Green Holiday Ideas and Suggestions

Revved Up to Slow Down for the Holidays

Why the topic “Green Holidays” has me eager to simplify the season.

By Polly Waara, Kenosha Green Congregation Program.

The “Green Holidays” theme opens up so many possibilities. The more I read and think about this topic, the more ideas pop into my mind, and the more I want to share my excitement with others. Everyone can take at least one small step make this holiday season a bit kinder to our planet. By sharing information, ideas and enthusiasm we can help others take a step or two toward better stewardship of creation. Perhaps we can get the message out and turn it into an annual drive for the entire Kenosha area!

In the United States our trash collection goes up by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. This creates an additional 1.2 mil­lion tons per week, or an extra 6 million tons, for the holiday season.  

The average person in our state (Wisconsin) generates 4.7 pounds of trash (residential and their share of commercial trash) each day. During the holidays we add about another pound of trash per person. We recycle 1.9 pounds of that trash per day. Wisconsin is 0.2% above the national recycling average. We’re heading in the right direction, but we can improve.

I admit I add to the holiday increase of waste. During the holidays I attend more social events where I find myself generating more trash than usual. I am vigilant in my efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost at home, but when I am someplace where I am less familiar with recycling methods I tend to lower my standards. Gift giving creates a lot of trash in the form of packaging that manufacturers use, wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes, bags and cards that we use once and toss out, and “stuff” we get rid of because we now have new “stuff.” That got me thinking that there must be plenty of other people who, in the overwhelming busy-ness of during the holiday season, find that they take less care with the environment than they do the rest of the year.

I have faithfully followed my mother’s practice of reusing wrapping paper. (This has made me a bit of an oddball with my in-laws, but with the trend toward gift bags and tissue paper they are reusing much more!) There is still wrapping left over that is too damaged to reuse. Long ago I heard that it couldn’t be recycled so I’ve always tossed it. In researching “Green Holidays” I have read that all wrapping paper, except foil, can be recycled. But does that mean that the equipment used for recycling Kenosha’s trash can handle wrapping paper? There are plenty of people who would become more effective recyclers if Kenosha had a clear guide of what can be recycled and how. If our recycling bag includes paper with adhesive tape or plastic “windows,” glossy paper, certain inks, or oil, will those items actually be recycled or will they end up in a landfill?

Bottled soda is something that I only buy during the holidays. I’ve always removed the caps but left on the plastic ring. The Wisconsin DNR web site recommends removing caps and rings, but also says that different areas have varying recycling abilities. I found another site saying that newer equipment can process bottles with caps on, the separates the types of plastic later. Again, clear recycling specifications would make consumers better recyclers.

All of the above is important, but I have found that “Green Holidays” also means so much more.

It is about slowing down to reflect on what the holidays mean to you and your family and how your celebrations can reflect your values. It is a call to step off the carousel/escalator of “buy more and do more” to examine if that route will get us where we want to be. Instead of striving for the media’s image of the “perfect” holiday (guaranteed to set us up for disappointment), we can and should set our own goals that reflect the desires and needs of our family, friends, faith and community. In doing so, we will find ourselves spending less time shopping and preparing for the big day and spending more time engaged with people who matter to us. By tailor-making our celebrations to fit our own values we will feel more satisfied and less stressed. Plus, less “stuff” will end up in landfills, we’ll lower our carbon footprint, and we’ll save money that will then be available for another purpose.

Lest you get so excited that you want make this the greenest and simplest holiday ever, remember to set reasonable goals. Traditions develop over time. Find out which traditions are important to your family and honor them. If you have traditions that no longer fit your family, skip them this year to see if they are missed. Consider rotating some traditions from year to year. You don’t have to do everything every year. Talk with your family about “green” changes you might try. They might become new traditions, maybe even a part of your daily life..

