Christmas is around the corner and we all know it is a season of all kinds of merriment. From spending time with family to receiving thoughtful gifts and eating lots of delicious food, Christmas brings enormous joy to so many. Sadly though, this joy seems to be matched only by the degree of waste we generate in the course of our festivities. In fact, according to a 2016 report by Environmental Protection Agency, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generated an additional one million tons of household waste.
But it is possible to fully enjoy the upcoming festive season while still showing our environment a little bit of kindness. Here’s how to host a zero-waste Christmas celebration this year:
1. Plan ahead
Christmas is a season of immense joy, but it is also wrought with intense pressure and stress. One minute, it can seem like you have time to get everything sorted out and the next thing you know, you’re doing last-minute Christmas shopping to make sure you’ve got enough food and have bought gifts for all your guests. At such times, convenience becomes priority and any thoughts you had about a zero-waste and plastic-free Christmas will have to wait for yet another year.
So the trick is to plan and prepare ahead. Here are some questions to help you plan:
- Will you be hosting Christmas lunch or the entire day?
- Where will you be having Christmas? At home, at a local park, away camping or at a restaurant? Start booking if you are going to celebrate away from home.
- Will you be putting up a Christmas tree and decorations? What kind of Christmas tree will you put up? Will you just put a tree in a pot and decorate, use the plastic one you’ve saved from last year or will you buy a fresh one? Where will you source decorations? Thrift stores or will you make them?
- Who will you invite/who will attend? What are their dietary requirements?
- Will you be cooking for everyone or requiring everyone to bring a dish?
- Will there be kids attending and how will you entertain them for the day?
Now make a list of the things that you will need to buy, make or borrow and start ticking stuff off of your list early. For instance, you can start purchasing non-perishables you’d need for the festivities now because that way, you’ll have time to gradually implement your sustainable plans as you progress towards Christmas day.
So go right ahead and order those compostable food wrappers, purchase canned food, seek out eco-friendly Christmas decorations and start buying those sustainable gifts. Don’t wait until the very last minute so you don’t compromise your zero waste mission.
2. Boycott physical gifts if you can
Now this may be uncomfortable for some, but please hear me out. Christmas is the time of love and sharing and all kinds of memorable family moments but over the years, we have unfortunately made the season synonymous with gift buying. The situation is such that this year, industry experts expect the average American to spend $920 per person on holiday gifts, up from $885 in 2018 to reach a total of more than $1 trillion in holiday spending. Crazy right?
For this festive season, you can avoid the hyper commercialization of Christmas by investing in gifts that encourage shared experiences with your loved ones instead. This can range from dining out with your loved ones or doing something fun together, like skydiving (don’t forget to offset!), taking a wild trip together or attending an art exhibition or concert. Stuck on ideas? This curated list of thoughtful gifts that focus on experiences rather than things may help.
3. Gift sustainably if you must
It’s fine if you really want to get Christmas presents for a few people in your life but the key here is to pay attention to what kind of gifts you buy. We suggest you buy eco-friendly and durable and quality items, items that they either really want and will cherish, or something you know they need. This will invariably guarantee that they’ll be in use all year long and won’t be chucked out or donated to charity come the new year. This Zero Waste Gift Guide may be a good place for you to start.
A suitable alternative to buying gifts could be making them yourself. It’s not that hard once you know how. This list of DIY Christmas gifts we put together may inspire your creativity, or check out Pinterest as it offers a gazillion number of gift ideas you can safely make from the comfort of your home.
Handmade gifts take some time to produce, but receivers are sure to appreciate your thoughtfulness and efforts. To make it even more memorable, you can also choose to make the items together if you’re not worried about ruining the ‘surprise’ factor.
4. Cook mindfully
Christmas is a time of cooking and feasting. Sadly, a lot of leftovers end up in waste bins. If Christmas in your part of the world is anything like mine, visitors stream in all holiday round. The problem is that you never quite know exactly who is coming and when they are coming. So, as a result, many families tend to cook excessively. The best way to combat this is to cook with precision and this requires planning.
In your invites, you could request that friends and family indicate what they would like to eat and how many people they’re looking to bring along. You could also start making plans for your Christmas leftovers within the next few days or weeks. An option here could be sharing your excess meals with some neighbors but it’s also great if you choose to send them to the local food bank instead. The important thing is that you have this outlined earlier on so that you won’t simply toss them in your garbage during the festivities; food waste contributes greatly to global greenhouse gas emissions so avoid it at all costs.
One final point: Where possible, source locally-grown organic and chemical-free produce, free-range eggs, and sustainably-farmed seafood and meat (for guests who aren’t vegan). This will ensure that your Christmas carbon footprint will be as minimal and green as possible.
5. Offset your travel
In my opinion, Christmas is best spent with family. Oftentimes, that means a lot of travel. Flying as we know is not great for the environment so if you must take a flight, make the effort to offset your carbon footprint. Many airlines offer easy to access carbon offset plans; the option to offset usually comes up on the screen when booking your flights online. In some cases though, you will have to figure it out for yourself which can be tricky. Read this article as it guides you through it.
6. Ditch plastic
From confetti to wrapping paper, there is no greater single-use plastic bonanza than Christmas time in my opinion. So, if you are aiming for a waste-free Christmas, you will definitely have to do away with the single-use plastic. So, here are a few pointers.
- Make your decorations plastic-free – This is actually easier than it sounds. A shortcut is to use as many plants as possible in your decorations. They automatically add a festive look to your home (think the natural Christmas tree but more). Don’t forget the box of old decorations that every family has locked in a box somewhere. Pull them out, clean them and you are good to go.
- Wrap your presents in a greener manner – You can do this by making the wrapper part of the gift. For instance, putting your gift in a cotton tote ensures that the receiver will definitely reuse the tote. You can also try recycling material like newspapers which make good wrappers. Read our article 3 Eco-Conscious Ways To Wrap Gifts This Christmas as it offers up some great tips.
- Use reusable containers – There are going to be leftovers and you’re going to pack up that delicious meal for guests when they are leaving. Invest in Tupperware or other reusable containers which are easy to wash and are much more planet-friendly than disposable plates and cutlery. Check out this zero waste list for items you might need for the day.
- Cook plant-based – When it comes to food, most plastic is used in packaging processed food. Cooking with plants often means cooking fresh and green. By shopping at your local farmers’ market or the organic produce aisle at your supermarket and bringing your own reusable bags, you can drastically reduce plastic waste. For seeds, nuts and other nibbles, try sourcing from a nearby bulk food store – just don’t forget to bring your own containers!
Check out our comprehensive two-part guide to a plastic-free Christmas for more ideas.
Finally, remember that as far as the Christmas season goes, all the foregoing are the means to an end. As long as you remember that the point is a warmed heart and a deep sense of generosity, whether you implement one of these zero waste tips, or all of them, we’re sure your family and friends and the planet will love you for trying.
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Feature image by Jasmin Schuler /Unsplash.