Guide to a Low Waste Christmas: How to make the holiday season more planet friendly

Although the Christmas season may be classed as the most wonderful time of the year, it can also be an incredibly wasteful time of year too.

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Trying to make the holiday period more eco friendly can not only make it a more fun and enjoyable time of year, but it also helps the environment as we will be sending a lot less items to landfill.

The first thing that usually comes to mind when thinking about a low waste Christmas is the amount of wrapping and packaging, but there are many different wasteful factors, such as trees or food waste too.


I’ve tried to come up with a collected guide, regardless of if you’re new or well versed in living low waste, and hopefully it can give you some new ideas for the upcoming holiday season.

Decor

As the holiday season comes around, the first thing you want to do is start decorating not only your tree, but your home too. Each year, most households will spend hundreds of pounds (or dollars) on brand-new decorations, meaning that they tend to throw out all of their previous decor items too. Not only is this incredibly wasteful physically, but it’s also wastes a lot of money that could be spent on something more valuable.

One alternative when it comes to decor is looking for items second hand – there are so many different online sites, including Facebook groups for your local area, and local thrift stores or charity shops to check out too. You can find all sorts of holiday decor second hand, and if there’s any old decor you don’t want anymore, try and resell or donate that too!

Christmas trees

When it comes to Christmas trees, they’re a lot more wasteful than you would originally think. There are a few different options to consider to try, especially since buying neither a live tree or a fake tree is particularly sustainable.

Of course you might automatically assume that a real tree would be more sustainable since it is of course just a tree, but if your tree ends up going to landfill at the end of the holiday period, then it will create methane gas and actually contribute to global warming! If you cannot rent or return your tree, make sure you compost it, or try and buy a tree you can have in your house all year round!

Renting or buying trees with a return scheme – If you prefer buying a live tree each year, it might be a good idea to see if there are any options in your area that allows you to rent a tree, which means that they usually get sent back to their farm and replanted.

Renting tree’s can be a great activity as you can pick out your own tree, and sometimes people even get the same ones the following years to see how they grow! Alternatively, you could see if any of the local tree farms near you will take back your tree for composting.

Second hand and reusing – If a plastic/fake tree is more your style, the most sustainable option for this is to either reuse ones from previous years, or to buy a secondhand tree if you don’t already own one. Faux Christmas trees cannot be recycled as they are made of a mix of materials and plastics, so you want to make sure that you’re using them for at least 10 years before replacing them. Although they aren’t the best idea to buy brand new, if you have to get one, buying secondhand is your best option.

Compostable and sustainable decorations

When it comes to buying decorations and ornament, for your tree or house, it’s always a good idea to see what you already own.

I find the best kind of decorations are ones I’ve collected over the years, old ones passed down from family, or seeing what I can find secondhand too. Finding decorations that are not only unique to you, but will also be durable for years to come, is a great tradition as well as an eco friendly practice.

Reusing festive decor around your house is a great way to reduce waste, especially when it comes to things like lights. If you don’t already have a set of Christmas lights, getting a set of LED lights is probably the best option, as not only are they more durable, but they also use less energy (LED lights don’t tend to make as much heat as cheaper lights would, meaning they’re less likely to blow fuses or the glass).

If you want to go for a more natural approach to festive decor, then you could always start by collecting some foliage from your local area – such as pine cones, holly, fallen coloured leaves, or acorns. You could also spend some time making some garlands out of either dried orange slices or popcorn!

When it comes to getting new decorations, try and find either small businesses to buy from or try and make your own. My favourite ones to buy are made of recyclable or natural materials like glass or wood, but I also have some homemade ones made with felt or crochet!

Reusable crackers and napkins

One thing that brings together the Christmas meal is the accessories for the table. If you live in the UK like me, then you’ll know that Christmas isn’t the same without crackers, but they’re incredibly wasteful as usually they can’t be recycled (especially if they’re shiny or metallic) and come with little “gifts” that usually go straight in the trash.

Reusable crackers are becoming more popular, and you can get all sorts of fabric ones pre-made on etsy, or you can always make them yourself! On top of that, you can also either buy or make your own hats to go inside the cracker, which you can continue to reuse!

Another great idea to get reusables for is napkins. For some reason it has become popular to buy disposable, single use napkins whenever there’s some kind of party – now just think about how many of these get used and wasted per household per year! Getting some or making your own reusable napkins is a great idea, and of course natural materials like cotton or linen is best as they won’t produce micro plastics. You could always get some plain or block coloured napkins too, which you could reuse all year rather than just for the holiday period.

