It’s easy to overdo it during the holidays in a myriad of ways. From getting sucked into a Black Friday “doorbuster” to piling Santa figurines on your mantel, we sometimes go a little crazy.
But a zero waste holiday season is totally doable. In this guide we’ll be going over how to make your space festive without being wasteful, and some tips and tricks to help you navigate the holiday shopping scene.
Keep it simple
Save yourself the post-holiday agony of packing up all your decorations by putting out less this year. Think about which items make the most impact – maybe it’s a special strand of lights you wrap around your stairs or a gorgeous natural wreath for your door. Don’t get sucked into going out and buying new trinkets you truly don’t need (we’re looking at you Target $1 bins).
And go through old decor items you don’t put up anymore and sell or donate them. Don’t hold on to items that are just accumulating dust in your storage closet.
Use natural and organic materials
Use what your mamma gave ya! (mamma earth that is)
If you want to add new decor items into the mix, keep them completely organic and/or natural – think natural fibers like hemp, burlap or 100% organic cotton. And items directly from the earth like tree branches, gourds and pine cones. All of this is totally compostable after.
Get real, fresh branches of pine needles and use metal wire to make a garland around your banister (bonus, it will smell amazing!). Set out small glass jars filled with fresh sticks of cinnamon (that will also smell amazing). Hang fresh mint up for a pseudo “mistletoe” and use the dried mint later for tea. For table scapes, line the center of the table with tealights, seasonal produce and plants. You can even let guests take some home with them as a parting gift.
Basically ask yourself “will I be able to eat this item later, or will it be compostable?” when looking for decor items to add to your place.
Find secondhand decorations
If you do want ornaments, lights, menorahs or anything holiday related that isn’t 100% natural, try finding them secondhand on sites like Craigslist or ebay, at garage sales and secondhand shops.
Put up fewer (or no) twinkle lights
If you live in a home or apartment, you might decorate with lights outside, but what if you skipped them this year? Or got solar powered ones?
By putting up less lights, we doubt your holiday cheer will truly be reduced, but we can guarantee your energy bill will (cha-ching). Holiday lights are beautiful and festive, but also suck up a load of energy. A traditional strand of lights, when lit for 10 hours a day, uses approximately 50 watts of energy – and let’s be honest, who normally puts up just one strand?
Recycle old twinkle lights
We’ve all had half of a perfectly good strand of lights just stop working mysteriously. But don’t throw them away – you can actually recycle twinkle lights!
Stores like Lowes and Home Depot oftentimes offer a twinkle light recycling program during the holiday season, and Holiday LEDs offers a free online twinkle light recycling program if you ship them your old lights.
Opt for real trees
It’s a common misconception that fake Christmas trees are better for the environment because you’re not “killing any trees” by using one. But in reality, fake Christmas trees are made from non- renewable plastics, and the average household gets a new fake tree every 6 to 7 years, sending their old ones to live in a landfill.
Real Christmas trees are a renewable and recyclable resource, and most communities offer a tree recycling program where the materials will oftentimes be turned into mulch for community gardens and parks.
Some places also sell real trees that can be replanted in the ground after the holiday season is over. And real trees absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases and release fresh oxygen into the air. If you have no where to plant it, try donating it to a community garden.
If you currently have a plastic tree that you use, continue to use it. No sense adding something to the waste stream that’s still viable.
If you don’t buy a potted tree, or can’t donate yours, compost it
The great thing about a real tree, it will naturally decompose!
Make sure to take it to an outdoor space where it can do this properly – don’t let it get picked up by the garbage truck. If you don’t have a yard, ask a friend with a big yard, find a local compost site or piece of forest.
You can even give a sweet post-holiday treat to the birds, and a place for them to nest by setting your tree in your yard and spreading some bulk peanut butter on the trunk of the tree and sprinkling it with bulk seed.
Stick to natural handmade candles
Candles are a great way to add warmth and ambiance without sucking up energy or creating waste. If you celebrate Chanukah you’ll also be needing some for your menorah. Search for sustainably-sourced wax. We love these ones.
Wrap fragile items in cloth, your tree skirt or any other soft decor items you might have, or wrap in paper when storing.
Whether you’re headed out to buy the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner, or are looking for the perfect gift for your sister, sit down and make a list ahead of time of what you need and don’t veer from it.
The mix of holiday tunes playing, free samples, major sales and extra fancy displays are all strategically set up to get you to buy more and give in to an impulse – it’s how you end up with 10 bags of marshmallows that were only $1 each but will eventually just go stale in your pantry.
It’s easy to feel impulsive or filled with the need and desire to buy more during the holiday season – heck, it’s fun! But a major key to reducing your waste during this season is avoiding excess.
If you have a strict “stick to the list” rule, you might still get tempted to veer away from it, but you’ll have a guideline as to why you shouldn’t.
Stock up on reusable bags
Reusable bags will become your best friend during the holidays. Keep them stocked in your car or by your door so when you’re heading out to run errands you won’t forget.
Don’t feel the need to accept free gifts with purchase
It’s in our human DNA to love FREE THINGS! How many times have you accepted an ugly, ill-fitting t-shirt with a terrible design on it because “it was free!”?
The thing about a free gift with purchase is that it’s already chosen for you what that free gift will be, and oftentimes it’s not something you wanted or needed in the first place. Here’s a little secret – you don’t have to take the free gift. We know, it’s an odd concept for our consumerism-obsessed society.
But it’s also a great practice to get into to. Saying “no” to something because you realize you don’t need it, or don’t even truly want it. This practice can overflow into other areas of your life as well. Over eating, over drinking, gossiping – what do you get sucked into because it feels normal, but don’t truly need in your life?
Ask for email receipts
Chances are you’ve got a bunch of crumpled up receipts in your wallet or at the bottom of your purse – a waste of ink and paper.
If it’s an option, always opt for an email or text receipt. If you’re someone who doesn’t like giving out your personal information to stores, make a special email address for shopping only. That way all of your receipts are in one place and you avoid getting spammed with too many emails in your normal inbox
Shop Package Free
Shameless plug. But Package Free has got it going on when it comes to holiday gifting. Not only are all the products sustainably made, or made for the purpose of helping you live more sustainably, everything ships zero waste. So you can rest assured that you won’t be dealing with packing peanuts, bubble wrap or unnecessary foam or plastic packing materials.
The holidays are filled with so many opportunities to get trapped into wastefulness, but all it takes is being a conscious consumer to keep your holidays #zerowaste just like the rest of your life.