5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

The holidays are rolling in – are you ready for them? This year, things might look a little different with covid19 upon us. That said, there are still several ways to keep any festivities you have low waste and merry. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving – whatever it is – holidays definitely do create lots of waste. On average, Americans generate approximately 4.4lbs of trash per day. Come the holiday season, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year holiday period than any other time of year. That’s nuts! Essentially, this extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage. Yikes! Lets do what we can to cut that number down, shall we? Here’s 5 ways to have a zero waste holiday season.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

Think of all the paper plates, plastic utensils, wrapping paper and ribbons that will end up in the trash this holiday season. It’s enough to make you gag right?

The holidays are a time to be merry – but that doesn’t mean it’s all jolly. The earth pays the price for all the waste we generate this time of year.

Here are a few more facts regarding holiday waste (taken from Stanford University) that will blow your mind:

  • If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
  • If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.

This doesn’t even take into account the waste generated on Thanksgiving, New Years, Hanukkah, and other celebrations.

We need to do better. This holiday season, we need to create less waste. That may or may not be easier with covid19 around (less big gatherings = less waste).

Here are 5 ways to cut back on waste this holiday season.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

1. Decorate naturally

Maybe it’s just me, but I love decorating with things from nature – I think it looks so much better, and much less tacky. For example: Making a wreath out of actual pine branches instead of fake, plastic wreaths is way more stunning (and it smells divine).

If you already have decorations for the holidays stored away, definitely use them! Reuse is super important. But if you’re looking for something new, why not utilize natural objects?

Here are some natural décor ideas I absolutely love:

For Thanksgiving:

  • Chrysanthemums in various colors (such beautiful fall flowers)
  • Foraged flowers (goldenrod and aster should be in season – depends on where you live – just leave some for the bees).
  • Decorative Indian corn or cornstalks (they can be composted at the end of their life)
  • Pumpkins, gourds and squash (still great right through Halloween!)
  • Fall leaves preserved with wax
  • Candles (even better if they’re all-natural soy wax, beeswax or coconut wax candles)

For Christmas:

  • DIY Christmas ornaments (personally love toilet paper snowflakes, dehydrated oranges, salt dough ornaments, etc).
  • Pine branches in a glass jar like a bouquet
  • Popcorn and cranberry garland
  • Pine cones and twigs as décor and ornaments
  • Wreaths from real pine
  • Real Christmas trees over fake plastic trees (yes, real trees are more eco-friendly if you’re curious)
  • Candles
  • Poinsettias and small potted trees

For more natural décor ideas, check out these zero waste fall décor options and zero waste Christmas decorations.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

2. Create your own cards

Last Christmas, my mom and I made our own Christmas cards and it was such a special, fun moment between us. I absolutely love it and hope to do it again this year.

The goal was to create cards that were completely natural and easy to compost or recycle.

We decided we wanted to create Christmas trees for the cover. So I suggested making a potato stamp and using DIY plant paint. I’ve never made a potato stamp before but always wanted to. This was the perfect opportunity!

Here’s how we made homemade Christmas cards:

You just need a big potato, a cookie cutter and a small knife. You cut the potato in half, press the cookie cutter into the flat halved potato, and cut around the shape with a small knife, leaving the design raised on the surface of the potato. That’s it!

Then, you just use a brush to apply your paint onto your stamp. Or, you can fill a little saucer with the paint and dab the stamp in it. It’s really easy to make your own plant paints too.

To make colors, we used a base of pigment, arrowroot and water. For the pigments, green – matcha. Red – beetroot. Yellow – turmeric. Brown – cocoa. That’s it! Totally waste free and toxin free. Everything is literally compostable from card to paint to stamp.

We got the cards and envelopes at Michael’s, but I imagine you could make them from computer or drawing paper as well.

Depending on the holiday, and your creativity levels, you can make whatever you like on your card. This is just what we chose for ours. Everyone in our family loved it.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

3. Give thoughtful, ethical gifts

If the holiday you’re celebrating calls for gifts, I highly recommend purchasing sustainably made, ethical ones for your friends and family. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce them to more sustainable choices in a gentle way.

Here are 25 zero waste stocking stuffers I absolutely adore, and the ultimate zero waste gift guide.

That said, it’s important to consider what the gift receiver will actually want. What will help them out the most? What will make them most happy? Do they really need more stuff?

Here are some unconventional, but thoughtful gift ideas that are also waste free:

  • Quality time: Treat them to a coffee, make some cookies together, watch a movie together – something that shows them how much you mean to them.
  • Help them pay off the utility bill, a car payment, or the rent – something they might be struggling with.
  • Offer to babysit their kids if they’re in desperate need of a kid-free night.
  • Cook them a homemade meal if they need a night off of cooking.
  • Give them a night out with friends if they need a little fun.
  • Struggling parent? Help them make the holidays brighter for their children.
  • Lend an ear – Maybe they just need someone to listen.

The point is, maybe you can be the one to give them what they need this holiday season, instead of more “stuff” they don’t. Feel free to ask and start a conversation about what it is they need help with (they may be too embarrassed to ask outright).

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

4. Wrap gifts sustainably

If you are planning giving physical gifts this year, consider wrapping them without wrapping paper. Yup, you heard that right. That’s what I’ve been doing and I’m never going back.

Instead, I save up packaging paper and tissue paper from packages I receive throughout the year, then use it to wrap my gifts. I secure it with some twine and decorate it with some pine or dried citrus. I use cut toilet paper rolls for gift tags.

It’s honestly less hassle to do it this way and my gifts always look so cute, unique and rustic. I always get compliments on them and people often say they don’t even want to unwrap it cause they look so adorable.

The best part? Everything I wrap with is completely compostable. Usually after people unwrap it I take it home to be composted – so it’s easy-peasy.

For more gift ideas, here are 50 last minute zero waste gift ideas and how to wrap them.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

5. Feast farm-to-table

One of the best things you can do for the environment is definitely buy locally grown, pesticide free food. Feasting farm-to-table is a great way to reduce emissions because farmers market food doesn’t take as long to get to you.

It also tastes better because it’s so much fresher and only picked when it’s ripe (not under-ripe). Lots of produce you see in the store (especially tropical fruits or stuff grown over-seas) is picked before it’s ripe so it will last on the long journey it has to make to your plate. This strips it of both flavor and vital nutrients!

Smaller farms are also more likely to encourage biodiversity and avoid being monocultures (which only farm one crop). Think of a bee who just wants to pollinate a flower – with a huge field of one crop they cannot pollinate, their little wings have to travel even farther to get to ones they can! Smaller farms tend to plant several diverse plants closer together, allowing for easier pollination.⁣

So, if you’re hosting a holiday at your house this year, try to get all your produce from the farmers market. CSA boxes are great too!

Want to double your impact? Shop plastic-free at the farmers market by bringing your own tote bags and produce bags!

So if you’re heading somewhere else for the holidays, consider bringing a dish of your own made from farmers market produce. You can store it in a big glassware container, or cover it with beeswax wrap.

5 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Holiday Season

So, what do you think of these 5 ways to have a zero waste holiday season? How are you celebrating this year?

For more holiday tips, check out how to have a zero waste Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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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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