How to Have a Zero Waste Christmas

If you’re already trying to reduce your waste at home, odds are Christmas is already causing somewhat of a heart attack.

It’s no secret that the holidays are the most wasteful time of the year in America. In fact, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the period between Thanksgiving and New Years than any other time of year. That percentage amounts to an extra 1 million tons or so every single week. That’s insane!

Here’s how our friends at Stanford put it:

“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. 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.”

How’s that for a picture of wastefulness!

Now, I’m not here to shame anyone into creating less garbage. But I am here to answer your questions. So here are my top tips for a Zero Waste Christmas in FAQ form:

Q: How can I reduce my trash output but still get great gifts for my friends and family?

Gift-giving is a tradition that has become deeply engrained in American society. As soon as we cross over the threshold from summer to fall (before we’ve even finished Halloween), holiday displays start popping up everywhere, eager to get you to buy, buy, buy.

With these excessive gifts comes excessive waste and a feeling that “nothing is every enough.” But I promise you, there’s a better way.

Gifts are a wonderful way to show someone that you love them. They’re an opportunity to say, “I know you. I know this will make you smile.” So look for alternative ways to make someone feel treasured that don’t involve layer upon layer of plastic, cardboard and twist-ties.

Share experiences! Gift concert tickets or admission to a museum. Cook dinner. Make cookies!

Related: 9 Ways to Give the Gift of Experience

How to Have a Zero Waste Christmas

Q: Are experiences really fun to receive? I feel like people want something tangible.

Absolutely! Experiences studying the difference between material and experiential gift-giving revealed that experiential gifts actually make people happier. They produce feelings of mutual understanding and closeness and improve relationships between gift-givers and recipients.

People enjoy receiving experiences because they’re personal and forever-remembered.

Q: Do you have any alternative ideas for wrapping gifts? I’m tired of throwing away so much wrapping paper.

There are all sorts of ways to reduce garbage from wrapping paper. Buy reusable gift boxes this year or invest in a few cloth wrapping bags. Or skip wrapping all together and do the behind-the-back ‘ta-da!’ thing.

Decades ago, my great-grandmother sewed several large wrapping bags in festive, holiday fabrics. We still use them to this day!

If you just can’t let go of the wrapping paper idea, opt for butcher papers that can be recycled or reused after opening. Tie it up with compostable string like twine and nestle a sweet little 12evergreen bough within the bow. It’s a classy and eco-friendly way to wrap your gifts.

Related: Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping: Furoshiki

How to Have a Zero Waste Christmas (2)

Q: Do you have any suggestions for businesses I can support during the holidays?

I am a huge fan of supporting local or homemade businesses during the holidays. It’s a wonderful opportunity to invest in small businesses that matter to your community, plus you have the added benefit of skipping all the hassle and waste of shipping cross-country.

Look for local artisans who have something really lovely and unique to offer – pottery-makers, crochet-masters, artists.

Q: What about Christmas decorations?

Decorating for the holiday season is one of my favorite things! But as an advocate for creating less waste I’ve had to make a few adjustments to my routine.

You don’t need to forgo decorating to reduce your trash output; just put on your intentionality and look for opportunities to make a difference. In our home, my husband and I have only purchased package-free, high-quality ornaments that we know will last us for decades to come. Everything else is all-natural!

How to Have a Zero Waste Christmas (1)

Q: I’d like to cut trash and cut costs at the same time. Do you have any tips?

It’s a myth that to have a great Christmas you need to spend mega bucks. I mean that! Turn off the habit that says you need to “go all out” and go into debt to create enjoyable Christmas for yourself and your family.

Focus on relationships and immaterial things – beautiful holiday music, snuggles by the fire, hot cocoa. Participate in your community. Attend Christmas concerts put on by local choirs. Host a dinner party. Make memories. You’ll feel better for it!

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410 comments

Louise A
Louise A15 hours ago

thank you

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Anne F
Anne F3 days ago

Thanks for the encouragement of discarding bows and ribbons (I don't do fancy packages, especially because almost all of them get mailed)

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Sophie M
Sophie M3 days ago

Thanks for this

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara4 days ago

Three ads for sex articles under this article.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara4 days ago

We would send more e-cards but some people don't get them - especially not Care2 ones - due to ad blockers.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara4 days ago

We send very few cards any more and mainly it's because of the cost of postage. Sadly the charities we bought the cards from are suffering.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara4 days ago

Agree completely that you don't need to spend a lot or give rubbish packaging. Give books. Give packs of coffee. Give wine. Give plants. Give jars of artisan foods. Put them in a gift bag which can be re-used. Buy a re-usable cloth bag as a wrap.

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R5 days ago

Good reminders... thank you for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M5 days ago

noted

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Amanda M
Amanda M5 days ago

thanks for sharing

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