Happy Holidays! We often get asked about how to have a low waste holiday or low waste Christmas. I think people realize that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we generate a significant amount of trash.
Here are my favorite ways to continue enjoying the holidays (which is much needed in 2020) while also being true to my low waste self.
1. For many years, I had an artificial tree. This was bought when I was a child and I used it until a few years ago (i.e. I got over 30 years of use out of that tree!). I now need to replace that tree but I am going to be searching on Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s list after xmas to snag one for next year. For this year I bought a real tree and I will make sure to mulch it after use (which means I do not put any of that tinsel on the tree). Another idea that some people are doing is making their own DIY Christmas tree from materials found around the house, yard, park, beach or forrest such as fallen branches, sea shells, string, yarn, wood, ornaments, pipe, and even books!
2. I also reuse my ornaments from over the years – they have amazing memories for me. But when I want to add to the tree, I make ornaments from found material. One year I made cinnamon ornaments (ingredients are cinnamon, applesauce and cloves) which I was able to compost after the season was over. This year I am going to make dried orange garlands. Another easy one is making ornaments out of found sea shells.
3. I reuse gift wrapping materials! Most gift wrap is not recyclable because of how it is made (glitter, plastic). I save wrapping paper that I receive (I’m really good at opening up presents carefully), I keep nice boxes and hoard tissue paper and gift bags. So when it is time to give a gift I just re-use what I have (and if I’m giving it to a close friend or family member they know I’m going to take the wrapping paper, box or bag back!). My college roommate has taken to using cloth to wrap gifts. She finds interesting fabric throughout the year which she keeps for gift wrapping. I have old shawls, and fabric scraps that I keep for the occasion as well. And recently I have seen people wrap beautifully with brown paper bags which they decorate with leaves and flowers. When I do this, I have my kids color and draw on the paper.
4. Give consumables as gifts – these days I am focused on giving the gift of consumables so that I know it will get used. I’m not that great of a baker but if I’m inspired, I will make cookies or granola bars to give out. I also gift specialty products that I know friends and family may not necessarily purchase for themselves but would enjoy and use such as oils, vinegars, spices, condiments, alcohol, etc. Also, gift cards for movies, music, subscription services. Or lovely bath bombs and other beauty products. I also inspect my purchases to make sure the packaging is recyclable or easily reused.
5. Give experiential gifts, including the gift of you! I appreciate gifts that I can experience with the person who gave me the gift. In pre-covid days, I went to the theatre, had a meal, took classes, etc. with friends. Connections and experiences are critical for happiness – give both as your gift.
6. Give second hand – I also give gifts second hand and I tell my friends and family that I am ok with getting second-hand gifts (or no gifts at all). There are so many ways to secure second-hand items (sometimes you can even find items that are “new with tags”). I make lists of what I am looking for and on some of the sites I can set up alerts so I know if my item comes up for sale. Its important to plan ahead since shopping second hand does not always have the same level of instant gratification that one gets from shopping on amazon. Facebook marketplace, Markid, Poshmark, ThredUp and my local second-hand stores are where I shop.
7. Give less! I give a few gifts to my kids. Since I never set the expectation of big piles of gifts my kids don’t expect it. Focus on enjoying the holidays with less stuff.
8. Decorate with plants and existing décor. Holiday décor often gets used and then tossed and it can be made cheaply and often with high environmental impact. This article is an informative read. I will peruse the shelves at goodwill to find some décor to use during the holidays. And then I will use natural materials (leaves, flowers, dried flowers, spices, pine cones, etc.). Sometimes less is more.
9. Eliminate food waste – if you are gathering with friends and family this holiday season then plan for food accordingly. Don’t over make or order food. I also think you should have less food options because then it is easier to plan how much to put out. I have less food waste when I only have a few food options on the table. And I always take leftovers home (or give leftovers to my guests as they are leaving the house). I save my Tupperware (yogurt containers) and bring them out at the end of the party. Let your friends and family know that they are welcome to the leftovers.