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9 Tips for Sustainable Schools during the Holiday Season

As the winter holidays approach, schools have a unique opportunity to instill values of sustainability in students and contribute to a greener future. By incorporating eco-friendly practices into holiday celebrations, schools can reduce waste and inspire students to adopt more sustainable habits. Here are 9 tips to help schools ensure that winter holiday festivities embody the spirit of sustainability.


1. DIY Decorations from Recycled Materials:

Dig into that scrap paper and encourage students and staff to create holiday decorations using scrap paper and other recycled materials. From festive banners to ornaments, the possibilities are endless when it comes to crafting sustainable decor. Just check out Pinterest for hundreds of ideas for cute crafts and decor made from toilet paper rolls and egg cartons. Reusing scrap paper and other materials not only reduces waste but also fosters creativity, a sense of accomplishment and saves money. 


2. Host a Green Gift Exchange or

Sustainable Secret Santa

The gift giving season is personally challenging for me as I dislike being labeled “The Grinch,” and dislike even more the crazy capitalist consumerist holiday that this season has become. I tame my inner Grinch by taking the lead to organize an intentional gift exchange between students or faculty. Invite students and faculty to choose a sustainable focused theme for their secret santa gift exchanges this year. Themes can be pre-loved gifts, DIY gifts, locally sourced gifts, baked goods, experience gifts, books, song playlists, or plants. There are many themes that can be adopted to ensure gift giving is low waste and intentional and doesn’t just push mindless consumerism. And while I’m on the topic of consumerism, teachers and parents, can we stop asking children “what do you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Diwali etc?” and start asking, “how would you like to spread joy this season?” If we really want to curb consumerism, we must be mindful of the language that we use that promotes a desire for materialistic goods. 

3. Zero-Waste Gift Wrapping Station:

Gifts wrapped in fabric & paper bags with DIY gift tags

Something that I’ve always wanted to do school wide, but haven’t done yet, is set up a Zero Waste wrapping station to educate the community and spread the festive spirit. I envision this being done by the school’s Eco Club and be a fundraiser with donations going to a charitable cause. Students could teach others how to wrap gifts using alternatives such as fabric, old maps or posters, newspapers, cereal boxes etc. They could even use homemade glue and teach how to fold paper to wrap a present without tape (yes, it’s possible!). Or how about getting students to sew fabric gift bags from thrifted linens? It might be a little late in the year to start a sewing project, but you can file it away for next year. I highly recommend checking out this blog post by the Zero Waste Chef for 5 sustainbale ways to wrap gifts. These small changes can significantly decrease the amount of wrapping paper waste and start to create the culture of sustainability among the wider community.

Zero Waste Classroom Party Kit

5. Sustainable Catering, Staff Potluck & Zero Waste Classroom Holiday Parties

If your school hosts holiday gatherings with food, choose caterers and book venues that have a sustainability policy in place. Everyday we vote on the type of world we want when we spend money and choose a service. Find companies that are local and proud of their social and environmental contributions and prioritize ones with sustainable practices. Alternatively, organize a potluck where students and staff can contribute homemade dishes. Serve up food on real dishes and plates or choose compostable paper plates over styrofoam and disposable plastic plates. The holiday season is a great time to ask for donations for plates, cups & cutlery to build a classroom Zero Waste Party Kit if you don’t already have one.


6. Remind the Community of the Recycling Protocols. 

Ensure that recycling bins are readily available during holiday events. Clearly communicate what items can be recycled and encourage proper disposal. Shiny paper and paper full of glitter can't be recycled and will contaminte the paper recycling so make sure to communicate this well! Set up a space to collect wrapping paper and gift bags to be reused and inform the community of the goal to collect such items to reuse later. Consider implementing a composting system for food waste to further reduce the environmental footprint of the celebrations. Read about how to start a vermicomposting system in your classroom here. 

7. Promote Sustainable Transportation:

Encourage students and staff to carpool, use public transportation, or even organize walking groups to attend holiday events if possible. This not only reduces carbon emissions but also fosters a sense of community. An email and a sign up sheet is often all that’s needed to connect people to carpool. 

Picking up litter in the community

8. Give Back to the Community:

Instill the spirit of giving by organizing community service projects during the holidays. This could include collecting items for donation, volunteering at local charities, or participating in environmental clean-up activities. Connecting holiday celebrations to community service reinforces the values of empathy and environmental stewardship.

Paper roll Christmas crackers to donate

9. Create Lasting Traditions:

Establish sustainable holiday traditions that can be carried forward year after year. Whether it's a tree-planting ceremony, a sustainable secret santa gift exchange, or a community garden project, creating lasting traditions reinforces the commitment to sustainability and helps build a sense of responsibility among students and staff.

By adopting these sustainable tips, schools can transform their winter holiday celebrations into opportunities for environmental education and positive change. Embracing eco-friendly practices not only reduces the environmental impact but also sets a powerful example for the next generation, inspiring them to make sustainable choices in their own lives. Together, schools can contribute to a greener, more mindful holiday season and cultivate a culture of sustainability within their communities. I hope you adopt all or one of these tips this holiday season and share these ideas with your school community.

A little DIY driftwood Christmas tree

Happy Holidays!


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