The holiday season, it’s practically unavoidable. No matter your creed, you’re probably going to be making merry, going to or hosting a party, and giving gifts — especially if you’re in the US where Christmas and the shopping frenzy that precedes it are a way of life, as I recently wrote. So, can you have a plastic-free Christmas? Yes, with two important stipulations:
1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. What I mean is that you will likely need to get one or two packaged items and that’s OK. Going plastic free is a process, not a goal.
2. Give yourself time to do the plastic-free alternatives. Decorating, cooking, and wrapping can all be done without plastic, but you’ll need to budget your time to make things from scratch. It will be a rewarding process, but you’ll feel yourself want to reach for the tinsel or packaged party platter if you’re short on time.
The three defining features of the holiday season are parties, decorations, and gift giving, so instead of writing a list of quick tips, I’ve broken my thoughts into those categories over a two-part articae series.
1. Plastic-Free Holiday Parties
I love hosting people at my apartment, and while I don’t have room for a big blowout, cooking and making good drinks are just such a pleasure. I love the feeling of making something that makes others happy. Whether you’re hosting or attending a holiday party, you’ll likely need to make or bring some kind of food or drink. Let’s talk plastic-free cooking.
One of the most important ways to go plastic free in the kitchen is to make things from scratch and make vegetarian or vegan meals. Not only is going meatless a great way to reduce your environmental impact in other ways, but it’s often packaged in plastic for health and safety reasons. You might find a butcher that uses paper, but it’s unlikely that your municipality will accept paper tainted with raw meat juice, and you might end up getting an entire batch of recycling thrown away with your contaminated waste.
Furthermore, most other food that comes in plastic is processed, meaning it’s not fresh, likely has some kind of preservative, and simply won’t taste as good as high-quality fresh ingredients. I’m currently not-quite-vegan since I eat eggs but neither meat nor cheese (as I said, small manageable steps!) and some of my favorite dishes are cheap, plastic-free, and crowd pleasers.
For a holiday party, might I suggest a spicy Thai slaw with green cabbage, red radish, hot peppers, and coconut milk? All these things, save the coconut milk, can be easily found in a farmer’s market or grocery unpackaged and you get the added bonus of looking like you put effort into making a red and green dish.
For the coconut milk, you’ll likely have to resort to using a can. Also, if you’re anything like me you never go through your bananas before they start going off. So, just freeze the nearly-too-ripe fruit and combine them with cherries, oat milk (the superior non-milk milk in my opinion), and a touch of sugar in a food processor to make a frozen dessert.
Drinks are easy to make plastic free. I highly recommend getting a SodaStream if you like bubbly drinks. Both my boyfriend and I have one, and they are so convenient. Not only do they save us from getting wasteful and expensive canned seltzer, but our supplies are truly unlimited. You won’t have to worry about having enough for your party. For fancy virgin drinks, I usually mix half a glass with fully fizzed seltzer and combine with juice. I’m also lucky enough to live near some great local D.C. distilleries, so I’d grab some Green Hat Gin or Rodham Rye from Republic Restorative Distillery. If you’re also lucky enough to live near some small batch distilleries or breweries, they’re simply a better option both sustainably (locally made, no shipping) and ethically (supports the local economy, made in ethical conditions).
2. Plastic-Free Holiday Decor
The secret to a beautiful plastic-free home is.. lots of plants. Plants of all kinds, dead, alive, somewhere in between, they’re all useful.
First, let’s talk about Christmas trees, if you put one up. Last year, I weighed the options for what is truly the most sustainable sort of tree, and the answer really depends on your lifestyle and what you have access to. After you decide which avenue is best for you, finding plastic-free decorations is actually quite easy. The easiest way is to already have a box full of old ornaments, like my family breaks out each year, but that’s not an option for everyone, and some people prefer not to opt for a crazy melange of different sizes and styles of ornaments accumulated over decades. I’d highly recommend checking your local thrift store for great vintage orbs and bows, because people are constantly downsizing or updating their decorations. You could also DIY some ornaments, like these German-style paper stars. Whatever you do, just don’t buy new ornaments that come heavily packaged to keep them from breaking. Convenient, yes, but sustainable, no.
What about the rest of your house? Well, you can use birch branches, evergreen sprigs, and dried flowers to adorn your walls and halls. These are great because they’re compostable if you can’t save them, and can be found pretty much anywhere. I love having fresh flowers in my home, and once they start to wilt, I hang them upside down in a dark, dry closet and then make dried bouquets and garlands for gifts or as decoration. My boyfriend is a sustainable woodworker, so I’m a little spoiled in access to supplies, but making wreaths is as easy as glueing or tying sprigs of greenery together. You can collect windfall, the sticks and twigs that naturally come off trees, from almost anywhere coniferous trees are found. Again, you can compost them when you’re done (as long as you didn’t use toxic glue), because evergreen needles will drop when the twig becomes too dry.
Finally, you can foster some live plants to either keep long term or plant in the ground when your holiday festivities are over. Everyone loves Poinsettias for Christmas, but remember that they’re a tropical plant. That means they shouldn’t be outside too long or at all and need quite a bit of light. I also love Christmas Cactuses, a succulent, because they’re easier to care for and don’t need too much water. Norfolk Island Pines are another excellent choice because they look like mini Christmas trees but aren’t actually pines. They make great year-round houseplants, or can be planted in your yard if you live in a warm climate; they’re also tropical and can’t tolerate temperatures approaching 32°F.
As far as non-compostable items, I’m a sucker for the classics. I love using a thick, velvet red ribbon on nearly everything, which can be used year after year. You can also use burlap as a surprisingly nice fabric for ribbons and bows. I’ve collected some by going to independent coffee shops and asking if they have the bags the beans came in, saving them from a landfill, but you can also find used ones for sale online. You could also make garlands of dried fruit, but that’s a hazard if you have any pets or children in your home — they will find it and they will eat it.
Whether you compost them, save them, or keep them, any of natural or vintage decorations can create a fantasy-like setting reminiscent of Christmasses of yore.
You’ve just finished reading Part I of this two-part series on celebrating a plastic-free Christmas. Read part II here.
- The Anti-Consumerist Guide to Christmas Gift Giving
- 100 Ethical, Eco-Friendly and Zero Waste Gift Ideas For Birthdays and Christmas
- 15 Cruelty-Free and Vegan Xmas Gifts For Eco Beauty Lovers
- Zero Waste Christmas Gift Guide
- 3 Eco-Conscious Ways to Wrap Gifts This Christmas
- 10 Affordable Eco-Friendly and Ethical Underwear Brands For Women and Men (USD $29 or Less)