Celebrate Sustainably this Holiday Season

xmas celebration

As we move into winter, the Santa Fe community is coming together to exchange gifts and celebrate holiday traditions. Throughout this season’s celebrations, it is important to continue to care for our community in more ways than one. This time of year is often accompanied by a heavier environmental impact, so keeping sustainability in mind throughout the holidays helps to ensure that the holidays remain merry, bright, and resilient for future generations.

Seasonal Environmental Impacts

Holidays bring lots of fun: celebrations with family, friends, or coworkers bring parties, gift exchanges, extravagant meals, and travel opportunities. But without proper attention, these festivities can also increase our impact on the environment through higher energy use, increased waste generation from food or gifts, and more frequent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from travel and shipping. 

Average Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) landfill in the United States (Source: EPA)

Household waste is a primary driver of increased environmental impact during the holidays. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of household garbage in the United States can increase by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day alone. The EPA’s waste characterization studies also demonstrate that food waste is the #1 source of landfill waste in the country, followed by unrecycled paper and plastics. 

Image source: EPA

When food, paper, and plastic are thrown away instead of being composted or recycled, our landfills fill up faster and we lose the opportunity to utilize that waste as nutrient-rich soil or recycled material. Often, the lack of air circulation in landfill environments causes food to create methane, a greenhouse gas more potent and dangerous than carbon dioxide. Minding consumption and utilizing proper waste disposal techniques keep these materials out of the landfill and works towards a cleaner and more resilient Santa Fe.

5 Tips for a More Sustainable Season

Making greener choices during the holidays doesn’t mean sacrificing any of the fun or festivities – just keeping sustainability in mind can help you decrease your personal impact in ways that are both easy and fun:

  • Mindful Gifting: Purchasing cheap-but-trendy goods like “fast fashion” items can lead to increased emissions from both production of the items and the waste creation of quickly disposed gifts. Consider being intentionally sustainable with your gift purchases, looking for locally made or fair-trade products that support local artisans and limit negative impacts and waste.
  • Mind the Thermostat: Energy consumption is already higher during colder months – to save energy (and money on your utility bill!), try turning the thermostat down while you’re out of the house or leaving town during the holidays. For an extra-green holiday gift, check out New Mexico’s rebates for electric, energy-efficient heat pumps, induction cooktops, and water heaters to replace older, inefficient appliances.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Encourage recycling by setting up designated bins for recyclables at your holiday gatherings. Reducing food waste is another vital step. Try to match meal sizes to your gathering size to limit waste creation, and if you have leftovers, consider donating excess food to local shelters or composting it.
  • Eco-conscious Travel: If your holiday plans involve travel, consider carpooling with friends or family, public transportation, or using a ride-sharing service. Reducing single-occupancy car travel can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Sustainable Wrapping: Swap traditional wrapping paper for reusable alternatives like cloth gift bags, scarves, or newspaper. Encourage recipients to reuse the wrapping, thus reducing waste.


Sustainable Festivities in Santa Fe

During the holiday season, Santa Fe helps residents have greener, easier holiday seasons with our Christmas tree recycling program. Stay tuned for an update in January 2024 for available dates. Last year, residents could recycle natural trees at either Franklin Miles Park or the Buckman Road Recycling & Transfer Station – all lights, decorations, and tree stands have to be removed. Trees are shredded into mulch that helps Santa Fe’s soil stay healthy, retain water, and provide nutrients for plants year-round. Mulch is offered to residents for landscaping or backyard composting at the Buckman Road Transfer Station year-round.

If you celebrate a holiday or the New Year with legal, safe fireworks this year, the City is also reminding residents to not place fireworks in trash bins. This can lead to safety hazards and accidents that result in injury and/or damage to property and melted bins. When disposing of spent fireworks, wet them down and place them in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day. Remember: watching professional fireworks display in your community is the best and safest way to enjoy fireworks!


Happy holidays and happy new year from the City of Santa Fe – we wish you a safe and sustainable holiday season!