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11 Easy Tips For Sustainable Holiday Cards

Looking for eco-friendly holiday card alternatives? Check out these tips and ideas for more sustainable holiday cards to celebrate the season this year.

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This week, we received our first few holiday cards from friends. I love receiving holiday cards, and I enjoy sending them too. 

When we first became parents, I struggled with the idea of sending holiday cards. They felt wasteful and expensive. And so much work?!

Additionally, holiday cards aren’t exactly eco-friendly. Americans buy nearly 2.6 billion holiday cards each year. That’s a lot of paper products that require resources, energy, and transportation. And a lot of them end up in the trash.

Once I started receiving holiday cards, though, I came to appreciate them a lot! I knew that I wanted to find a way to make them as eco-friendly as possible. They brought me enough joy that they were worth the “imperfect” zero-waste choice.

I’ve said many times that living a low-waste life isn’t about perfection but about finding eco-friendly habits that are sustainable for the long haul. For me, sending and receiving holiday cards is my jam.

11 Tips For Sustainable Holiday Cards

Over the years, we have incorporated a few elements into our holiday card habit to make it as eco-friendly as possible while still enjoying it to its fullest. Here are a few ways to help you celebrate the holidays with more eco-friendly holiday cards.

Order Sustainable Holiday Cards From Paper Culture

Paper Culture is a holiday card and photo book company that uses sustainable materials for its products, offsets its carbon footprint with carbon credits, and plants a tree with each order. Pretty neat, right?

Paper Culture offers a variety of eco-friendly Christmas cards as well as more generic sustainable holiday cards. I’ll be sharing our current holiday cards from Paper Culture soon (and we even made a 2021 family photo book with Paper Culture too). If you can, purchase your family holiday cards through a company that prioritizes environmental concerns throughout its business model.

Check Out Eco-Friendly Holiday Cards From Green Field Paper Company & Foreveriafnces

If you prefer holiday cards without photos, Green Field Paper Company has some really neat options. Green Field Paper Company creates all sorts of paper from sustainable materials other than virgin trees, and they have an entire holiday collection of cards and more. They even have holiday cards, ornaments, and gift card holders that have wildflower seeds embedded in them so you can plant the paper after you’ve used it.

Foreverfiances also has a collection of holiday cards printed on recycled paper, some of which are embedded with seeds. Some of the cards even sprout directly from the card. As with any seed paper, it’s good to check the types of seeds that are included to ensure they are suitable for the geographic area in which your recipients live.

Order Only The Holiday Cards You Need

Reducing consumption is one of the most basic principles of sustainable living. Before ordering, put together your list of card recipients and only order enough cards for those to whom you plan to send holiday cards. Each year, we order a handful of extra cards that we end up passing out to new friends or unexpected additions to our list. But we are pretty diligent about not ordering too many extra cards.

Holiday cards are expensive, so ordering extra holiday cards not only wastes paper resources but it also is a waste of money! If you’re really ahead of the game, having a list of recipients before you order also means you can ask the company to add addresses to the envelopes for you. Some companies will even do this for free.

Choose Holiday Cards Without Foil or Non-Paper Embellishments

Glitter is the worst! Full stop.

I hate glitter, so I can promise it won’t make a mess in my house or spill onto your counter when you open a holiday card from our family. Glitter is also microplastic, so it’s not recyclable and probably will end up contaminating our waterways and oceans. (Even the “eco glitter” is suspect.) Do the turtles a solid and skip the glitter!

More generally, choose a holiday card that has no foil or other non-paper embellishments. Not only do these elements often make the card more expensive, but those embellishments may cause issues in the recycling process or compost breakdown. In short, those expensive embellishments may turn fully recyclable Christmas cards or compostable holiday cards into landfill lunch.

Of course, it will depend on exactly how the cards are made, but sticking to simple paper cards helps ensure the cards don’t have to end up in the trash (if you aren’t saving them for holiday decorations next year as we do).

Keep Them & Make A Keepsake Photo Collection

Don’t throw away your holiday cards. Hold on to them and turn your holiday cards into decorations for future years. Each year, we collect all our holiday cards from that year and turn them into a holiday card bundle with a simple binder ring. Go check out all the details for this simple holiday card DIY (I mean… really simple!), and then enjoy your holiday cards for many seasons to come.

Repurpose Holiday Cards as Gift Tags

If you have extra holiday cards or receive holiday cards from others, especially those with designs on the front and not family photos, repurpose the holiday cards as gift tags for future use. Check out this DIY gift tag tutorial for more details. Never buy a gift tag again!

Choose Holiday Postcards Instead of Full Holiday Cards with Envelopes

This year, for the first time, I chose to order postcard holiday cards. These are more affordable to order and require less expensive stamps. Further, they don’t require envelopes, which likely just end up in the trash.

Swap traditional holiday cards for sustainable holiday postcards to save yourself some cash and skip licking all those envelopes. That benefit should make opting for postcards instead of traditional cards in envelopes a slam dunk, right?

Get Holiday Cards Secondhand

If you’re looking for graphic holiday cards (as opposed to family holiday cards), check out thrift shops for your holiday cards. They often have lots of unopened secondhand holiday card packs that are in perfect condition. Also, consider asking for extra holiday cards in your local Buy Nothing group or searching on Facebook Marketplace. Many people will probably be happy to pass along their extras.

Opt For Digital Holiday Cards

I really love tangible holiday cards. I like that we can look back at them regularly, and they don’t get lost in the digital clutter of my messy email inbox. However, there are many companies that offer great digital holiday cards. Check out a company like Paperless Post. We have seen friends use Paperless Post for wedding invitations as well, and they are really nice.

Compost or Recycle Holiday Cards You Receive

If you don’t want to hang on to them, compost or recycle holiday cards instead of sending them to the landfill. Paper is an organic material (i.e. it’s made of trees, right?), and organic waste in landfills causes all sorts of environmental trouble. Do Mother Nature a big favor and avoid throwing holiday cards in the trash.

Just remember that most non-paper embellishments on the cards cannot be composted or recycled. You may either need to remove them or put those particular holiday cards in the trash.

Use Free Return Address Labels

Do you receive free address labels in the mail? I get them from about a billion different charities throughout the year. Sometimes I wonder how they even got my name. Nonetheless, I’m happy to receive the free address labels that I use each year for our holiday cards.

This year, I won’t need them because I was able to print our return address directly on the postcard from Paper Culture. But if you choose a card with an envelope and don’t have return addresses printed on the card, you may as well use these free gifts instead of tossing them in the trash.

Skip investing in a special return address stamp or buying your return address label stickers. The most eco-friendly option is to use what you already have (i.e. the junk mail that isn’t so junky!).

How do you do holiday cards? Do you love them as much as I do?

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