It’s time for the best (and one of the most wasteful) times of year–the Holidays!
Protecting the environment shouldn’t stop when celebrating the holidays, birthdays, or any other special event. Think about what happens to all the leftover food, single use decorations, and unwanted presents once the holidays are over. If you start thinking about how to celebrate in a “green” way, you could help reduce the amount of waste we create during these seasons. Read through this toolkit to discover ways you and your community can still enjoy your favorite holidays and celebrate without hurting our environment.
This toolkit address the following Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) within the Performance Expectations of NGSS for Grades: K-2 and 3-5
- Asking Questions and Defining a Problem
- Planning and Carrying out Investigations
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Obtaining Evaluating, and Communicating Information
- Students will analyze their daily habits to see where they can reduce their waste, energy, and water usage.
- Project Management
- Students will keep track of how many resources they are saving.
- Students will practice leadership skills by delegating tasks to each other.
- Evaluation and Assessment
- Students will track and evaluate the impact of their project.
Why It’s Important
One of the most important solutions to fighting climate change is reducing waste and saving edible food from landfills. During the holidays, food waste, plastic waste, and electricity use increases a lot, which also means water use increases during this time. When food is wasted, the natural resources and energy used to create it is also wasted. This is important because more waste in the landfills and more electricity being used also has a negative impact on the communities that are already affected by regular pollution from these facilities.
What You Will Accomplish
Students will educate their classmates and/or family members while taking creative action to reduce the waste and energy use in their homes or school during the holiday seasons.
Educator Project Plan
Follow the steps below to set up a successful Green Your Holidays Campaign at your school! Need help? Contact us!
Track your metrics and submit your impact after implementing this toolkit. Your feedback helps keep our programs free for all across the globe.
Use the Green Your Holidays Sign Up Sheet to have participants sign up.
- A Student Group such as (a club, before/after school program, non-school organization)
- A whole class
- The whole school
- Working with a small group of students? Plan to reduce party waste with your class!
- Working with a larger team? Build a campaign to educate your entire school on how you can have eco-friendly celebrations!
Why Should You Reduce Holiday Waste
The resources provided below can be shown as a slideshow or printed out as individual worksheets for students to review.
Holidays Are Extra Wasteful
After all the gift giving, seasonal decorations, delicious food, and family gatherings, our happy celebrations can leave a lot of preventable waste behind. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the amount of trash we throw away increases by 25% compared to the rest of the year. This leads to an extra 1 million tons of garbage in our landfills every week or 25 million tons in total. 
This Season is Bright with LED Lights
Households that use LED lighting instead of their traditional holiday decorations, can save up to 90% of their energy use and these bulbs will last ten times longer. Your family and classroom could also save up to 30% of its energy use when plugging in lights or decorations into smart power strips. 
Water Pollution is Increasing
With the global increase in sustainability and eco-friendly packaging, we have the tools we need to limit our environmental impact this holiday season. Always remember the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. For example, you can reduce food waste by creating new recipes with leftover food, recycling wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, and reusing your items next year. According to Stanford University, wrapping just three presents with reusable materials can save enough paper to fill 45,000 football fields. 
Why Holiday Waste is an Environmental Justice Issue
The increase of waste during the holidays impacts some communities more than others. Waste is an environmental justice issue mainly because of where it is transported. Recycling facilities, waste transfer stations, incinerators, and landfills are all largely located in developing regions internationally or in disenfranchised communities within the US. Any one or a combination of these facilities can cause widespread pollution in addition to health issues to the communities that live nearby. 
Watch these Short Videos to Learn More on How to Reduce Holiday Waste
Think About It!
- What are some changes you can make when gift shopping to use less packaging and make less trash?
- Why do you think food waste is harmful to the planet?
- Can you name some holiday decorations or things in your classroom/house that need electricity or batteries to work?
- Why is reducing waste important for the environment?
Take Action: How to LAUNCH a Green Your Holiday Campaign
Lead students through the “Green Your Holiday Campaign” activity with guided instructions. Check out “Pro Tips” for additional help.
1. Get Organized
- Make it a challenge: ask your classmates or family members to join you
- Get unused materials, decorations, or help from your friends, family, classmates, and teachers
- Use the Green Your Holidays Sign Up Sheet to keep track of participants
2. Before the Holiday
Using the Green Your Holidays Pre Holiday Worksheet, participants will record their typical holiday actions and learn how to make celebrations more eco-friendly at home and at school.
Some Holiday Actions to consider are:
- How do you wrap and purchase gifts?
- What do you do with waste from gifts you receive?
- What do you do with leftover food?
- How do you get to Holiday events and school?
- What kind dishes and utensils do you use for holiday meals?
- What types of electronic holiday decor is typically used?
Keep track of your answers so that you are able to answer the Wrap Up Form at the end of the toolkit.
3. Plan It Out
Using the Pre Holiday worksheet, set goals on at least 3 actions you will take to make your holidays “greener”. You can prevent waste during your celebration before the holidays even start!
