since 2008.

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