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The Environmental Impact of Greeting Cards—And What to Send Instead

How bad is our greeting card obsession for the planet? Here's what you should know—plus, eco-friendly card options to try instead.

Written by
Kylie Fuller
While most of us are excited about the holiday season, we're not looking forward to the
increased waste
Gift wrapping waste
food waste
are among the reasons why the holidays can have a large environmental impact. But what many of us forget about is the waste that comes with sending out annual greeting cards.
Although sending greeting cards during the holiday season is a popular tradition, many of these cards contain glitter, bows, and other decorative details that can be harmful to the environment or difficult to recycle. For example, musical greeting cards—the ones that play a song when you open them—contain mercury, which means the card
can't be recycled
. Not to mention, foil-lined, glittery, and gloss-laminated cards can't be recycled, either.
But what if you only purchase simple greeting cards, without all the plastic or mercury? The card itself isn't the only thing that has a negative impact on the environment. A study conducted by the U.K.'s
Exeter University
found sending one card produces about 140 grams (0.3086472 pounds) of carbon dioxide. The U.S. mails around
1.3 billion holiday cards
a year—the same amount of CO2 emissions as charging 22 billion smartphones or 22,000 homes' energy use for one year.
Between the waste and the carbon emissions, the environmental impact of greeting cards is surprisingly high. But that doesn't mean you and your family have to give up the time-honored tradition of sharing holiday greetings. Check out these sustainable alternatives to keep the holiday tradition going.

Eco-Friendly Greeting Card Alternatives

Fortunately, there are plenty of creative ways to celebrate the holidays without generating as much waste or carbon emissions. We've rounded up three sustainable alternatives to greeting cards.

1. Virtual Cards

Going virtual allows you to drastically reduce the environmental impact of your holiday cards. And, it can be just as special—if not more so. You can send out a holiday-themed slideshow, a more traditional e-card, or even a voice greeting. Want to get the entire family involved? Use
Group Greeting
to create an online greeting card with multiple signers so each person can add a special message.

2. Swedish Dishcloth Greeting Card

Swedish dishcloth greeting cards have a second purpose. First, you write in the card like you normally would using a permanent marker. After your recipient reads it, it can then be used as a
paper towel replacement
to clean up kitchen messes. Typically, one card is the equivalent of 17 rolls of paper towels and can be composted once it's used up.

3. Reuse Last Year's Card

Why buy a new greeting card when you probably have a drawer full of greeting cards already? Consider passing on a pre-loved card to make your holiday extra sustainable. You can tear off the front and create your own postcard-style holiday card. Or, you can cover the inside with another piece of paper and write a new message. It can become a fun new tradition that challenges you and your family to get creative.