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Promoting Sustainability During the Holidays

by Gabrielle Griffis on 2022-12-12T09:34:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

By: Erin Andrews, Programming and Development at Centerville Library and Gabrielle Griffis, Assistant Youth Services Librarian at Brewster Ladies' Library 

This holiday season we wanted to highlight some of the ways libraries are promoting sustainable holiday practices in their communities!

Centerville Public Library hosted a Sustainable Wrapping Program on Tuesday, December 6th. This intergenerational program attracted adult community members as well as kids in grades preK  through grade 7, all of whom were Barnstable students who spent their school half-day with the librarians at CPL!  Before jumping into crafting, Erin Andrews who does Programming and Development at Centerville Library, led a brief overview of seasonal holiday waste. 

Erin writes: 

“Writers often quote the statistic that 25% of all waste created in the U.S. is made between Thanksgiving and New Years.  This is based on an old statistic dating to the early 1990's not authored by the EPA, but by conservationist Bob Lilienfield and a report written in collaboration with the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona.  Lilienfield believes that 25% is no longer accurate, and waste created during the holidays in the U.S. is likely much larger as our reliance on plastics and drive toward consumerism has grown in the last 3 decades. 

Wrapping paper is made of paper, but covered in plastics and chemicals that make it not-recyclable.  Other wrapping ingredients are not-recyclable including ribbons and bows, glitter, cellophane wrapping for gift baskets, bubble wrap, and tissue paper.  Before these products get to us, they produce a lot of pollution called "upstream waste."  "Upstream waste" is everything that went into making the product before it got to you-- harvesting of raw materials, energy to power factories and transportation of those items to stores, and packaging surrounding the product, to name a few.  "Downstream waste" is the waste created after the product is disposed of. Recent national articles have revealed that plastics in the United States are no longer being recycled at the same rates, leaving them to sit in landfills or wash into our water sources. 

By creating our own wrapping paper from recyclable or natural materials, or repurposing single-use items, we are disrupting the waste line and helping to form new habits around sustainability.  I made examples of stamps from cut up Baker & Taylor book boxes, styrofoam trays from mini-cucumbers, wine corks, Dove soap bar boxes, toilet paper rolls, and craft supplies previously purchased for library crafts.  Participants used glue guns, scissors, craft paint and creativity to decorate donated paper shopping bags.  Children were engaged with each step and got a thrill out of using bubble wrap to stamp their craft paper!  Sue Dahling Sullivan, Director of Communications for Barnstable Land Trust, visited to get a sense of our sustainability work, and left with her own holly leaf wrapping paper.” 


Similarly, Truro Library hosted an Upcycling Old Books for Decorations program on Saturday, December 3rd. In their program, participants learned how to make simple decorations out of old books and magazines for their homes and gifts. Brewster Ladies’ Library hosted a sustainable afterschool makerspace program where participants also made ornaments from materials such as cardboard boxes. 

In addition to programming opportunities, there are other ways libraries can promote sustainability during the holidays, such as partnering with the local recycling committee to distribute informational sheets on tips to reduce holiday waste and how to effectively recycle. Informational sheets, such as the ones Wellfleet Public Library has distributed to their community, helps clarify how and what items can and can't be recycled at the local recycling center, such as string lights and Christmas trees. Some municipal and county departments advertise holiday recycling programs and practices on social media, and sharing these programs is a great way to spread the word in your community. 

Libraries can also curate and display books such as The Better World Shopping Guide, along with other titles that encourage thoughtful shopping practices and encourage upcycling crafts. Now in its seventh edition, The Better World Shopping Guide focuses on which companies prioritize:

  • Environmental sustainability and climate change

  • Human rights

  • Community involvement

  • Animal protection

  • Social justice

These are just a few ideas for how libraries can encourage sustainable practices during the holiday season, which hopefully inspire more ideas and programs in the future! If you have other ideas for how libraries can promote sustainability in the community, for the holidays, or in general, we would love to hear from you! You can email Gabrielle Griffis at to get in touch. 


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