All You Need to Know About Having a Zero Waste Christmas | As we get older, we tend to relate more to the Grinch. We lose that holiday magic and get consumed by the obligations that the holidays come with.
I again am already feeling the pressure to spend a BUNCH of money to get that perfect gift for everyone in my life, deck my halls to resemble the Instagram worthy masterpieces that are circulating the web-o-sphere, and prepare mountains of food and sweets.
It’s all just too much, especially in 2020. Y’all, my tank is on E. I’m really hoping the principles of zero waste can save Christmas.
Zero waste does more than simplifying Christmas, it helps reduce the impact of the holiday season.
The holiday season comes at a cost. Between Thanksgiving and New Years’, Americans toss an additional 25% more trash than normal.
- 38,000 miles of ribbon.
- 2.65 billion Christmas cards
- 20+ million Christmas trees
- 2.3 million lbs of wrapping paper
All You Need to Know About Having a Zero Waste Christmas
Disclosure: Posts on this site may contain affiliate links. At no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of those links. Those commissions help support my work, so thank you!
It’s great that you are ready to take steps to reduce your overall impact. In my opinion, implementing changes during the holidays is the perfect time to get started.
Implementing Zero Waste practices at Christmas always leads to broader conversations with your friends and family about the importance to focus on the true meaning rather than over-consumption.
Follow my guide and I guarantee you’ll be able to reduce by quite a lot.
It’s not possible for me to skip holiday decorating. Especially as a mother, I feel the weight of ensuring Christmas is magical is my responsibility somehow. That’s sounds, complain-y – I do enjoy it. Especially the projects that require more than just my input and effort.
I try to stick with decor that is all-natural first. Things that come from the earth.
- Real evergreen garland – they’re pretty simple to DIY.
- DIY Citrus Garland – is a must every holiday for me
- Pine limbs in vases around the house
And of course, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without something homemade.
- How to Make a Popcorn Garland
- Zero Waste Baked Clay Ornaments
- Homemade Gingerbread houses
- Paper stars or chains
I also have many items I use that I found secondhand at my local thrift stores. I have scored SO many amazing things like my $15 white tree I’ve wanted for a very long time. It pays to wait.
The simple rule to follow when keeping decor zero waste is to avoid buying new if you can.
New items demand the use of unnecessary resources and consumption is the ultimate culprit of our devastating damage on our planet. We have to stop buying crap we don’t need.
Secondly, try to keep the packaging in mind when buying the food components of decor. More on that topic below:
Related: How to Buy Groceries Zero Waste
A Zero Waste Christmas Tree
Real versus fake – the ever-constant debate on which is more eco-friendly. It’s a trick question though because the most eco-friendly choice is no tree at all.
- Decorate a houseplant
- DIY a minimalist wall tree
- Decorate a tree outside
- Get creative
Rethink what a Christmas tree is and what it could be. It can be whatever you want it to be.
I’m definitely on team traditional tree so let’s chat about what is better between a real and fake tree. Fake trees can be used for many, many years, and real trees get chopped down, so it might at first seem like a fake is THE way to go. Not so fast.
Why real trees are better…
Christmas tree farms are just that, farms. Every year tree farms plant and replant trees to accommodate demand. We aren’t laying waste to old-growth tree forests. And yes, of course, tree farming uses water and other resources to replenish.
Other than that, if you support a local tree farm, that would be my primary recommendation on acquiring a tree unless you have the ability to get a living tree in a pot that can be planted after use.
I have WAY more examples and suggestions below in this post:
Related: 6 Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree Options
Now – real trees can become unsustainable real quick if you don’t take ownership of what happens to them after the holidays and please for the love of all that is earthly – DO NOT FLOCK YOUR TREES. That’s plastic.
Many cities do tree removal surfaces that will chip trees and use them for park or trail maintenance. Conservation departments will also accept tree donations to use as an animal habitat.
More on that here: 8 Ways to Recycle Your Real and Fake Christmas Trees
Ok, now fake trees. And before you come at me, yes I have an artificial tree. Why it’s a “more sustainable” option is because I purchased it secondhand. I plan to use this tree for a very long time and am taking full responsibility for what happens to it after it’s worn out.
Buying a new artificial tree is probably the least sustainable choice you could make. Just try not to.
Zero Waste Christmas Gifts
I’m not going to get into a whole list of ideas on what you should gift your friends and family in this post since I have so many posts dedicated to that:
Related: 101 Zero Waste Gift Ideas
Related: 50 Zero Waste Stocking Stuffer Ideas
Related: Zero Waste Gift Ideas for Men
Related: Zero Waste Gift Ideas for Kids
I will say there is a thing. Avoid unnecessary stuff if you can. Choose experiences over stuff that sits and ends up cluttering up your life.
Consumable gifts are another great idea when it comes to reducing waste. Cookies, candy, pies, homemade beauty products, candles, and other items that get “used up” are perfect low waste ideas.
If you are choosing a physical item, choose secondhand or buy from a local shop first before buying something new from a big-box retailer.
Our gifts have a lot of impacts and sadly, many of the gifts we get others’ go unused, returned, and trashed.
Most Americans (77%) said they expect to return at least some of the gifts they received during the holiday season which equates to about $90 billion worth of merchandise. And returning gifts may seem innocent enough except that very few of those gifts actually make it back to store shelves.
Returning an item increases the overall impact by an item by so much more so bottom line, gift something to someone that makes. When in doubt, keep it simple.
And for a little more advice on what to do with unwanted gifts, check out this post:
Related: What To Do with Holiday Waste (and unwanted gifts)
And now we have to chat about…
Zero Waste Holiday Wrapping
Most wrapping paper that is sold in stores isn’t recyclable. That’s because of the shiny, embossed, and glittery elements which all contain some form of plastic. Items that contain more than one type of material are nearly impossible to recycle back to their original elements.
In order to fight our massive trash output, we have to change our perspectives on what’s important. Wrapping paper is NOT IMPORTANT. You do not need it!
In fact, there are many options that unwrap just the same and are still fun.
- Reused shipping papers
- Magazine pages
- Reusable cloth gift bags
- Cloth scraps
- tea towels
- Wax wraps
- Reusable gift boxes
- Gift tins
Or literally anything you can reuse.
Once the gift is unwrapped, take the cloth back. For gifts I don’t plan on getting the wrapping back, I wrap with newspaper, shipping papers, or a Christmas tin I hope gets reused.
Zero Waste Holiday Food
Food always creates a bunch of waste so it’s probably best to focus on simplicity. Of course, there’s a lot of foods that must grace your table this year out of tradition and that’s fine! Just look for opportunities to reduce such as:
- Steering clear of prepackaged, prepared foods. Lots of plastic waste. Keep foods simple.
- Try plant-icizing some of your traditional favorites. Reducing the meat and dairy during the holiday meals can reduce the impact of the food overall.
- Use reusable bakeware, plates, cutlery, and napkins. Christmas is a fancy occasion and should be treated as such with reusables. If you don’t have the bandwidth, get the family involved with cooking and clean up. Christmas should not fall on one person’s shoulders, ever. Not much of a fun experience if that’s the case.
- Look for ingredients that come in no packaging or plastic-free packaging. If you are choosing between plastic or cardboard, choose the cardboard and compost afterward.
- Work to avoid food waste at all steps in preparation and consumption. Set up composting stations and ensure that leftovers are properly stores or frozen afterward.
- Recycle everything that you couldn’t avoid.
Related: 6 Ways to Reduce Food Waste