Zero Waste Christmas

Zero Waste Christmas - Gifts, Ideas & Tips for a Plastic-Free Christmas

When the leaves start to turn yellow, and the weather begins to cool it’s the time of the year when we know we’re on the downward slope to Christmas. Or for those of you in the southern hemisphere the BBQs come out and the beach calls. As we approach next Christmas, we may also stop and pause to think that it's been quite an extraordinary year for the planet. So, we’ve prepared this guide full of 21 zero-waste Christmas gift ideas & tips for the season of giving.

Why Zero Waste Christmas?

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In May 2019, a research study calculated that somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million people die each year in the developed world due to diseases resulting from plastic waste1.

Meanwhile, 13 million tons of plastic pollution enter our oceans every year. And global plastic production is set to quadruple by 20502.

This Christmas post a year of lockdowns and as we slowly emerge into a post covid recovery the earth has had a slight reprieve. The OECD reports around a 7% decrease in energy-related emissions due to lesser travel and homeworking. 

Furthermore, many of us have taken the time and reflected on our planetary future. Not least, as the floods, heatwaves, forest fires and more have continued to point to our need to better look after our planet. 

Celebrating without the waste

Yet, the season of giving is also a compelling time to keep the future of the planet top of mind. For without it, we won’t have much cheer, and so this Christmas, our hearts and minds will turn to loved ones, cheer and celebrate what we have.

Therefore, as much as you feel able, we encourage you to shop for a zero-waste Christmas this season. Intentionally choosing gifts and the trimmings of a family celebration this Xmas that isn’t likely to stick around for 100s of years. Christmas also makes for a great time to make eco-friendly and conscious choices. And to start a conversation about what we might also need to give back to the planet, how to reduce waste, and how to protect it for future generations.

Click to Jump to Our Best Zero Waste Christmas Tips, Gifts, and Ideas:

21 Zero-Waste Christmas Tips & Gift Ideas

Or as near-zero waste as we could find. We hope you enjoy our selections!

1. Real Christmas Trees

Real christmas tree plastic free
Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

We can all do our bit to avoid new “virgin plastic” production. Thus for an easy zero waste choice for the ubiquitous Christmas tree centerpiece, choose the eco-friendly type provided by nature.

Rent a Zero-Waste Christmas Tree

Of course, buying a tree and having it take pride and place in the living room over the season still results in waste on the other side. Of course, we all still want to have somewhere to place our gifts wrapped in an eco-friendly way on Christmas eve. 

Even better and more fitting of a zero-waste Christmas, with the advent of the internet, you now can even rent a Christmas tree. A slew of companies now offers to deliver a living tree to your specification, rent it to you over the period, and pick it up at the end of the season.  A quick google search should tell you if you have a Christmas tree rental service close to you.

The advantage here, of course, being that no tree needs to die for Xmas. Many companies will also rent you decorations, meaning you won’t need to worry about buying new to replace last year's tired, lost, or dog-eaten favorites. You can also buy a living potted Christmas tree and plant it in the garden afterward, making for perfect family memories into the new year.

If you already have an artificial tree packed away in the cupboard, don’t discard it. Instead, use it for as long as possible over this and next holiday season, perhaps dressing it up with some zero waste decoration ideas below and complete with eco-friendly gifts underneath.

Buy Natural Otherwise.

Most Christmas trees are grown specifically for this purpose. All they take is the sun, water, and care throughout the year to provide the authentic Christmas tree experience. Further, once real trees have finished taking pride in place amongst our Christmas celebrations, we can easily recycle them. Natural trees, unlike their plastic counterparts, biodegrade naturally.

To make the best choice for the environment, buy a locally produced tree, reducing the carbon footprint required in getting it to you.

If you’re in the UK, choose sustainably grown trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

2. Zero Waste Christmas Tree To Last

Handmade wooden zero waste Christmas tree

Some of you might not fancy a real tree, all those dropped leaves to clean up, and the waste at the end. Or maybe you just don’t have space. These eco-friendly wooden trees make an excellent zero-waste alternative at Christmas. Made from Estonian Birch, they’ll never even require watering.

They’d make for great office trees to bring a zero waste feel into the work environment. And the best thing is that you can use them again and again. 

The seller also promises to plant a real tree for each tree sold.

