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15 ideas for sustainable holidays

The holiday season may be ending, but the UCOP Sustainability Affinity Group is here to give you 15 ideas we tried this year. Use them throughout the new year, and plan for a more sustainable holiday season in 2021!

Wrapping presents

Wrapping paper is not recyclable in most counties. According to a Stanford study, Americans produce 25% more waste during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season. Here are some alternatives to regular wrapping paper for next year’s gifts, and all year long:

  • Wrap presents in leftover fabric or a scarf — scraps from sewing face masks can have a new life.
  • Wrap presents in a newspaper or a paper bag. The comics section of the newspaper is a great choice!
  • Present your gift in a stocking, which can be used over and over again.
  • Look for sustainable or recyclable wrapping paper, available at many stores.


Decorating for the holidays is a fun way to get in the spirit! Here are some ideas to help you reduce waste and save money:

  • Rent a holiday tree instead of buying a new one. Check with your county for local tree rentals.
  • Buy a rosemary bush to use as a holiday tree. They smell great and can be used for cooking even after the holidays!
  • Use real pine cones as ornaments. Painted pinecones can even become mini holiday trees.
  • Decorate with cinnamon sticks and dried orange slices — ornaments that make your home smell wonderful.
  • Make decorations out of natural items, such as twigs and branches. Here’s how to make stars from twigs and twine.
  • Choose energy-efficient holiday lights to decrease your electricity use.
  • Use a timer when setting up your holiday lights.

Gift ideas

There’s no such thing as a bad gift, but you can give more sustainably. Here’s how:  

  • Shop locally: Supporting small businesses is a great way to celebrate the holidays while reducing unnecessary pollution from transportation.
  • Choose gifts with plastic-free packaging.
  • Re-gift instead of buying something new to save money and reduce waste.
  • Choose fair-trade gifts, like those in this Holiday Gift Guide.

If you’re interested in learning more about living sustainibly, join the UCOP Sustainability Affinity Group! To sign up, contact and

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