The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Looking to have a zero waste Christmas? A lot of waste is generated during this time of the year. Between trees being sent to landfill and tossed gift wrapping alone – you’re looking at a lot of trash. Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year holiday period than any other time of year. Essentially, this extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage (or about 1 million extra tons per week). While we might not be able to completely eliminate Christmas waste, we can certainly do better at limiting it! Here’s the ultimate guide to a zero waste Christmas from gifts to trees to décor!

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The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas


  1. Gifts
  2. Trees
  3. Decorations
  4. Food

How do you make Christmas zero waste?

To have a zero waste Christmas, you’ll need to start analyzing your own consumption habits. Do you purchase new decorations every year? What kind of gifts do you give? How are they wrapped? Do you need to keep your Christmas lights on all the time? There are so many areas to consider it might get a little overwhelming, but thankfully this guide should help. Today’s post covers everything from gifts to decorations, so you’re bound to find answers to all your questions.

Ultimately, having a low waste Christmas entails keeping waste to a minimum. That involves reusing, upcycling and repurposing just as much as it involves making more conscious purchases.

How can I be plastic free at Christmas? 

In reality, your Christmas is unlikely to be entirely plastic free. It’s hard to control all of the items that are brought into our homes over the holidays. That said, it’s not impossible to limit the amount of plastic that comes your way.

Have a chat with your family and explain what your goal is. See if they’re willing to gift sustainably this year and without wasteful wrapping paper. Challenge them to get creative and find other wrapping solutions like using salvaged paper and twine instead of tape. Be sure to tell them about zero waste stores they can find amazing eco-friendly gifts from. If it helps, tell them to not over-buy and agree on a gift limit so there’s no over-consumption. It’ll force them to make thoughtful purchases. And of course, as the host, you could arrange to buy plastic free gifts for others. Plus, make an even bigger impact by getting your Christmas dinner from the farmers market and bulk food store

How can we be eco-friendly for Christmas?

When it comes to being eco-friendly for Christmas, I would say the main thing is to make informed and considered purchases. A lot of the issue with Christmas stems from overconsumption, so the best thing you can do is try to purchase less, and really think about anything you do buy. Of course, Christmas is a time for family but that doesn’t mean that each family member needs to receive ten or twenty presents from you. If you want to buy them a gift, perhaps consider buying them one item they will really cherish. 

Similarly, when it comes to food for your Christmas dinner, make sure you don’t buy excessively so nothing goes to waste. In fact, there are plenty of recipes out there to use up your leftovers, so why not try that if you do have any. Something I would just like to add here, is that many items we consumer over Christmas, such as chocolate, contain palm oil. This has a huge environmental impact so if nothing else, try to gift palm oil free chocolate this year. I love Alter Eco because they have compostable wrappers and organic ingredients.

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Section 1 – gifts:

Thinking of purchasing some gifts? Here’s everything you need to know before you press that “add to cart” button.

What do you buy someone who is zero waste?

As a zero waster myself, I like to receive items that are secondhand or can be used over and over. I love it when my friends and family opt for gifts which are plastic free and ethical. Here are some amazing zero waste stores that any zero waster would love a gift or gift card to! This zero waste gift guide will also help inspire you.

For me, if my loved ones get me some plastic free and sustainably made toiletries or a candle I’m pretty content! I find men a bit harder to gift. If you do too, check out this post on zero waste gifts for men.

The final piece of advice I would give you for a zero waste gift is to put thought into it,  as this is the most important thing, make sure the receiver can see the intention in the purchase. You can always ask them what they need and go from there! Practical gifts always win out.

How do you give sustainably?

As I said above, one of the best ways to give gifts sustainably is to give with intention. As yourself before you purchase something… Do they need this item? Will it bring them joy? Is there a zero waste alternative I could purchase? Will they keep this for a long time? Once you have addressed these questions it is up to you to act as sustainably as possible.

When purchasing potential gifts, it’s also important to consider:

  • How was the gift made? What materials is it made from? Is it recyclable/compostable at the end of its life?
  • Where was it made? Who made it? Were they paid a living wage?
  • Does this purchase fund unsustainable practices like deforestation or water pollution?
  • Is it made in the USA? How far did it travel to get to me?
  • How is it packaged? Is it packaged excessively in plastic?

What is a consumable gift?

Consumable gifts are unsurprisingly items that the receiver will use up! This doesn’t always mean food based items, it could also be candles, toiletries, makeup or even toilet roll! These gifts are very practical and the recipient has a clear use for the item. They’re designed to be used quickly, so it won’t add to clutter. A great consumable gift idea is body lotion or even cookies!

What can I use instead of wrapping paper for Christmas?

