Reducing Your Pollution Impact Over the Holidays 

By Michaela Lambert

Eco-friendly fabric reusable gift packaging with fir brunch, cinnamon stick and dry orange slice. Christmas reusable sustainable gift wrapping alternative. Zero waste concept.

The holidays are about spending time with friends and family, giving thanks, and wrapping up the year. Unfortunately, many common holiday traditions have the potential to increase the amount of pollution we release into the environment.  

In Kentucky, and throughout the nation, runoff pollution, also known as nonpoint source pollution (NPS) is the leading cause of water pollution. This occurs when stormwater carries pollutants into waterways. Because there is usually not one defined source, this type of pollution can’t be regulated by permit and it is up to individuals, businesses and others to reduce their impact voluntarily.  

Some of the most common pollutants include bacteria from human and animal waste and sediment from erosion. However, trash, road runoff and sometimes even energy production and use are also forms of this.

To reduce your impact this holiday season, implement all or a few of the following suggestions. 

  1. Consider a natural Christmas tree. Natural trees provide habitat for birds and other wildlife while they are growing and can be used to create new habitat afterward. Trees can be donated to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to create new aquatic habitats. See more about that here

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will take your tree and combine it with others to create fish attractors for lakes all over the state.  Trees will be used for replenishing existing fish habitat sites as well as create new habitat sites. These brush reefs provide nesting and rearing habitat for gamefish as well as creating homes for invertebrates and smaller fishes that provide food for larger fish.  

Just clean your tree of all the artificial decorations, lights, tinsel, ornaments, etc., and drop it off at one of the posted locations during daylight hours only between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Christmas tree drop-off sites will be open from Dec. 26 through January 15th. 

Recycling your natural tree is a great way to reduce waste from entering the landfill. Natural trees can also be placed in fields and wooded areas to create habitat for birds and small mammals or mulched for use in the yard or garden. If you already have a fake tree, you should use it for as long as possible before replacing. 

  1. Choose recyclable or biodegradable gift-wrapping materials.  

One of the greatest feelings around the holidays is watching someone we care about open a gift we’ve carefully selected and wrapped just for them. What’s not so lovely, is the large amount of trash that results from the non-recyclable gift material. Most wrapping papers, especially those that contain foils, glitter, or shiny materials, as well as most bows and gift bags are not recyclable and must be thrown away. Materials like compostable paper, fabric, baskets, or scarves are more sustainable options due to their ability to be composted, recycled, or reused. 

  1. Shop with reusable shopping bags.  
    Reusable shopping bags are a great way to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the landfill. Cloth or canvas bags are often stronger and last longer than the plastic reusable bags, but both will help eliminate waste that might otherwise end up being shipped to the landfill. Plastic bags may also be recycled at some local hardware and grocery stores, but they should never be placed in your recycling bin at home. 

  1. Use solar powered LED holiday lights.  

Solar powered LEDs are a great way to reduce the amount of electricity needed to power outdoor holiday light displays. Even if your lights aren’t solar powered, switching from incandescent to LED is a good idea. LED bulbs use at least 75% less energy than other bulb types and tend to last longer, reducing energy costs and electricity use over time. 

  1. Compost your food scraps.  
    One this is almost ubiquitous traditions for every holiday celebration, food, and lots of it! While most of us stuff our bellies as full as we can, it’s inevitable that some food and scraps will not be eaten. Composting those food scraps will eliminate waste going to the landfill while also helping create rich compost for your spring garden! Whether you have a house or an apartment, there are multiple options for at home composting.  

Support local businesses.  

Buying gifts, food and going to local restaurants reduces the amount of energy and material waste we consume and keeps the money local to our community.  


  1. Recycle what you can.  
    There are special holiday recycling programs that run this time of year for things like electronics and holiday lights. To learn about recycling programs near you, contact the city or county program that serves your area. You should also familiarize yourself with what materials can go into your recycling cart. For example, clean cardboard and paper board can usually be included, but not the boxes that go in the freezer. All recyclable materials should be loose in the cart and never bagged.  

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