Low-Waste Christmas: 3 Ideas For A Happy Holiday

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reducing waste at Christmas
(image: Paul VanDerWerf)

Reducing waste during the Christmas holidays can start with creating memories, not garbage. How much “stuff” do we really need anyway? Try these 3 ideas this season.


Don’t get me wrong—I love Christmas. Every November, I bite my nails in anticipation of the joyous revelry to follow. Christmas pudding. Fresh-baked cookies. Piecaken*. What’s not to love?

(*If you didn’t already know, “piecaken” is a pie baked INSIDE a cake. It’s like the cake version of turducken. But, I digress…) 

Anyways, it concerns me how frivolous the holidays have become. Somewhere along the line, the true meaning of the season got lost. It became about hacking down trees, arguing over meaningless trivia (like why Michael Keaton was the best batman), pulling out our hair over finding that “perfect gift,” and creating a boatload of waste in our tinsel-covered wake.

If you crave something more low-key and waste-free this year, look no further. Here are a few ways to cut down on your waste this holiday season:

1. Gift responsibly

The problem with plastic

The Proclamation of Christmas of 1825 states that “yee shall not purchase gifts packed in plastic clamshells, double-wrapped in plastic wrapping.” (It’s true. Look it up.)

Who said Christmas gifts have to be brand-new? All that extra packaging overwhelms our landfills, and “stuff” doesn’t really enhance our lives much anyways. If you’re skilled in the dark, crafty arts (move aside, Voldemort!), consider making your gifts by hand instead.

Handmade gifts

There’s a certain level of plasma and perspiration that goes into making a gift all by yourself. That extra-special level of thought and care? Well, that usually makes the giftee feel squishy and fuzzy all over.

You could sew a festive pillow, make a sugar scrub in a fancy jar (it’s pretty easy), bar your own soap, or make scented candles in decorative, recycled tea tins. Need more ideas? Check out these great DIY Christmas gift ideas from Country Living.

reducing waste at Christmas
(image: Erika G.)

Service-based gifts

Instead of giving a physical gift, you could purchase a service-based item—like a spa day, a manicure or pedicure, a dinner out, a night on the town, or a full-home cleaning service. Lots of businesses offer e-gift cards, so going paperless is easier than ever.

You could also purchase an online or in-person course, like a jewelry-making class. (Know your audience on this one, since there’s a commitment involved.)

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Someone on Facebook gave her father-in-law an interesting gift: every week for three months, she had fresh, beautifully colored, heritage eggs delivered right to his door. Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving!
  • A friend of mine has a rule for gift-giving in her house: one item to wear, something to do (an “experience” gift), and something to read.
  • In my immediate family, each person chooses a “not-so-secret” Santa, and exchanges gifts with that person.

If gifting ain’t your thang? There’s no shame in opting out of buying gifts entirely, and choosing to spend time with your family instead. At the end of the day, how much more “stuff” do we really need?

2. Buy a living tree

In January, it’s a sad sight to see so many dried-up, tinsel-covered tree corpses on the curb. If a reusable plastic tree isn’t an option, and you’d rather not buy from a tree farm, purchase a potted or living tree instead. Every year, my mom buys a little potted tree that she decorates and replants, come January.

reducing waste at Christmas

To give your living tree a fighting chance, be sure to choose a species that grows in your region. Douglas fir is a good option if you live in the Pacific Northwest, whereas Virginia pine or Eastern red cedar tend to do well south of the Mason-Dixon Line. (Nods to Inhabitat for the tips.)

3. Send eco-friendly greeting cards

In today’s technology-obsessed world, there’s something enchanting about receiving a letter in the mail. But when the party’s over? Most of those cards end up in the trash. (Unless we’re talking about your aunt Hilda, who saves those cards ‘till they turn to dust.) Instead of sending out paper cards, send an e-card instead, or go for a more eco-friendly paper option.

Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home sends out homemade, plant-able envelopes packed with thyme seeds, with a hand-written greeting on the packet. While she still uses envelopes to send out her festive greeting, she cuts her overall paper usage in half with this thoughtful (and clever) idea. To assist with reducing your Christmas waste even further, choose envelopes made from recycled paper.

Any ideas to share?

Reducing waste at Christmas important to you? How do you make the season special without creating more waste? Share your ideas below!

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Tanya Roberts

Tanya Roberts is a writer and marketer who loves to spin stories about interior design and home decor. She is principle strategist at Bluefinch.ca