Reusable advent calendars and Christmas stockings

Just like with the napkins and crackers, advent calendars and stocking are an essential part of Christmas. Advent calendars alone create so much waste, especially is not recycled properly, and being able to have a reusable calendar that you can bring out each year is a great way to make it into a tradition!

Making your own advent calendar can be as simple or busy as you like, you can make it where it’s either got sweet treats for each day, or maybe you have it where each day you get a small gift of something you/your partner/family member needs. Making advent calendars with your partner for each other could be a really cute way to spend the holidays, or you could both collaborate on a calendar together.

Another great piece of decor I love to reuse each year is my stocking. I’ve had the same one for at least 10 years now that my mum made for me when I was a kid, which I absolutely love to hang up each year. Reusing the same stocking each year, and mending it when it needs it, is a great way save money and keep as a sentimental item – you could even pass them down in the future.

If you don’t have the time or budget for a reusable advent calendar, I’ve created a list of different low waste and/or vegan (apart from the pet ones!). Obviously these won’t all be plastic free, so just make sure you recycle them once you’re done.

Presents

When it comes to gifting, it can be hard to figure out what to get other people or for yourself, but trying to think about it with conscious mindset is a good way to getting started. Whenever the holiday period comes around, try and decide who you specifically want to buy for – maybe this year just get presents for those really close friends with something special, rather than lots of tacky or breakable things so you can afford to gift all your friends.

Gifts

When it comes to finding the perfect gift for the people you love, try and take your time with it so you can get something you know will last and they’ll love.

When you’ve decided who you’re gifting this year, ask each of these people for a list – you can even give them one for you in return. Giving each other lists of what they really want or need is a great way to get something more valuable or personal to each person, but in the long run it’ll create less waste because you know that it’s something they truly want. You could also set price limits for each person, so that way you won’t over spend or get something just because.

I’ve made a sustainable gift guide if you’re struggling on what to get people this year, so that could give you some ideas!

Cards

When it comes to sending cards, I think it’s a good idea to be considerate in who you specifically want to send them to, so making a list of everyone you’re mailing this year is a good start. It’s estimated around a billion Christmas cards get sent every year in the UK alone, and the majority of these cannot be recycled due to being made of mixed materials – this could be glitter, metallic coating on the paper, or even little ornaments such as plastic gems or bows.

So once you’ve decided on your list of recipients, it’s time to decide what kind of card you want to send. One idea is to send ecards, which obviously don’t use any physical resources to send, but might be a little hard to send to any people if they don’t have any online access. Another ideas is that you could send recyclable cards or even make your own! There are loads of card that are available now that are not only completely recyclable and plastic free, but are made of recycled materials too. If you wanted to make it more personal, homemade cards are always a fun activity, especially if you have kids too.

If you have any left over cards from previous years, you could also make these into gift tags before recycling them, which not only extends their life but also saves a few pennies!

Wrapping paper and tape

Along with cards, wrapping paper is incredibly wasteful and a lot of the time isn’t recyclable. A lot of wrapping paper can be plastic coated, metallic, or covered in glitter, which means it’s a mixed material and cannot be recycled.

There are a few different alternatives you can use for wrapping paper. If you’d still prefer actual paper, you can now get more kinds that are recyclable, or you could use newspapers or brown craft paper. Another idea if reusing gift bags that you have lying about. My family has reused the same gift bags for at least 5 years now, but they usually can’t be recycled once worn out, so I would suggest not buying new ones.
If you want to try and go zero waste with wrapping, you could try and wrap it with another gift. You could either use fabric bags or maybe a tea towel and let them have it as another gift.

In case you need more gift wrapping ideas for your presents, make sure you check out my full guide on low waste gift wrap alternatives!

Another thing that we buy a lot when it comes to wrapping presents is tape. If you’re going for the option of paper still, I would suggest getting paper tape, as this can still be recycled and doesn’t add any unnecessary plastic.

Stocking stuffers

When it comes to getting gifts for stockings, try and make sure that you’re not getting stuff “just because” or that isn’t particularly durable. As with any gift, you want to make sure that the things you put inside stocking as going to be useful and loved.