Shop on Etsy

3. Recycled Christmas Cards

The best holiday cards for the environment and zero-waste are undoubtedly e-cards. These days you can do all sorts of fun things, including adding family photos and videos. Popular e-card companies include Jacquie Lawson and Paperless Post. You’re sure to find one to suit all the family.

For real in the post varieties, choose eco-friendly recycled paper. Not least, many non-recycled holiday cards with a gloss or sheen do include a thin plastic coating. And of course, look out for those that don’t come wrapped in plastic film for less waste.

The cards we’ve featured even come with a gentle nudge to have the recipient consider where their origins are. Printed without cartridges to reduce e-waste in their production and hand-made from recycled cards, they make an excellent choice for envelope stuffers at Christmas.

Not only spreading cheer but also prompting a thought towards our waste and environmental impact on the planet. Attach these recycled cards to eco-friendly wrapping paper, and you’ve got the perfect gift wrap.

Not quite right? Etsy has a fantastic range of eco-friendly Christmas cards for all the family crafted by independent sellers. Click below to have a look:

Recycled Christmas Cards on Etsy

4. Give Memories, Learning And Experiences

Gift experiences outdoors
Photo by Jack Ward on Unsplash

Some of the best zero-waste Christmas gifts are those that keep on giving long after the leftovers have gone. Consider giving experiences that create memories. Many zero waste experiences come in the form of gift cards, so there’ll still be something for the family to unwrap.

For the outdoorsy sort, consider rock climbing, kayaking, or a bushcraft course. Or an outdoors or camping excursion into nature. Music lovers will always appreciate tickets to see their favorite artist in concert. Or gift sports fans tickets to games or a session with a professional on the golf course, tennis court, or football field.

Memberships to knitting clubs, galleries, or museums are all good shouts.

Thinking about the interests of whoever you are giving to, what they enjoy or what they might like to learn. And with a bit of a hunt, find an experience with gift cards they love that creates memories rather than more stuff.

5. Zero Waste Secret Santa

Plastic-free secret Santa
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

An excellent way of reducing waste at Christmas is to go for a zero-waste secret Santa.

For those not familiar with the concept, the basic idea is that you dish out a person in your group to buy for in secret. Popular in the workplace and amongst groups of friends, secret Santa works just as well for family gatherings or guests on the 25th.

If you’re altogether a bit before the big day, you can put all the names in a hat and have everyone select one. Alternatively, someone can allocate them at random via email or WhatsApp. They, of course, might know who is buying for who, but no one else will. And then you simply buy a gift for your allocated person.

Buying for a single person in the group not only makes shopping easier and cheaper, but it also reduces the amount of stuff friends and family buy to give at Christmas.

You can even place a price cap on eco-friendly gifts, say up to $25. Or anything you like really and suits your group. And then, for a low waste Christmas, set some guidelines to ensure everyone participates. E.g., no plastic packaging, sellotape, plastic goods, and toys, etc.

If you set a low price point, you’ll even encourage people to create gifts themselves, such as baking or upcycling things around the home or from second-hand stores.

A zero-waste secret Santa is a brilliant way to get everyone thinking about their consumption, saving a bit of cash all around while still maintaining the warmth and excitement of giving.

6. Choose Zero Waste Gifts

Choose plastic-free gifts for Christmas
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

When giving physical gifts, avoiding plastic, and going for zero waste is not always easy.

When buying clothes as gifts, make sure to look for organic cotton or wool, for example, as even that funky t-shirt is likely to contain plastic if it's blended with acrylic or nylon. 

Toiletries and beauty products can be equally tricky as most come in single-use plastic containers. For inspiration, check out our selection of zero waste gift ideas:

Hopefully, there’s something in there for just about everyone.

7. Zero Waste Wrapping Paper

Most wrapping paper contains plastic. If it’s shiny, that’s the clue that it almost certainly has plastic.

There are several ways that you can avoid plastic when wrapping Xmas gifts for loved ones. Grabbing a roll of natural brown wrapping paper is a perfect alternative. You can jazz it up with potato prints which are easy to make and a perfect craft activity to do with the kids in the run-up to the 25th.

Shop Recycled Wrapping Paper on Amazon

8. Wrap in Reusable Cotton Material

Alternatively, consider 100% cotton Christmas printed fabric. If you cut it carefully, you can reuse it year after year. Wrapping paper never lasted this long!

