Executive Summary

Holidays are a time of joy, connection and tradition — but are often excessively wasteful. The way many Americans consume during times of celebration, especially around the winter holidays, harms the planet. For example, the amount of household waste in the United States in the month of December is 23% higher than in other months of the year. But it’s not just the extra trash that’s a problem. All the fossil fuels, trees and other natural resources that go into producing unnecessary plastic toys, novelty gifts and wrapping paper make the winter holidays dreary for wildlife and the habitat they need to survive.


Holiday consumption also causes emotional and financial stress. A 2022 study conducted by Aflac found that the holidays are a time of increased anxiety for more than 50% of Americans.


It doesn’t have to be this way. Efforts to replace excessive holiday consumption and wasteful traditions with alternative gifts and Earth-friendly traditions are underway and can benefit both people and the planet. The Center for Biological Diversity’s free Simplify the Holiday’s campaign includes toolkits and tips for environmental professionals and the public to inspire long-term behavior change.


But to create the widespread change needed, it’s important to understand the general public’s perspectives on holiday waste and alternative gift giving and what inspires or holds them back from celebrating in a less wasteful way.


To gain this insight, in 2022 the Center conducted an online survey of the U.S. public to understand their perceptions about the environmental toll of the winter holiday season. The results of this survey highlight the benefits of giving alternative gifts and challenging cultural norms that influence material gift-giving behaviors. The survey also revealed generational differences in gift-giving trends. The results of this survey will be used to inform future Center campaigns.


Key Findings

Holiday Materialism:

  • 90% of Americans agree that they wish the holidays were less materialistic. This is up from 78% in 2005.
  • 88% of Americans agree that the holidays should be more about family and caring for others. This sentiment has remained consistent over time.


Exchanging Gifts:

  • 84% of Americans agree that giving and receiving gifts is awarded too much importance. This is up from 74% in 2005.
  • 67% of survey respondents reported that they are very likely/likely to consider the environmental impacts of a gift before purchasing it.
  • 3 out of 4 survey respondents (76%) said they are very likely/likely to shop at a local small business for gifts.


Alternative and Secondhand Gifts:

  • When referring to a gift that isn’t purchased new from a large online retailer or through a brick-and-mortar big box store, the terms “alternative gift” and “eco-friendly gift” resonate most strongly with people (39% and 32% respectively).
  • Saving money was the primary perceived benefit of buying secondhand gifts (41%).
  • In relation to alternative gift giving, over half of the respondents are very likely/likely to:
    • Give gifts of time or skill (59%)
    • Give secondhand gifts (56%)
    • Give handmade gifts purchased from a business (69%)
    • Make their own handmade or DIY gift (68%)
    • Donate to a nonprofit as a gift (60%)



1) Campaigns should emphasize alternative gift options and their benefits.

2) Campaigns should challenge external influences on gift-giving behaviors by calling for increased corporate transparency and providing support for individuals trying to transform family traditions.

3) Additional research is needed to better understand generational differences in gift giving behaviors and expectations.