Keep in mind, a few changes that become routine are more effective than many changes that become so burdensome you can’t maintain them. “Even small changes in behavior, if implemented by many people, will have significant consequences. … The little stuff counts, too, and often counts for more. Especially if it leads to permanent change.” (Green Christmas, Sander).

Let’s all start thinking about how we can make the holidays GREENER!



My current favorite green gift idea:

House Plants Rated by NASA as Best to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Poinsettias are everywhere during the holidays. They look festive for a couple weeks then get scraggly and eventually end up in landfills and compost bins. Forget about poinsettias and consider giving houseplants selected by NASA as best suited to purify air in the International Space Station. The plants are rated according their ability to absorb toxins and emit oxygen. They even identify which chemicals each plant removes from the air. What a wonderful addition to spaces that are shut up for the winter!

A few plants are colorful as they are. You can add trimmings to any plant to make it more festive. These are the plants that I’m going to look into further. Many of these don’t require full sunlight.

·    English ivy: purifies air, said to be fantastic for asthma and allergies. Makes a great potted plant, but is considered invasive. Don’t plant outdoors! (I took cuttings from my neighbor’s garden)

·    Red-edged dracaena: removes chemicals emitted by household products, solvents and cigarettes.

·    Sanservierias (snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue): succulents, some with multi-colored leaves.

·    Peace Lilies: remove chemicals and mold spores from air, interesting large white blossoms. 

·    Golden Pothos:  purifies air. Yellow marbled heart shaped leaves. Tolerates low light.

·    Baby Rubber Plant: removes air borne chemicals, emits high oxygen content. Some are variegated.

·    Janet Craig dracaena: good overall air purifier, removes most air pollutants. A few are variegated.

·    Chinese Evergreen: removes air borne toxins, emits high oxygen content. The green variety does well in full shade; variegated plants need more sunlight.

·    Boston Fern: among the best in air purifying houseplants, acts as a natural air humidifier.

·    Areca Palm: considered to be one of the better performers in purifying air.

For more information check out these web sites.



Here are some “Green Holiday” resources with quotes that have influenced my thinking.

“Green Holiday” Books

(I bought used copies through Amazon for $.01 plus $3.99 shipping and handling.)

Hundred Dollar Holiday: the case for a more joyful Christmas. McKibben, Bill. 1988.

While this book specifically discusses making Christmas more satisfying, the ideas can be applied to other holidays and other beliefs. – P.W.

·         “The great and happy secret of every guru, from the Buddha through the Christ, is that when you place God, however defined, at the center of your existence, you will become more fulfilled, not less. (And conversely, the great lie of the marketers is that the next treat you buy for yourself will finally make you happy.)”

·         “There is no ideal Christmas, only the Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.”

·         “The goal is not to spend as little money as possible, or do as little environmental damage as possible, or any other worthy thing. It’s to have as much fun as possible. … (Limiting your spending) is not supposed to hem you in. Just the opposite—the hope is that it will serve as a spur to your creativity.”

·         “Don’t be surprised if it takes a few years to readjust the holiday until you feel comfortable with it; there’s no need to do it all the first December.”

·         “One reason we all find Christmas so crazy-making is the sudden sense of anticlimax that can seize you once all the presents are unwrapped. It doesn’t have to be that way, not if you don’t concentrate on the presents as the main joy of the whole season.”

·         “The point is to emerge from Christmas relaxed, contented, happy to have kept the season. To emerge closer to your family than when advent began. To emerge with some real sense that Christ has come into your world.”


Celebrate Simply: your guide to simpler, more meaningful holidays. Twigg, Nancy. 2006

·         “It’s ironic that the very things that are supposed to bring joy to the season are often the source of tension.”

·         “If you judge the success of your family’s Christmas celebration against an unrealistic image of perfection, your celebration will undoubtedly fall short.”

·         “Forget about how you believe everyone else celebrates. The bottom line is simple: What do you really want out of your celebration, and what do you need to do to see that you and your family get it?”

