Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Written by Sarah Robertson-Barnes for The Zero Waste Collective.
For many of us, especially as we get older, the holidays are less about physical things and more about spending quality time together. Honest and respectful conversations with friends and family throughout the year can help make our values and expectations about things like gifts clear. That said, the holidays can still be tricky to navigate so try these 10 simple tips to be as zero waste as possible!
1. Plan Ahead
Making a list and checking it twice is key to watching both your waste and your budget. Create a few lists of things such as whom you intend to give gifts to, menu planning and groceries, and where your time will be spent. Coordinate with friends and family by sharing lists online.
2. Rethink Gift Giving
Give gifts with intention this holiday. Instead of physical items, consider giving experiences (concert tickets or museum memberships), donations to charities, making things (food gifts or personal care items), or simply the gift of your time (babysitting or home repair help). If you do wish to buy something, choose ethical and sustainable makers and brands. Keep an eye out for The Zero Waste Collective's 2019 Holiday Gift Guide!
3. Wrap It Up
Conventional wrapping paper and accessories are not typically accepted in recycling. Opt for reusable wrapping such as cloth bags or a pretty piece of fabric using the Japanese furoshiki method. As a bonus, the bag or fabric become part of the gift itself! Search Pinterest for tutorials as well as ideas for tags and other parcel decorations.
4. Shop Secondhand
Stores are absolutely flooded with all things holiday. Save money and avoid creating new waste by for opting for secondhand items. Look for everything from decorations to holiday outfits (especially for those ugly sweater parties), and even gifts at the thrift store or online at places like eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
5. Borrow Don’t Buy
Are you hosting a gathering but in need of dishes or other supplies? Do you need something to wear to a very fancy party? Ask around! Chances are that somebody you know has exactly what you need and would be happy to share. This loan could even be their gift to you. Tis the season!
6. Choose Natural Decor
There are so many beautiful ways to decorate our homes for the holidays without buying new plastic or cutting down trees. Natural objects such as branches, pinecones, cinnamon sticks, oranges, and sprigs of rosemary all make absolutely lovely (and compostable!) holiday decor. Search Pinterest for simple DIY projects you can do with friends and family. You can even opt for a potted tree.
7. Fight Food Waste
An astonishing amount of food is purchased and wasted at this time of year. Carefully consider the amount of food you actually need to purchase and prepare for gatherings, resisting the urge to overdo it. Let guests know to bring their own containers for leftovers, freeze what you can for later use, and compost the rest.
8. Start a New Tradition
Or adapt your old ones! Now is a great time to rethink your family traditions and evolve them along with your zero waste values. Try stringing popcorn garlands, making sugar cookies from bulk ingredients, or going ice skating instead of shopping. Spending quality time together is the real gift.
9. Keep It Simple
The decor, food preparation, gift giving… all of it! Approaching your celebrations with intention creates less waste by default, provides calm during a chaotic season, and leaves more time to spend with loved ones or for a quiet cup of hot peppermint tea.
10. Use What You Have
If you have an artificial tree and plastic decorations, use them! Take good care of them so they can be used for years to come. Wear what you wore to the holiday party last year! There is no need to buy something new and chances are not a single person will remember (or care) anyway. Use your everyday dishes to serve holiday meals, reuse old gift bags, and don’t worry about what people will think. Nobody is that much of a Scrooge!
'Tis the Season
The holiday season is the perfect time of year to lead by example, but remember what is and is not in your control when it comes to waste. Give yourself and others grace, focusing on enjoying your time together. As we close out the year, don’t forget to reflect on everything you have accomplished with your shift to a low waste lifestyle and toast yourself with a holiday beverage or two!