Here’s a small list of ideas of low waste stocking stuffers (or you can check out my gift guide for any other ideas):

  • Metal straws
  • Recycled newspaper pencils
  • Mini toiletries – I have a list of eco friendly toiletries here
  • Package free bath bombs
  • Recycled notebooks
  • Wax wraps
  • Socks – bamboo or cotton ones are best
  • Oranges

Food

Food can be more wasteful than you’d expect, especially around the holiday period. With thousands of turkeys bought each year, as well as the amount of resources it takes to grow and manufacture all the different trimmings, a huge portion of all this ultimately ends up in the bin as many people tend to buy and cook too much food each year. As well as the initial food waste that happens at Christmas, a lot of food is also packaged in either plastic or mixed materials, which a lot of the time also end up straight to landfill.

Treats

Of course when it comes to the festive season, everyone loves to have a treat every now and then. Obviously a lot of these aren’t packaged in sustainable packaging, let alone recyclable. When going out to buy treats, see if you can find some that come in either paper or glass – you can save foil from pies and chocolate to recycle too.

When buying treats, try and also think about quality over quantity. It’s usually better to buy a small amount of something that’s either local, fair trade, or sustainable, rather than too much of cheaper produce, especially if you don’t end up eating them all.

Be considerate on what you’re buying

When you start to buy the food for Christmas, try and have a conscious mindset about what you’re buying and where it’s come from. As with treats, try buying higher quality food in smaller quantities (and preferably local) over buying too much food because it’s cheap for it only to be thrown out later on.

Whenever it comes to food over the holidays, people always have a tendency to buy too much, resulting in a lot of produce going off and thrown away. Before starting your shopping for the big day, try and make a list of what food you want to get, how many you’re serving for, and what people will and won’t eat. This way, trying to plan out what food you need, not only will you save yourself money, but you’ll have less food going to waste overall.

Composting

Of course with Christmas, a lot of the time many veggies are used in the big meal. If you have a compost bin or have access to one, collecting up your scraps from veggie peelings and any other food items that are compostable (always check first!) is a great way to not only reduce your waste, but composting also means that food can be broken down properly without giving off methane gas.

If you have a food waste collection bin, make sure you check what you’re allowed to put in there, but often you’ll be able to put in meat scraps or egg shells (again, check first!! Some councils have different rules depending on where you live) as they have a more industrial sized composting facility.

If you want to learn more about cutting down on food waste, make sure you check out my other post on it!

Traditions

One of my favourite things about the holiday season is the traditions. Having traditions with you family is a great way to spend quality time together and appreciate things too. When having traditions, trying to find ones that are cheap but sustainable is the best idea, but of course reusing means you’re not spending money at all!

Second hand sweaters

Obviously since this is winter, the ideal thing is to stay warm, and having a Christmas sweater is a great way to do this. Of course, the best thing to do is continue to reuse Christmas sweaters you’ve had from previous years, but if you don’t already own one, go for getting one second hand. I would suggest trying to find one that’s made of natural materials like cotton (or wool if you’re not vegan) as this way they won’t produce microplastics.

Movie night

One thing I love to do throughout the whole of winter is having movie nights. I find this a great way to catch up with friends if you’re not a fan of parties, and it’s also great to do if the weather isn’t cooperating with any of your other plans.

Having movie nights is such a fun idea, and you can easily make them more eco friendly. Some great ideas to do is to bake treats with whoever you’re with, get treats from a local bulk store (if that’s available), or you could even make decorations together! Me and my brother would decorate oranges with cloves a lot over the holiday period, so this is always fun to do!

Create simple traditions

Of course if you don’t have many of your own traditions, that doesn’t mean you cant make any! I love having traditions because it’s a great time to bond and also find fun things to do, regardless if you’re on your own or with friends and family!

Here’s a list of some easy traditions you could have this year:

  • Make popcorn or orange garlands
  • Buy handmade or make a new decoration
  • Make snow angels
  • Decorate oranges with cloves
  • Bake cookies or Christmas/Holiday themed treats
  • Decorate gingerbread houses or people
  • Build Christmas Lego sets! – This might be a little specific, but I loved getting winter themed Lego sets and building them on the lead up to Christmas (you could get these secondhand, and have them as a Christmas Eve present)
  • Walking around your town/city and looking at Christmas lights – If you’re in the UK, I would definitely recommend checking out London over the holiday season, but visiting New York City in the winter is also super magical!
  • Visiting local Christmas markets
  • Going for a walk to the beach or countryside
  • Writing/making Christmas cards

This is everything I have, but I’ll be sure to update this in the future! What are some of your favourite thing about the holiday season?

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