·         “Many people have a vague sense of dissatisfaction over the ways their families celebrate Christmas, but they don’t take the time to examine this uneasiness and its source.”

·         “Scale back. Start early. Plan meaningful activities. Say ‘No’ sometimes.”

·         “The key to simplifying is to look for creative ways to fully experience the spirit of gift-giving while reducing the aspects of it that you find troubling.”

·         “Although each of us has a multitude of reasons to be thankful, we often tend to celebrate Thanksgiving more out of habit than heartfelt gratitude.”


Green Christmas: How to have a joyous, eco-friendly holiday season. Sander, Jennifer. 2008.

·         “Cramming too many events into too few days is another cost of conforming. You know what it feels like to be so overextended and tired that it’s hard to enjoy the holidays. Conforming to a conventional Christmas harms you and harms the earth.”

·         “Does your holiday spending reflect your values?” … “Every decision you make supports something. Spending your money and time thoughtfully is a way you can support efforts and trends that you want to see more of and discourage ones you think are harmful. Your dollars, hours, and efforts are powerful social tools!”

·         “Substitute careful thinking for unconscious spending.”

·         “How can you redirect your Christmas budget toward events that bring people together and share expenses?”

·         “If each household redirected just $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores to locally owned merchants it would create some $10 million in local economic impact.”

·         “Even small changes in behavior, if implemented by many people, will have significant consequences. … The little stuff counts, too, and often counts for more. Especially if it leads to permanent change.”


Go Green, Save Green: A simple guide to saving time, money, and God’s green earth. Sleeth, Nancy. 2009.

·         “Involve the whole family in a discussion in summer or fall with the goal of ending the holidays with deeper relationships. This will most likely lead to spending less money, creating less waste, and having more stories to tell and memories to share.”

·         “What captures the meaning of the holidays for each member?”

·         “Which activities have meant the most in the past?”

·         “What or who helps you to feel God’s love?”



“Green Holiday” Web Sites

·         Half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products. (The Recycler's Handbook)

·         Each year, 50 million Christmas trees are purchased in the U.S. (Cygnus Group). Of those, about 30 million go to the landfill. (Environmental News Network)

·         About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away, and can save money in the long run.

·         Approximately 33 million live Christmas trees are sold in North America every year.

·         If American households reduced their holiday ribbon usage by just 2 feet, the result would be a savings of 50,000 miles, enough ribbon to circle the Earth twice. )

·         Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Ameri­cans generate 25% more waste per week than during the rest of the year. This creates an additional 1.2 mil­lion tons per week, or an extra 6 million tons, for the holiday season.  

·         If every American family reduced holiday gasoline consumption by just one gallon a week, the result would be an annual reduction in greenhouse gas production of 13 billion pounds (6.5 million tons) of carbon dioxide. (Check this information for your state).

·         In Wisconsin, we generate 4.6 million tons of trash and recyclables each year. That's enough to fill a typical city street over 4 feet deep with trash (curb to curb) for 575 miles! If you remove the recyclables, only 357 miles would be filled with trash.

·         The average person in Wisconsin generates 4.7 pounds of trash (residential and their share of commercial trash) each day and recycles 1.9 pounds of that trash per day. (The average person in the United States generates 4.7 pounds of trash each day and recycles 1.4 pounds of that trash per day.)

·         In the U.S., annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons.

·         The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top threats to public health.

·         Indoor houseplants safely, naturally and effectively clean the air you breathe by naturally recycling the air around them.

·         Volatile Organic Compounds are organic chemical compounds that vaporize and enter the atmosphere. VOCs are often used in paint, carpet backing, plastics, and cosmetics. Over the past 25 years, changes in our lifestyle and in the composition of construction materials and furnishings have led to a dramatic increase in VOCs.

·         NASA research has proven that specific varieties of indoor plants remove VOCs from the air around them and has proven which plants are more effective for specific toxins.