There are so many options for this now, which is great. I reuse any paper that comes into my house during the year – sometimes even down to the toilet roll wrapper! You can now purchase reusable gift bags if you don’t enjoy wrapping things. Also, there are some really beautiful reusable furoshiki wraps too (carry on reading for more information). For the full lowdown, check out this post ALL about zero waste gift wrapping (it shows everything step by step!).

How do you wrap gifts without waste?

When it comes to wrapping gifts without waste there are lots of things to consider, from the wrapping paper to the tape, gift tags and even ribbons! The one piece of advice I would give is to try to repurpose something or make it reusable for another year. I love using salvaged paper and twine to wrap my gifts, then decorate with some pine sprigs. Everything can be composted. For a whole ton of ideas, check out this post here.

Is brown paper better than wrapping paper?

Yes, brown paper is better for the environment overall, especially if you’re salvaging it from packages. This is because wrapping paper is notoriously difficult to recycle – it’s often coated in plastic. Many wrapping papers can also have non-sustainable additions to them such as glitter (AKA tiny pieces of plastic destined to pollute the ocean!), so these are best to avoid at all costs. There are some really great recycled and compostable wrapping papers out there which will often have a lower carbon footprint than virgin brown paper.

What is furoshiki cloth made from?

Furoshiki cloth is a Japanese style of gift wrap which can be made of various materials. On the whole, the most common furoshiki cloths are made of cotton, nylon or silk. They can come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are great to be used year after year. They are definitely an investment option but can last a lifetime. These can be bought online or you can even make them out of fabrics you already have at home, perfect for zero waste christmas giftwrap.

How do you do a furoshiki wrap?

There are many ways to tie furoshiki wraps depending on the shape of the item you are wrapping. There are loads of videos on YouTube so I definitely recommend checking them out if you have a tricky item. One thing I would say is, always make sure you iron the fabric first – it just really helps with handling the fabric and the overall aesthetic. 

Wrapping a box using furoshiki:

  1. Make sure your fabric is ironed! 
  2. Lay your fabric out, pattern side down, so it looks like a diamond. You will want your box sides to line up with the corner edges of your fabric. It will look like there is a square inside a diamond.
  3. Fold the top corner of the fabric over the box. Repeat with the bottom corner. 
  4. Fold the left hand point into a triangle – as if it were traditional wrapping paper. Repeat on the right hand point. 
  5. Pull the two triangles to the top of the box and tie into a double knot

For further inspiration, check out the video below:

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Section 2 – trees:

Lets tackle the age old question – what’s more sustainable, a real or fake tree?

What is the most sustainable Christmas tree?

The most sustainable Christmas tree is the one you already have. If you have an artificial tree in your attic that you have had for years, without doubt the most sustainable thing you can do is use this one. If you do need to buy a new one this year, there is a lot of debate about whether an artificial or real tree is best.

While, artificial trees can be used year after year, depending on their materials – they can actually have a really big carbon footprint. Something else to consider is where your Christmas tree was made? Was it shipped halfway across the world? Most likely yes! 

Here’s the straight up facts – a living tree will always be the most sustainable option. In other words, one you don’t have to cut down – yes that’s a thing!

More and more places are offering this really cool service where they give you a tree in a big pot with its roots still in-tact. Come the end of the season, they take it from you and replant it in the ground. It’s kind of like a tree rental service – and some places even let you rent the same tree every year!

Sadly, this isn’t a very common practice as of yet. I know I don’t have any of these options near me for sure. That said, the second best option is buying a real tree.

Third best is thrifting a fake tree. And plan to use it for a very, very long time. AHEM – not just one year, I’m talking eight to twenty years! That’s how long you have to use it if you want to decrease its carbon footprint.

Fourth best option? Get a mini potted Christmas tree or make one from upcycled content. I’ve seen “trees” made from books, paper, scrap metal, wood – you name it, people have done it.

So here’s the most sustainable Christmas tree options in order:

  1. Rent a living tree with an in-tact root system
  2. Buy a chopped real tree
  3. Thrift a fake tree (and use it for a long time)
  4. Get a mini potted tree or make one from upcycled content

Why a real Christmas tree is better?

There are lots of reasons. On the whole, the more natural option is always better. They are naturally occurring in the world and during their life, before they are cut down, do their part to combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide.

Another benefit is that once they have served their purpose, they can be disposed of responsibly. There are schemes all around the world where old Christmas trees can be collected, popped in the chipper and composted. Make sure you never let your Christmas tree get thrown in the landfill as the organic matter will emit harmful carbon monoxide as it decomposes. 

In NYC, Christmas tree collection starts in early January and ends mid January. The trees are chipped, mixed with leaves and recycled into rich compost for NYC’s parks, institutions, and community gardens. But they ask everyone remove all lights, ornaments, tinsel, stands and plastic bags from your tree first before putting it out for collection.

