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Zero Waste of Time: Unprecedented 2020 greetings, the sustainable way

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Posted on: December 1, 2020
Aim to buy cards that use recycled paper, are free of glitter, foil, and plastic wrapping Photo credit: Juliette Fradin Photography

By Juliette Fradin


Sending a holiday card this year might feel different, following months of social deprivation. While we’ve been keeping our distance with loved ones, we’re also craving deep connection and want to show our appreciation and gratitude to people near and far. We now pay more attention to and recognize simple things in life we often took for granted or overlooked: giving a hug, sharing a meal, or traveling. Many of us will remember this year as a time when we re-evaluated the importance of relationships to our well-being.

The simple gesture of sending a card remains popular with many, especially during the holidays. According to the Greeting Card Association, Americans purchase approximately 1,6 billion Christmas cards every year. A recent survey published in The New York Times, showed that 60% of respondents plan to send holidays cards this year, compared to 38% last year. Card companies have put out creative, quarantine-themed messages. Even though everyone needs festive and fun notes, you may be wise to be careful in the message you share and with whom. More than half of Americans now know someone who has been impacted by COVID-19. A popular word this year is “hope.” 

Unfortunately, the lifespan of a card, from mantel to trash, is short. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, American households will produce 25% more trash than usual — the equivalent of one million additional tons of garbage per week. Gift wrap and shopping bags, alone, result in 4 million tons of waste. And if you think we can just put everything in the recycle bin, let’s think again. The paper we use to wrap gifts during the holidays costs us  30 million trees. Simple paper cards and envelopes are recyclable, but NOT if you add foil or plastic decorations. 

So in the holiday spirit, be mindful of your environmental impact and follow these tips for sending greetings:

– Get rid of “the list.” Instead of sending cards to everyone you can think of, be selective and send physical cards to your inner circle of family members and best friends. 

– Send e-cards to your outer circle (you can do it yourself on I know you won’t be featured on anyone’s mantel, but e-cards are more eco-friendly and much less work. You can even send a video: Record the family’s holiday message to friends and family, sing carols, dress up! 

– Look for cards that are made with post-consumer recycled paper and are recyclable, themselves. Stop buying cards that are manufactured out of new materials. I highly recommend Paper Culture (, as they offset their carbon footprint and plant a tree for each order they receive. 

– Avoid cards with foil or foil-lined envelopes, glitter, metallic inks, ribbons, beads and velvet (etc.), as these materials make them impossible to recycle. 

– Choose soy-based inks, which release fewer volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) during manufacturing and are easier for recyclers to extract before recycling the paper.

– No need for an envelope; send a postcard instead! 

– Ditch photo paper, as it usually contains a protective plastic top layer.

– Before recycling any cards or gift wrapping, remove tape and decorations, including bows and ribbons. Reuse those decorations next year instead, and save money and materials.

– Make your own cards. Reuse materials you already have and be creative. If you feel artistic, design something, or let the kids do it. Your crafting will be way more appreciated than something generic.

All I really want for Christmas is for you to share the love while being mindful of the environment!



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