Shop Wrapping Material on Etsy

9. Use Natural Ribbons

Natural plastic-free Christmas ribbon
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Typically they make colorful Christmas ribbons from PVC or several plastic variants. Whereas we all love a bit of color and shine, another zero-waste tip at Christmas is to choose natural alternatives.

For a Christmas ribbon choice, colorful natural wool is a great option. If you’re inclined, you can even plait it for extra thickness and a more personal touch.

For a more organic look, a natural string can fit the bill for any one of several plastic-free gifts over your choice of eco-friendly wrapping paper.

Colourful natural raffia

For our pick, we’ve chosen natural raffia perfect for gift wrapping. The seller makes this selection from renewable Raffia plants harvested in Madagascar. You can add a little color to any gifts wrapping in bright reds, blues, and yellows and have a zero waste conscience.

Shop on Etsy

10. Bake Your Own Decorations

Bake your own plastic-free Christmas decorations
Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

Nature can also provide us with all we need to decorate the zero waste way at Christmas—thinking about plastic baubles for the tree? Think again.

Consider instead making gingerbread men and icing them up with Christmas colors for a unique take on zero waste decor or gifts. A small hole punched gently in the top as they are cooling and a little natural string and voila - you’ve created your own beautiful and edible tree decorations.

Pop them in gift boxes or wrap them in tissue paper once cool for thoughtful gifts. Furthermore, these make an excellent waste reduction choice of decoration; you’ll just find a few crumbs leftover.

11. Glass Christmas Baubles

Glass Christmas baubles

Ditch the plastic baubles this Christmas with these beautiful hand-painted glass alternatives. As they’re hand-painted, you can even personalize them with the name of a loved one or Christmas message making these perfect zero waste Christmas decorations to gift too. What’s more, avoiding plastic tree decorations will help you reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Shop on Etsy

12. Ethical Candles

Candles can make any festive setting feel that much more special. And are essential for the holiday season twinkle and are a must include in any zero waste Christmas gift guide. As such, we’ve picked out these colorful scented candles, made from soy wax, a more environmentally friendly ingredient than most of the mass-produced candles out there made from paraffin. Paraffin is a by-product of oil, and although not strictly plastic, they’re both ultimately petroleum-based products.

This set of 4 comes in reusable tins, which, when the candles burn out, can be reused around the house or even refilled with more eco-friendly soy wax [Amazon link]. The set includes four scents, lemon, lavender, Mediterranean fig, and spring flavor.

Pure Soy Wax Christmas Candle Gift Box on Amazon

Related: Browse our recommendations of the best ethical and sustainable candle choices for a more comprehensive selection

13. Create a Natural Wreath

Natural Christmas wreath
Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Grabbing holly if you have some near you or don’t have some foliage from hydrangeas, magnolias, or any long-lasting greenery, and simply wrap it in a circle tying with string where necessary. And there you have it, no need for buying a wreath and a wonderful natural creation of your own, completely free from plastic waste. They also make great gifts for neighbors.

14. Decorate with Tartan Cloth

Tartan Cloth

Grabbing a length of tartan cloth is a simple and easy idea to add color to your Christmas decorations and table this holiday season. The seller we’ve featured makes this sustainably printed tartan from 100% natural cotton. You can cut it into a long strip for the perfect table runner or into stars and hearts to decorate the tree and around the home. You can also use it to wrap gifts.

Shop on Etsy

15. Create a Table Centrepiece with Nature

Christmas centre piece
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The zero-waste Christmas table can feel that much more special with the addition of the best that nature has to offer. Collecting pine cones and giving them a little glisten with eco-friendly glitter is a great start.

Grab some small paper bags, place some soil in the base to hold them upright, and then decorate them with twigs and greenery. Add a little imagination, and you can make a beautiful eco-friendly table setting.

16. Shop Local and in Season

Christmas can be a time for excess. As the season approaches, mouths start to water, thinking of tables laden with food, drink, and celebrations. However, with too much food can come a great deal of waste.

Where you can plan to buy locally and sustainably, stocking up on flour for deserts, preserved fruit, nuts, and other essentials from a local bulk food store can help cut down on plastic packaging waste from a last-minute supermarket dash.

Buy loose in-season veg from markets or supermarket aisles rather than prepacked. This way, you’ll be avoiding all those plastic trays, wraps, and bags towards a waste-free Christmas. Even better, in-season veg will have traveled less distance to get to you, helping reduce their food miles. And a little pre-planning can also help to ensure you don’t overbuy. Food waste is increasingly a global issue, and Christmas is likely to be the worst time of year if we’re not careful.

