Zero Waste December
The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, the days are shorter, the nights are colder, lights and decorations are everywhere you go, and everyone is talking about travel and gifts and celebrating. The holiday spirit is in the air.
I love this time of year. The change in the weather, comfort foods, baking, decorating and gathering with friends and family… I look forward to all of it. However, at this time of year we’re also bombarded by ads and marketing and temptation to buy stuff everywhere we look. Create the “perfect” holiday by choosing the “perfect” gift, they tell us. But is it true? Do we really have to buy more things to create a memorable experience?
The National Retail Federation reports that the average American consumer will spend $967 on the holidays this year. That’s just the amount people plan to spend on holiday gifts and décor! Not only do we spend a lot of money on the holidays, but we also produce a lot of garbage. Americans produce 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That’s 1 million tons in just two months!
So, what to do? How can we consume less during the holidays and still celebrate? Well, I can tell you what our family does and maybe some of our ideas will work for you.
Let’s face it. Decorating is a major part of the holiday tradition. There’s a good reason for this, too! As the days get shorter and colder, we crave the comfort and warmth of twinkling lights and beautiful things. It helps us create something positive during what can be a challenging time – and for many it is a very difficult time of year. I fully embrace decorating for the holidays, but have found ways to do it that don’t create waste and still bring us joy.
Use what you already have. You likely have everything you need to decorate for the holidays. In fact, most of us have more than we need! You can probably even downsize. Keep only what you really love and give away the rest.
Bring nature indoors. The most beautiful decorations often come from nature. Pinecones, branches, seasonal produce, spices like cinnamon and anise, nuts, wood, cotton, wool… if you can eat it or compost it, it’s a good choice!
Speaking of nature, if you get a tree, opt for a real tree instead of a fake one. If you already have an artificial tree, go ahead and keep it, but don’t buy a new one. Fake trees are made of plastic, a non-renewable resource, and kept for an average of 7 years, then end up as landfill. Real trees clean the air while they grow and are compostable. Even better is renting a living tree, which can either be returned to the nursery at the end of the season, or planted outdoors. You can even use a potted tree or plant to decorate, or search online for tree-less ideas. There are so many creative ways to make a tree-like decoration using lights, ornaments, even chalk on the wall!
If you still feel like you need something to add to your décor, buy second hand. Antique and thrift stores are great places to start. Craigslist and eBay are perfect if you’re looking for something specific or hard to find.
Cards and Gifts
We used to take a family photo every fall and had beautiful cards made to send to friends and family. It was expensive and time consuming, and people probably displayed them for a few weeks and then threw them away. Now we make a fun video or take a picture and email it to everyone. More people are included this way and there is no waste.
Gifts are practically synonymous with the holidays. But there are lots of gifts that you can feel as good about giving as the recipient will feel about receiving.
Vintage gifts are zero waste, unique and special.
Activities make a wonderful gift. Not only do they bring happiness in the moment they’re given, but they can create memories to share. You can offer to host an activity to do together or give a gift certificate for the recipient to use on their own time.
- Movies, shows
- Museums, zoos, tours
- Restaurants, hotels
- Rock climbing, special events, swimming at a pool, picnic lunch at a special location
- Weekend getaway
Homemade and consumable gifts are always a good choice. We give homemade gifts every year and try to come up with something different each time. Some ideas are homemade jams or preserves, spice mixes, dough ornaments, condiments, infused liquors, candles, frames, body scrub, etc.
If you’re not particularly crafty, visit a store with a bulk department and fill some nice jars with teas, spices, bath salts, or whatever you like.
When it comes down to it, what’s really important is spending time with people we care about. When our family talks about the holidays, the things we remember are the things we do together. Whether it’s going out to look at holiday lights, ice skating, visiting the amazing hotel holiday displays or making a fondue dinner with candles and firelight, the most important thing is the feeling we get from sharing a moment with people we love.