Become more environmentally friendly this holiday season!

Icicles on a tree branch
November 10, 2016

If you asked me what my priorities are for this holiday season, chances are high that my answer would include being productive, staying healthy, and enjoying time with my family and friends.

If I’m being completely honest with myself, my answer would not include becoming more environmentally friendly.

Until I began researching blog ideas that were relevant for the upcoming holidays, I had no idea that so many of our actions and choices that we make over the holiday season impact the environment.

Luckily, there are a lot of great ideas and simple steps that we can take to prevent those negative impacts!



I was really impressed with all of the creative ideas that have been discovered to cut down on your waste when shopping and wrapping gifts for your friends and family.

  • The Takoma Park Farmer’s Market will be hosting a gift stand on Sunday, December 11th from 10-2 pm at the corner of Carroll Avenue and Laurel Avenue in Takoma Park.


  • Plan your shopping in advance so that you can save money on gas by accomplishing as many purchases as you need while limiting the number of trips you make. Driving to your furthest location first will allow your engine to warm up and then run more efficiently. Shop with a friend and carpool, or take public transportation.
  • When buying gifts that will be mailed, select items that are easy to ship and don’t require much packaging.
  • Shop for gifts at vintage shops, antique stores or estate sales – one person’s unwanted item is another person’s treasure.
  • Look for gifts that are environmentally friendly and support our local economy, including items made with recycled content materials, or locally produced items.
  • Think about ways to re-purpose gifts for kids. You can put hand-me-down clothes and jewelry in a box to be used for dress up, or place old tools and knick-knacks in the box to create an “idea box”!1
  • If you need to ship a gift to a loved one, use ground shipping – it uses significantly less fuel than air shipping!

Bring Your Bag

  • Bring your own reusable shopping bags, and use them efficiently – put small gifts into bags with other gifts. This eliminates the need to pay for and use either paper or plastic shopping bags.
  • Buy and give reusable bags as useful gifts; there are many unique types, sizes, materials and designs of reusable bags available. Recipients can use them throughout the year.
  • If you have either paper bags or plastic bags that can no longer be used, recycle them. Recycle paper bags in the County’s recycling program, and place them into your mixed paper recycling bin or cart. Take plastic bags back to local grocery or other retail stores on a return trip, and place them into the store’s plastic bag recycling bins.



Before You Wrap:

  • Consider giving gifts that require minimal or no wrapping: tickets to shows, concerts, and/or sporting events, gift certificates or gift cards.
  • Rather than wrapping your gifts for kids, hide their gifts and send them on a treasure hunt! I loved doing this when I was little.
  • Gift bags are a great idea. They save time and effort when wrapping gifts, and can also be used again and again.
  • Instead of using wrapping paper, try giving some of your gifts in reusable bags (it’s a win-win!)
  • Many gift boxes are attractive and don’t need wrapping. Instead, decorate the box and add a reusable bow and/or ribbon – voila!


While Wrapping:

  • For oversized or bulky gift items such as bicycles, sports equipment, or artwork, simply tie a reusable ribbon or bow around them.
  • Make the gift wrap a part of the gift, for example, put a plant in a wicker basket, cookies on a ceramic plate, gardening tools in a planter, or jewelry in decorative case.
  • Wrap gifts in useful and durable wrapping, such as fabrics, scarves, or towels.
  • Use reusable (tends to be thicker so it doesn’t rip as easily) or re-purposed paper. Be creative! Use your favorite Sunday comics, magazines, older maps or brown paper as wrapping paper decorated with stencils, glitter, and twine.
  • Reuse wrapping paper – have scissors or letter openers handy when opening gifts so paper doesn’t get damaged when removing tape.
  • Items that must be shipped or mailed can be wrapped in reused brown or decorative paper bags.
  • Reuse packing cartons, cardboard boxes, and shipping materials such as plastic air pillows, shredded paper or newspaper and bubble wrap. Donate excess packaging materials to local mailing centers.
  • If you must purchase wrapping paper, look for ones made from recycled paper.
  • If you have wrapping paper or cardboard boxes that can no longer be used, recycle them. Be sure to put them in your mixed paper recycling bin or cart, and recycle them in the County’s recycling program.


Gifts wrapped using Trader Joe's bags

Gifts wrapped using Trader Joe’s bags. ©Fireflies and Jellybeans


Check out this blog posted on MyGreenMontgomery from 2014 about wrapping paper and the holidays.

Below I included some links that contain awesome, environmentally-conscious gift ideas:


Did you know?

A significant amount of the plastic packaging used for padding gifts ends up in a landfill after just a single use. Use popped popcorn as padding instead (butter free)! If that isn’t an option, try to reuse your shipping materials or take your extras to a private mailing center so that they can reuse it.



Holiday parties are definitely one of the highlights of the season. Everyone is especially festive and the food is always amazing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of opportunities for people to be wasteful. I’ve included a few ideas to reduce your waste significantly and have an even more wonderful party!


Party Planning:

  • Send electronic event invitations, rather than paper ones
  • Make creative centerpieces and decorations out of natural items from your yard, such as flowers, sprigs, pinecones, leaves, branches, etc.
  • Use durable, reusable dishes, glassware, flatware, table cloths and cloth napkins rather than disposable items. If you don’t have enough, consider renting these items. If you do decide to go ahead and use disposable dishes, try buying ones that are 100% recycled or eco-friendly.
  • If there is snow or ice on the ground, try using non-toxic de-icing substances like sand or even clean cat litter. Using chemical deicers can harm both your pets and your vegetation.
  • Turn down your heat a degree or two before your guests arrive. They will generate enough body heat to help keep your home at a comfortable temperature.
  • Encourage carpooling!
  • Make sure to put recycling and even compost containers in a location where your guests can easily find and identify them.