17. Zero Waste Christmas Crackers

To cut down on waste this Christmas, the run-of-a-mill cracker just has to go. Those little plastic trinkets that no one uses are simply not going to do.

If you have the time, making your own can be an entertaining way to get into the spirit and involve the kids in the lead-up to Christmas. The first step is to save up some toilet roll in the run-up to Christmas (ideally from an eco-friendly toilet paper brand). Then it’s pretty simple, grab some eco-friendly natural Christmas paper. Or you can personalize it by buying plain paper and printing with potato prints.

Then it’s merely a matter of choosing some gift ideas for trinkets and little natural gifts to contain within. Ideas include metal key chains, miniature soaps, mini glass bottles filled with Christmas pudding spiced vodka, or an alcohol-free spiced apple, clove, and clementine syrup.

Homemade fudge and truffles are good choices, too, as are some mini candies. Wrap them in waxed organic paper or beeswax to keep them fresh.

You can then search the internet for some Christmas cracker jokes and include them on hand-printed recycled paper alongside the fillings.

Then it’s merely a matter of wrapping the paper around the toilet rolls and tying them together with some natural twine or raffia. You can buy Christmas cracker snaps [Amazon link] separately and include them down the middle if you are after that authentic bang. Finally, consider the all-natural woolen ones you can reuse year after year in the listing below rather than including paper hats. Alternatively, go for material gift bags.

Or you can have a look at the options on Etsy who have loads of handmade and crafted sets to buy:

18. Red and White Beanie

Read and white Christmas beanie

Buy Christmas hats as gifts that will last. These red and white Santa hats make perfect gifts ideas for long-lasting Christmas wear. Perfect for cold boxing days walks and photo opportunities in front of the Christmas tree. Gift them instead of throwing away paper hats and reuse them every year.

Shop on Etsy

19. Avoid Disposable Plates and Cutlery

If you’re hosting larger numbers outdoors or worried your china plates might be at risk of too much cheer, ditch the plastic plates and cutlery. These days, many paper plates come in compostable varieties, and they’re certainly a better choice than those containing plastic.

For the Christmas BBQ, day after a picnic or, in fact, any eating occasion where real plates aren’t quite right, grab a set of Bamboo plates and cutlery. Eco-friendly, biodegradable, and compostable, they also look more natural, fitting nicely with the remainder of your zero waste Christmas gifts.

Also, grab a zero waste dish soap bar for the inevitable dishwashing marathon. They also make great small gifts and stocking fillers to encourage others on the zero waste journey.

20. Solar Powered Mason Jars

Solar powered mason jar lights plastic-free gift

We love these solar-powered mason jars for gift ideas for you. Light up your patio, deck, or garden with these solar-powered led lights and mason jars. They’re great for Christmas and sitting outside with a blanket and Christmas hot toddy.

Solar-powered led lights can provide a warm glow for around 10 hours when the sun is shining. Packaged in paper and complete with a rechargeable battery, you’re good to go.

The top ring of the mason jar does include some plastic fitting for the solar panel and battery, so this is not 100% plastic-free. However, they’re better than many plastic lamps and LEDs out there, and we think they warrant a place here. Not least, we’re a big fan of using mason jars for storage and even growing herbs in our quest towards zero waste.

Shop on Etsy

21. Wrap and Store Leftovers the Environmentally Friendly Way

Finally, in our list of zero waste Christmas tips and ideas, once all the guests have left on Christmas day and you’re ready to sort out the leftovers, wrap them up and store them for later the zero waste way.

There can be a lot of food waste at Christmas; buy consciously only the items your family is likely to need and eat this holiday season. Wrap leftovers in beeswax rather than cling film to reduce food waste. And grab some long-lasting stainless steel food storage containers to safely store your pieces in the fridge or freezer, preventing them from going to waste.

Shop on Etsy

1Williams, M.; Gower, R. and Green, J. with Whitebread, E.; Lenkiewicz, Z. and Schröder, P. (2019) No Time to Waste: Tackling the Plastic Pollution Crisis Before it’s Too Late, London: Tearfund
2Barra et al. 2018. Plastics and the circular economy. Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel to the Global. Environment Facility. Washington, DC.
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