What can I use instead of a Christmas tree?

There are lots of alternatives out there for Christmas trees. Increasingly, people are opting for twig trees which can be very beautiful and you can even find some that are made from sustainable resources!

If you want to step a bit further away from an actually tree, you could use an only step ladder and add your decorations. You could also create a tree like structure from old logs or even stack up a pile of books. There are tons of options so if you fancy thinking outside of the box this year, why not try out some of these ideas. Let me know if you have an alternative Christmas tree in your home.

Is buying a Christmas tree bad for the environment?

Not necessarily, especially if you opt for a real tree. Studies show that while some Christmas trees are cut down every single year, more than 10 times the number are still growing in the world. Christmas trees nowadays rarely come from forests but from farms.

Another reason why buying a Christmas tree isn’t always bad for the environment is if you get one secondhand. Believe it or not, thrift stores actually stock Christmas trees this time of year so why not check them out. It is sustainable to give something a second life where you can.

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Section 3: Decorations

Ready to light up your house this holiday season? Before you decorate, check out these eco-friendly tips.

How do you make Christmas eco decorations?

There are tons of different ways you can make zero waste Christmas decorations. Some of my favorite are crocheted ornaments, paper ornaments or ones made of salt dough! Believe it or not dried citrus fruits, pinecones and even old toilet rolls can be repurposed into beautiful ornaments. For some easy step by step instructions check out this post.

Are Christmas lights bad for the environment?

While Christmas lights have become a staple, studies show that a significant amount of energy is wasted every single year from excessively lighting houses. Don’t fear, while not perfect, there are some more sustainable ways you can have Christmas lights.

Make sure you opt for LED lightbulbs as these are much more long lasting. You can also invest in some solar powered Christmas lights too! This will mean that you won’t be burning fossil fuels but can still have beautiful lights on your house. Do take into consideration the light pollution though, as environmental factors are far more than simply electrical use. Be considerate to others. Why not think of other alternatives rather than lights? For some great décor options, check out this post. 

Are Christmas crackers bad for the environment?

In short, yes! Many families enjoy pulling Christmas crackers at the dinner table, but they’re often filled with tiny pieces of plastic. This could be toys, ribbons and even the outer casing of the cracker. Not to mention, many of them are coated in glitter which is really bad for the environment. Crackers really are the definition of single use.

However, if your Christmas really wouldn’t be the same without crackers, why not try making your own! It is super easy and a fun activity to do, especially if you have little ones. I love the idea of making them from paper towel or toilet paper rolls and upcycled ribbon or twine.

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Section 4 – Food:

What’s Christmas without a feast? Here’s how to handle food this holiday season.

What should I serve at a zero waste Christmas dinner?

If you’re hosting Christmas dinner, you’ve got a lot of control over what you decide to cook! This is a good thing to limit waste and reduce your impact. I recommend creating a vegan menu, as a plant-based dinner will be the least carbon intensive option. Some great vegan mains include cauliflower steaks, vegan lasagna, and stuffed and roasted acorn squash.

Better yet, try to get most of your ingredients from the farmers market or as locally as you can find it. Ideally, you’ll want pesticide-free and package-free options even if your only option is the grocery store. Bulk food shopping for dried foods like rice and beans is a good option as well.

While preparing your dishes, make sure you compost any scraps you cannot reuse. To reduce food scrap waste, try to cook the whole vegetable if you can (like keeping the potato skins on instead of peeling them off). You can also use some food scraps to make veggie broth!

When serving your dinner, make sure everyone has real plates, utensils and cups to use. This will also further cut down on waste. If you don’t have enough plates, forks and cups I have a hack for you – hit up a local thrift store. You’ll be able to find SO many there for a bargain. And you can break these out for other parties as well in the future!

For dessert, try serving up some of these cute zero waste Christmas cookies!

How can I reduce food waste?

Make sure you don’t overcook – be reasonable about how many people you’ll be hosting. You don’t want to overdo it because then you’ll have leftovers for days.

Speaking of leftovers, make sure you give some out to your guests at the end of the night. If you have to keep some, make sure to use them in dishes throughout the week or look up scraptastic recipes (Going Zero Waste posts about them all the time on her tiktok!).

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Christmas

Did I answer all your questions on having a zero waste Christmas? Did I leave out anything? Let me know in the comments below!

For more zero waste Christmas tips, be sure to check out my blog post about zero waste ornaments.

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Guest post: Hi, my name is Lottie and I have my own zero waste blog too (it’s if you want to check it out or @littlebylottie on Instagram). I live across the pond in England and am super passionate about sharing easy changes you can make in your life to have a huge impact on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to have a chat with Ariana on a few occasions. I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to write for her page.

By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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