The Food:

  • Practice portion control to reduce the food waste. The Food Network came out with a Thanksgiving dinner portion planner (applicable to other holidays as well)to help you take the guesswork out of how much food to cook.
  • Don’t throw out leftovers. Put them in reusable containers for guests to take home with them to enjoy later.
  • Avoid buying individually packaged beverages, and purchase food items in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging.
  • Holiday cooking can generate many types of items such as bottles, jars, cans and containers that can be recycled in the County’s recycling program. Before recycling them, consider whether any of them can be reused for storing leftovers. Or, repurpose them to hold flowers or centerpieces! Be sure to recycle all the rest in your commingled container recycling bin.


Holiday centerpiece using natural greens

An example of a holiday centerpiece using natural greens. ©Virginia State Parks, Flickr

Did you know?

The USDA estimates that between 30-40% of of the food supply in the United States is wasted.2 This holiday season, think about donating your untouched leftovers from holiday parties to a local homeless shelter or food bank.



When it comes to putting your lights up around your house (or even on your tree!), make sure that you use efficient lighting, such as LED lights. LED lights last longer and consume significantly less energy than incandescent lights.


Image of LED Christmas lights

LED Christmas lights. ©youngthousands, Flickr


You should also be using lights that are attached in parallel, where each light bulb is on it’s own circuit to the power source. This means that if one bulb burns out, none of the other bulbs on the strand would be affected. Read this post from about the benefits of using LED lights and lights that are attached in parallel.

To be even more energy efficient, try connecting your lights to a timer so that the lights are on for a set amount of time, or only on when it’s dark out.


Holiday Light Recycling

  • If you are replacing older holiday lights with newer LED lights this holiday season, consider recycling the old lights.
  • Do not place holiday lights into your blue recycling bin. These lights are not recyclable in Montgomery County’s recycling program.
  • Instead, there are several retail locations and mail-in options available for residents to send their old or unwanted holiday lights for recycling.  Recycle old or unwanted holiday lights by taking them to all Home Depot store locations in the County or Lowe’s in Gaithersburg.
  • Visit our website for a list of mail-in opportunities that accept holiday lights for recycling.

Did you know?

The smaller the light bulb, the less wattage required. This means less energy will be consumed and less heat given off.3


Christmas Trees & Other Greens

Instead of throwing out your Christmas tree, recycle it! Montgomery County accepts Christmas trees through the curbside yard trim collection program.

  • When the holidays are over, recycle cut Christmas trees and wreaths. Christmas trees are given another use if they are composted or chipped for mulch.
  • Remove the stand and all decorations – including lights, ornaments, and tinsel, and leave no metal attached to the tree.
  •  County residents of single-family homes and townhomes can recycle Christmas trees and wreaths at the curb on their regular recycling collection day.
  • Live Christmas tree branches and pine needles can also be recycled at home by placing them under trees and shrubs or adding them to a compost bins
  • Businesses and residents of apartments and condominiums should check with their property/business managers or representatives for specific instructions on recycling Christmas trees.

Did you know?

The trees picked up for recycling are later shredded and used as high-quality mulch. If you wish to stock up on this mulch at no cost, visit the Neighborhood Mulch Preserves in January and February.


Image of Christmas trees being mulched at one of the Neighborhood Mulch Preserves in the County

The Neighborhood Mulch Preserve was busy mulching Christmas trees last January!


Paper Products

I don’t know about you, but I receive a lot more junk and catalog mail as the holidays approach. Luckily, there are services that can help you to stop this unwanted mail. Catalog Choice and the Direct Marketing Association both work to help you manage your mail and reduce the amount of unwanted mail you receive.

I also receive a lot of cards containing well wishes over the holiday season (yay!). Unfortunately, these cards can be very wasteful. Below are some tips to further reduce your paper waste this holiday season.

  • Before placing unwanted mail into the mixed paper recycling bin or cart, residents should take a moment to remove their names from any mailing lists of companies they no longer wish to receive information from. Often, all that is needed is a call to a toll-free number provided in the mailing.
  • Use holiday cards that are made from recycled material or tree-free resources. Check out the Green Field Paper Company and browse their cards, ornaments, gift tags, and gift card holders that are all made out of 100% recycled materials. This company even offers holiday cards created from junk mail!
  • Opt out of sending physical cards at all, and send e-cards instead.

E-card season's greetings examples

Blue Mountain offers some great holiday eCards! ©

Did you know?

According to the EPA, recycling one ton of paper saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 7,000 gallons of water, and saves enough energy to power the average American home for six months!4

The EPA reports that the amount of household waste in this country increases approximately 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.5 Practicing the above tips is a great way to become more environmentally conscious and reduce the amount of waste you produce. Let me know if anyone else has any other great tips, and happy holidays!


Written By: Maggie Glaudemans, intern at the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection 


2 comments on "Become more environmentally friendly this holiday season!"

  1. ornaments says:

    Flocked, It looks more in tune with your room. Lots of work, unpacking and packing.

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