Here is a list of examples on how to prepare for the holidays:
- Carpool with a classmate and have your parent or guardian take you to local businesses or farmers markets for your food or gift shopping
- Bring reusable bags with you when you go shopping
- Check out your local thrift stores for unique gifts
- Buy plastic-free gifts
- Make a holiday card from scrap paper or create a card online
- Talk to your parent or guardian about planning meals ahead of the holiday so that they can purchase less food this season
- Look around your house for old newspapers, towels, paper bags, or even shirts/cloth to wrap your gifts and encourage others to reuse those items for another gift.
- Recycle broken lights and old holiday decorations
Think ahead about your plans for your school or home celebrations. Choose to focus on your habits at home, school, or both.
If you’re working with a group of students, assign roles to help sort out your in-class green celebration.
For gift giving, think about what you know about that person and what type of gift they will like or consider using items you already have in home to create new gifts!
Learn about Furoshiki which is a traditionally Japanese way to wrap gifts in a sustainable way.
4. Educate Your Classmates, School Staff, and Family
Tell your friends, family members, parents, teachers, and classmates about your plan to have a green holiday celebration! You can do this by presenting the provided Green Your Holidays Peer Education Script to your classmates and the Green Holiday Parent Education Flyer to your parents. Share ways to reduce waste this holiday season through your school’s newsletter or on your own social media account.
We never want to make a student feel bad for bringing plastic packaging to school or buying an online gift. It’s important to encourage eco-friendly habits, any small action should be celebrated!
5. Conserve Your Water at Home
Now you’re ready to celebrate in an eco-friendly way! With permission from your teacher and parents, you can:
- Ask your classmates to bring their own utensils from home
- Plan with your teacher to have your classmates bring their own cup or water bottle from home and healthier food to your class parties
- Gift experiences like a gift card to a favorite ice cream place or a class related to their hobby
- Gift toys that don’t require batteries or include reusable batteries in your present
- Make sure you have a clearly labeled trash can, recycling bin, and compost bin close together.
- Suggest using LED lights for you home decorations or
- Look for holiday decorations that do not need electricity to work
- Instead of paper napkins, use cloth napkins or tablecloths that you can use all year. You may even find ones that are seasonally themed!
- Get crafty and make your own holiday decorations
- Encourage your family members to use produce and other food items from their local farmers market.
- Talk to your parents or guardians about using reusable or compostable plates and utensils this year
- Encourage your friends and family to bring their own reusable containers for taking home leftovers
If you celebrate a holiday requiring a tree, try to get a live potted tree instead! You can keep it all year and decorate it as you see fit.
Regular tree farms use harmful pesticides, so if your holiday decorations include trees, look for organic tree farms.
Remember to always ask your classmates to bring their own reusable water bottles.
6. Measure Your Impact
The party is over, but you’re not done yet! Complete our Green Your Holidays Post Holiday Worksheet to complete more tasks, compare the actions you did before the holidays, and measure your impact.
7. Recycle, Repeat, and Reset
You’ve woken up after making happy memories with your family, so now what do you do?!
- Bring over leftover non perishable cans of food to your local food bank (see Campus Food Rescue Eco-Toolkit)
- Sort through your recycling bin to make sure the right items are in its place
- See if your city has a composting program for holiday trees
- Donate your old toys, electronics, and clothes to those in need
- Recycle any paper waste and cardboard boxes
- Freeze your leftovers or cook something new
- With your parents, organize your decorations so that you can re-use them again next year
Call your local food bank or shelter ahead of time to see what items they need or what they are taking in.
Lookup recipes for holiday leftovers.
How’d It Go?
- What changes do you see in your home or school after educating them about holiday waste?
- What are some ways you can think of to reduce more waste and energy use during your celebrations in school and outside of school?
- What did you enjoy most about doing this project?
- What could you do to improve your project next time?
Report Students’ Impact
Congratulations!! You’ve implemented Green Your Holiday! Don’t let all that hard work go unnoticed. Submit your results by clicking the green button below.
Project ongoing? No problem! Let us know what you’ve done so far.
By reporting your impact, Grades of Green can:
- CELEBRATE and elevate your students’ hard work and success.
- Offer our programs FREE for all students across the globe.
- AWARD stipends and certificates to hard-working educators and students.
Please take a few minutes to submit your results. Thank you!
- Green Your Holidays Sign Up Sheet
- Green Your Holidays Pre Holiday Worksheet
- Green your Holidays Peer Education Script
- Green Your Holidays Parent Education Flyer
- Green Your Holidays Post Holiday Worksheet
- Green Your Holidays Wrap Up Form
- Green Your Holidays Slides
- Holiday Waste-LESS Blog
- Toolkit Resources – Google Drive Folder
Congrats on completing the Green Your Holidays Eco-Toolkit!
Did you enjoy this toolkit? Find your next project here!