Ideas for a Sustainable Holiday Season

Updated: Mar 2, 2019


It’s the holiday season for many people around the world right now. Regardless of what you’re celebrating, many traditions permeate across the board: gatherings of family and friends, eating, gifting, and celebrating. This is a joyful time of year for everyone to come together, be thankful, and enjoy life!


Sadly, it’s also a wasteful time of year. We overshop, overspend, overeat, and throw away too much STUFF. Between food waste and trash, we’re sending lots to the landfill over the holidays (up to an extra 45% of waste heads to the landfill in the US and Canada over the holidays).


Let's avoid unnecessary waste this holiday season with these great tips below!


Decorating


As the seasons change, so does our home décor. Décor changes with the seasons, and the holidays. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the fun and beautiful knickknacks for sale. There’s something for every room, you can decorate inside your home as well as outside with all sorts of ornaments, lights, statues, etc.


Often, however, the décor we see in the shops has been cheaply made overseas. Perhaps this stuff was made in a location with few environmental regulations and low labour standards. This may not always be the case, but it’s something to keep in mind. To top that off, if we’ve bought cheap décor for the season, we tend to have no problem throwing it out instead of storing it for the next year.


Here are some ideas for sustainable décor:

  • Make your own décor (e.g. natural wreaths, knitted stockings, papier-mache)

  • Buy décor from local artisans (e.g. sculptors, crafters, artists, florists)

  • Choose natural décor that can be composted at the end of the season (e.g. either foraged yourself, such as pine cones, or from the florist)

  • Buy high quality décor (less is always more!) that you will keep for years to come


Borrow and Share


We don’t need to buy ALL THE THINGS. If there’s something you need that you’ll only use a few times over the holiday season (e.g. tools, small kitchen appliances, etc.), then see if you can borrow what you need instead of purchasing it. This will help your wallet.


Maybe you’re hanging lights on your house, but you don’t have a ladder. Borrow one! Perhaps you don’t use a food processor throughout the year but could really use one over the holidays for special meals. Borrow one!


Borrow instead of buy!

This also applies to clothing. If you’re attending a lot of holiday parties and would rather not wear the same outfit to each event (which is totally fine too, by the way!), then find out if you can borrow or swap clothes with friends. Wearing the same outfit to each party can easily be pulled off by accessorizing with different jewelry, scarves, stockings, hairstyles, and shoes.


Here are some ideas to borrow and share over the holidays:

  • Head to your local tool library if you have one, and borrow what you need

  • If you have something you know a friend or family member needs, lend it

  • Host a clothing swap with friends to mix up your wardrobe this holiday season (saves money and textile waste)

  • Challenge yourself to wear the same outfit to all of your events by accessorizing it differently each time, make it fun

  • Trade your stuff on apps like Bunz or on platforms like Facebook


Gifting


You may feel obliged to gift over the holidays. Overspending on gifts that people may not want totally sucks for your wallet. It's also awkward for the receiving party who doesn’t know what to do with their new gift. Instead, make this year more fun with sustainable gifting!


Here are some ways to re-ignite the magic in gifting:

  • Buy or make gifts that you KNOW the other person wants and needs

  • Bake delicious goodies (who doesn’t like getting cookies??)

  • Create a recipe in a jar (put all the ingredients for something like cookies nicely in a jar with the recipe)

  • Thoughtfully re-gift (if you got something you didn’t like, re-gift it as long as you know the person receiving it will enjoy the gift)

  • Gift edibles and drinkables (specialty foods, wines, craft beer, kambucha, teas, coffees, etc. are nice because they can be consumed and don’t add clutter to a home)

  • Natural gifts, like décor (wreaths) or flowers are a great choice because again, they don’t add clutter

  • Buy experiences, not things (e.g. tickets to a play or concert, wine tour, other entertainment, activities such as a picnic or hiking date, rock climbing lessons, etc.)

  • Create ‘gift cards’ for your services (e.g. handy-work, sewing, cooking, etc.)


Wrapping


All gifts need to be wrapped in typical wrapping paper, right? Well, they don’t have to be. If you are going to wrap your gifts, there are more sustainable ways to wrap this holiday season. In Canada alone, stats show that we throw out an additional 545,000 tonnes of waste from wrapping paper, gift bags and shopping bags. Much of it goes to the landfill.


Try these tips instead:

  • Use reusable cloth gift bags; buy them, or make them yourself

  • Always reuse gift bags and tissue paper

  • Use reusable gift wrap, whether purchased or homemade, and tie with reusable ribbon or twine, or try furoshiki

  • Incorporate natural elements into your gift wrap, such as pine cones or pine needles, cinnamon sticks, etc.

  • Use part of the gift to wrap the rest of the gift (e.g. if you are gifting kitchen items, use a cotton tea towel to wrap the gift)

  • Make use of magazine or newspaper pages to wrap your gifts

  • Reusable gift boxes are also great, and make it quick to place a gift in and go


Parties


Gatherings with family and friends can be one of the greatest joys of the holidays. Eat, drink, and be merry! When the party is over, however, the trash and food waste abound.


Here are some tips to keep it low waste:

  • If you’re hosting, plan your food based on the number of guests coming to avoid food waste

  • Should there be too much food after the party, send guests home with leftovers

  • Other ideas for leftovers: freeze food, make leftover recipes, and compost what you can’t eat

  • Use reusables, and avoid paper plates, plastic cutlery, and single-use plastic cups and paper napkins

  • If you’re attending a party and you’re not sure there will be reusables, ask the host, and bring your own zero waste kit (reusable plate, cutlery, and cup) if you need to



Hopefully these tips will help you have a more sustainable holiday season! Happy Holidays!


If you're ready to dive into the zero waste lifestyle, download the guide: Your Zero Waste Life



About the Founder

Hi! I'm Tara McKenna, Founder of The Zero Waste Collective. Based in Canada, I have created this community as a hub for all things zero waste! Take a look around, and join this global conversation. You can also follow my zero waste journey on Instagram at @mindfully.tara. Thanks for stopping by!

 

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