The holiday season is loaded with warmth and wonder, but it also produces enough waste to fill Santa's sleigh a million times over. Plastic cutlery tossed after every Christmas party, nonbiodegradable shipping materials, all sorts of forgotten toys that might just be destined for landfills and—perhaps most wasteful of all—loads and loads of wrapping paper, tape and single-use decor shoved hastily into trash cans. This year, we thought we'd gather a few easy and effective ways to keep Mother Earth in mind while gifting and decking the halls during the most wonderful time of the year.
If sustainability has never been your priority, that's OK. There's always room for small changes! The holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to practice eco-friendliness in a fun, creative way, and you certainly don't have to embrace a zero-waste lifestyle to put a few sustainable ideas into practice. Progress, not perfection, is the name of the game when it comes to embracing sustainability, so consider these eco-friendly gift-wrapping and decorating ideas inspired by TikTok and Instagram creatives as the first step.
1. Reuse the news(paper)
It's tempting to load up on colorful wrapping paper rolls with all sorts of glitter and gloss. But consumer demand leads to mass production of Christmas wrapping paper every year, a large portion of which cannot be recycled (particularly if it's coated with sequins or infused with plastic elements).
Some families rely on newspaper as a free, easy and downright fun wrapping paper alternative that just happens to look timelessly beautiful under an illuminated Christmas tree. The comics section or "Sunday funnies" makes a more colorful option than traditional black and white newsprint if you're using newspaper to wrap your Christmas gifts. TikTok gift wrapper (yes, #WrapTok is a thing) @beeandblooms provides a master class in wrapping with newspaper—just look at those clean lines!
2. Have a citrusy holiday
Keep it natural when it comes to decorating the fireplace mantel or even the Christmas tree this year. DIY citrus garlands are a fun and eco-conscious way to leave your house looking (and smelling) amazing, as Instagram's @mamapossum demonstrates below. To make a citrus garland like hers, you'll just need twine, orange slices (which can be dried in the oven), cranberries and a darning needle or other stringing mechanism. With a little effort, you'll have a biodegradable seasonal decor option that adds a touch of woodsy charm to any aesthetic.
Dried fruit can also be repurposed into ornaments, and you don't have to stop at oranges. TikToker @thathyggelife embraces cozy hygge vibes by using dried grapefruit, sprigs of baby's breath, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, pine cones and other natural elements to create a Christmas tree look that's low waste and absolutely lovely.
To reuse citrus garlands after the holidays, consider tossing the dried fruit into hot water to create a seasonal simmer pot or potpourri. Check out our Autumn Simmer Pot how-to for inspiration.
3. Deck the halls with cardboard
Put leftover cardboard boxes to use by making charming holiday decor and resisting the urge to buy premade decor for your Christmas tree. Social media is loaded with inspiration for cardboard Christmas ornaments, so there's sure to be a design that suits your style.
TikToker @ohyaystudio created these pretty ornaments out of delivery boxes, paint, glitter (skip the glitter, which isn't biodegradable, if you want to keep this project even more eco-conscious) and string. For a more rustic touch, try looping and hanging them with twine.
Alternatively, TikTok crafter @duyguturgok uses simple cardboard heart, star and mitten shapes and white paint markers to create a simple gingerbread-cookie-inspired ornament design.
@cardboardfolk on Instagram takes it up a notch with a DIY Santa mailbox made from cardboard. If it's made with care, this beginner-friendly holiday craft can be reused year and year again as kids write letters to the North Pole.
In the mood to DIY this holiday season? Here are a few simple, rewarding crafts and projects that any loved one would be delighted to receive—and they all have eco-conscious elements.
1. These decoupage trinket dishes are crafted from seashells, making them a low-cost option for beachside dwellers or folks who have collected shells during previous travels. There's something special about repurposing natural elements, and these delicate, beautiful dishes make a lovely addition to any gift basket.
