Go green for the holidays

  • Published
  • By 502d Civil Engineer Squadron
  • 502nd Public Affairs

Did you know that household waste increases by more than 25 percent from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day?  The added food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons add up to an additional 25 million tons of garbage, or about one million extra tons per week going into our landfills, during the holiday season.  Join the JBSA Qualified Recycling Program and the JBSA Environmental Program in making a difference this holiday season by taking small steps that can have a meaningful impact by reducing waste and conserving energy.   Here are ways JBSA can help reduce waste and our carbon footprint while enjoying the holiday season: 


  • When you go shopping, take your own reusable bags.  Leave your reusable bags in your car so you will always have them available.

  • Plan your shopping, in advance, to avoid impulse purchases.

  • Look for gifts that don’t require batteries.  If you must buy a product that requires batteries, buy rechargeable batteries and even a charger and give them with the gift.

  • Avoid purchasing over-packaged goods.

  • Look for environmentally friendly, recyclable or reusable products.

  • Choose toys children can grow into.

  • If you buy gifts online, opt for ground shipping, as air transportation uses significantly more fuel.


  • Give tickets to a play, movie, concert, amusement park or sporting event, or membership to a museum, or zoo. 

  • Give gift certificates for a dinner, massage, health club membership or spa treatment.

  • Give an experience:  music or art lessons, lessons to develop a new hobby or learn a new craft.

  • Invest in your family and friends.  Instead of giving a gift, contribute to a child’s savings account, education IRA or give them a U.S. savings bond.

  • Make a donation to a nonprofit organization in the name of your loved one.


  • Edible gifts such as breads, cookies, cakes, dried fruits, mixed nuts, jams/jellies or herbed vinegars make great gifts. 

  • Use your arts and crafts skills to knit a sweater, crochet a hat and scarf, paint a watercolor or design your own jewelry. 


  • Buying gifts from local merchants decreases the carbon emissions from shipping and keeps money in the local economy.

  • Gift ideas

    • Reusable food containers or lunch bags

    • Reusable mugs or drinking water bottles

    • Recycled content stationery, paper products, office products, etc.

    • Environmentally-friendly bath and beauty products


  • Look for a real tree you can transplant after the holidays.

  • If you do celebrate with a cut tree, be sure to compost your tree instead of sending it to the landfill. 

  • Use LED lighting instead of traditional incandescent lights.  LED lights are 90 percent more efficient than traditional Christmas lights, last longer and will reduce your energy costs.

  • Purchase outdoor light strands that are wired in parallel.  If one bulb goes bad, the others will still work, so you won’t have to discard entire strands of lights unnecessarily.

  • Use a timer to turn off lights at the end of the evening.

  • Instead of buying ornaments, cards and wreaths, make your own.

  • Nature provides beautiful ornaments and other holiday decorations:

    • Decorate with potted plants that will bring enjoyment long after the holidays.

    • Gather a basket of evergreen branches, pine cones, acorns, dried berries, flowers, fresh fruit, etc., and arrange as you desire, or make ornaments from twigs, bark, flowers, herbs, etc.

  • Make decorations from reusable or compostable materials.

  • Make garlands using popcorn or cranberries or use old jewelry, small stuffed animals or toys, cookie cutters, buttons, etc.


  • Send electronic party invitations instead of paper invitations.

  • Purchase locally grown food.  It travels fewer miles and creates fewer carbon emissions.

  • Use reusable plates, cutlery, etc., when entertaining.

  • Rent dishes and glassware to make your party more elegant, eliminating the need to buy disposable products.

  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper. 

  • Use recyclable aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap to store leftovers.

  • Turn down the thermostat for your party and let your guests be the heaters.  Run your ceiling fan(s) clockwise during the party, distributing the heat throughout the house.

  • Make recycling easy for guests.  Place recycling bins beside every trash bin, and make sure the products you provide can be reused or recycled. 


  • Much of the 28 billion pounds of edible food thrown away each year is wasted during the holiday season, so:

    • Buy food with thought.

    • Be realistic about how much food you will need.

    • Use what is left.  If you have unwanted leftovers, send them home with your guests in reusable or recyclable containers.

    • Donate leftover canned and unsealed, packaged food to local food banks. 

    • Compost food scraps.

    • Don’t waste it!


Eight thousand tons of wrapping paper are used during the holidays each year, equating to roughly 50,000 trees!  To lessen the environmental impact:

  • Use baskets, glass jars, cookie tins or gift bags that can be used over and over again.

  • Reuse wrapping paper, tissue paper, boxes, gift bags, etc. from last year.

  • Make the wrapping part of the gift.  Gardening pots are easy to fill with gardening supplies.  A mixing bowl makes an excellent package for your favorite cook. 

  • Be creative and give old materials new life.  Magazines, newspapers, maps, posters, children’s artwork and calendars make great wrapping paper.

  • Ask companies to ship your packages using paper instead of polystyrene packing peanuts.  If you do receive packing peanuts take them, and other Styrofoam packaging, to shipping stores for recycling.


The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high!  To reduce mailing waste: 

  • Send e-cards or cards made from recycled paper.

  • Reuse cardboard boxes for mailing gifts.

  • Use newspaper or magazine pages instead of Styrofoam packing chips.

  • Save and reuse your bubble wrap.


  • You can recycle lots of leftover holiday items at the JBSA Recycling Centers:

    • Gift boxes

    • Paper bags

    • Wrapping paper (but not foil-type paper)

    • The cardboard tubes from wrapping paper

    • Paper gift tags

    • Paper greeting cards

    • Envelopes

  • Do not recycle the following:

    • Styrofoam block or Styrofoam peanuts

    • Foil style wrapping paper

    • Tissue paper

    • Ribbon

    • Photo greeting cards

There are many simple steps you can take to reduce your energy use and the amount of waste generated during this holiday season.  Continue the green habits, throughout the year, and keep giving gifts to the earth all year long.  



Sources:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Use Less Stuff, Keep America Beautiful (KAB.org), and sustainableamerica.org