Although you may consider St. Patrick’s Day a debaucherous celebration of leprechauns, beer, and all things green, that’s not how it started. This global celebration of Irish culture originated as a religious feast to celebrate Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

Unfortunately, like many other big holidays, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have expanded over the years to include raucous festivities — and a massive environmental toll. Although they don’t inspire the consumerism of Christmas or Valentine’s Day, annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities bring with them a lot of waste.

We think it’s possible to celebrate the day in style without the corresponding negative environmental impact, so we’ve put together this guide: five things to avoid if you want a truly green St. Patrick’s Day.

For a Green St. Patrick’s Day, Skip …

1. Plastic decorations

You can do better than plastic beads and disposable buttons, we’re sure of it. Photo: Shutterstock

Green beads, glitter-covered shamrocks, and green plastic tablecloths are fun ways to deck out a party in seasonal style. The only downside is that these St. Patrick’s Day trappings are destined for the trash can on March 18. Think about it — does anyone take the time to properly store and save that stuff for next year? Nope, especially not when bucketfuls of green beer are involved.

Avoiding cheap plastic decor doesn’t mean you’re doomed to dour, colorless celebration. Instead, choose decorations made of felt, cloth, or metal. They may cost more the first year, but the increased cost means you’ll be more likely to take care of them, plus investing in well-made materials means that they’ll last longer and their cost will be spread over years. Being able to reuse these festive trimmings means a far lighter burden on the environment.

2. Seasonal T-shirts

Just like plastic decorations, those inexpensive “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirts seem like an easy way to mark your love for this boozy holiday. But these garments are far from green, environmentally speaking. This type of clothing most often originates from overseas manufacturers with questionable labor standards, and it’s rarely made to last.

I like dressing for the holidays and am definitely not above a tacky Christmas sweater, a pink dress on Valentine’s Day, or green garb for St. Paddy’s Day, but why not search out some secondhand clothing instead of buying cheap new stuff? Rifle through the racks at your local Goodwill, Value Village, or consignment store to source some gorgeous green clothing that you’ll be able to wear year-round. Bonus points if you find clothing made in Ireland!

3. Green beer

Say no to green beer, yes to regular beer. Photo: Shutterstock

We seem inordinately intrigued by the idea of eating and drinking things that have been dyed strange colors — does anyone else remember purple ketchup? — but you might want to skip the green beer this year and opt for a Guinness instead. One of the dyes most commonly used to dye beer that delightful green color is FD&C Green No. 3, which is known to be poorly absorbed by the digestive system (meaning you may have a bit more than a hangover after drinking a few pints on St. Paddy’s). In undiluted form, the dye can irritate the eyes, skin, digestive tract, and respiratory tract.

So, that’s not good. And although you’ll be consuming a very diluted form of the dye, you still might be better off ordering a classic Irish whiskey instead.

4. Irish stew, corned beef, and other meaty dishes

They may be touted as authentic Irish fare, but meat-heavy dishes like stew and corned beef have far greater environmental tolls than their meat-free counterparts. If you’re trying to eat less meat for ethical or environmental reasons, there’s no reason to stop now!

A quick search turns up dozens of delicious meat-free Irish and St. Patrick’s Day recipes that will keep your guests well-fed and happy without being environmentally harmful.

5. Cars

It’s easy to avoid the crowds, the parking fees, and the environmental costs associated with driving to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Instead of driving or taking a cab, consider more eco-friendly options like walking, carpooling, or taking public transportation.

Aside from being a truly green choice, nixing the car means you’ll also avoid the temptation to drive after having a few, and given the usual rates of drunken driving incidents on St. Patrick’s Day, that’s truly something to celebrate.

The holiday has always been green in color, but now it can be green in environmental spirit, too. Happy green St. Patrick’s Day from all of us here at Earth911!

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

Editor’s note: Originally published on March 17, 2017, this article was updated in March 2021.

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.