2. Make these adorable felt fruit-slice coasters as a vibrant gift for the beverage enthusiast in your life. They'll add a pop of color to any home decor scheme while keeping tabletops safe from liquids—and they're fun and easy to make. Does it get much better?
3. Try your hand at these painted gratitude rocks, which only require paint you likely already have on hand and—you guessed it—rocks. While the example featured here is Thanksgiving-themed, the idea is evergreen. Add an inspirational phrase, paint a loved one's initials or simply create a colorful design. Talk about a unique stocking stuffer!
4. Consider fabric as wrap
The idea of putting fabric to good use certainly isn't new. In Japanese culture, gifts are often wrapped using furoshiki fabric wraps—square sections of cloth, typically cotton or silk, that can be reused year after year and holiday after holiday. TikTok content creator @aoim80 offers a traditional furoshiki tutorial that's leaving us inspired.
Instead of topping your gift with a cellophane bow and calling it a day, cut up a pillowcase, pull a few colorful T-shirts from the donation pile or deconstruct one of those socks that never seems to have a match. Get your creative juices flowing by cutting and tying fabric scraps into bows or even using particularly soft pieces of fabric as a gift-wrap alternative.
For a more decorative way to use excess fabric, check out this video from TikToker @emerald_outlaw, who ties thin strips of fabric to a piece of string to create an easy and festive garland. It's a cheery look for mantels, staircases and other displays during the holiday season.
5. Consolidate holiday candles
Those of us who might have a bit of a candle obsession are easily tempted by seasonal scents come December—and we often neglect the half-burned candles we already have stored away. One way to combat consumerism while maintaining your passion for holiday aromas is to melt down and consolidate your existing candles. Check out our candle-melting tutorial for a step-by-step guide. Who knows? You might even accidentally stumble upon a wondrous new scent combination!
TikToker @lifestylebyco offers a look at her candle-consolidating process, which only requires boiling stove top water, candle wicks (you can salvage these from existing candles if they're in good shape), cleaned-out jars and a bit of patience.
Received a bunch of pretty Christmas cards in the mail but not sure what to do with them? Try framing particularly beautiful holiday prints or cutting up, hole-punching and stringing some of your favorite Christmas cards on a piece of twine to create a repurposed garland for the mantel or staircase. Christmas cards can also be cut up to create festive DIY gift tags.
6. Repurpose paper grocery bags
Newspaper is just one paper gift-wrapping option. Brown paper grocery bags are another simple and sustainable wrapping paper material—especially if you have bags from Trader Joe's, which conveniently feature holiday-themed decor during the winter months. TikToker @thingsilike143 illustrates how beautifully it can be done.
7. Get thrifty
If you're a sucker for the bright colors and designs that often accompany traditional mass-produced holiday decor, there's still a way to shoot for sustainability. Thrift stores are a fantastic source for clothes, books and housewares, but they also carry plenty of discarded seasonal decor in need of a loving new home. Whether you're searching for a faux Christmas tree, a box of vintage ornaments or a wreath to dress up your front door, hit the local consignment shop before braving the December crowds at a big-box store. Your wallet (and the planet!) will thank you.
TikToker @relauren demonstrates that thrift stores are the place to be when it comes to home decor—and even wrapping options, as you'll likely find perfectly usable gift bags and the occasional roll of ribbon. Other finds in her video include an antique silver platter (perfect for a Christmas charcuterie board!) and a cute double-decker serving plate that's just begging to be loaded with sugar cookies.
Looking for a way to use your DIY skills for good this holiday season? You’ll want to check out our article about crafts that give back, which highlights crafting-centered charities and nonprofits.
As the holiday season continues, let simplicity and creativity be your guide. Whether you're just starting out in the world of sustainability or you've always considered the recycling bin your best friend, there are so many ways to reduce your environmental impact without sacrificing tradition.
And that's a wrap! Or should we say... "That's an eco-friendly gift wrap!"