Zero Waste Holidays
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7 Tips for Zero Waste Holidays And Times Away From Home

Holidays are some of the most wonderful times to be with family and loved ones. While the holiday season brings joy, laughter, and beautiful memories, it can also be wasteful.

According to research, Americans throw away 25% more waste from Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday than any other time during the year. 

Sadly, waste and plastic pollution significantly contribute to environmental crises and climate change. They also pose a major threat to public health and wildlife. Efforts to recycle plastic have only been an attempt to manage plastic waste. Unfortunately, we still have plastics clogging our waterways and contaminating the ocean and landfills. 

This article will look at various tips to reduce waste and celebrate a fun-filled zero-waste holiday. 

7 tips for a sustainable zero-waste holiday season 

sustainable zero-waste holiday season 
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Choose a sustainable Christmas tree 

Christmas holidays are one of the most exciting holidays to look forward to. Family and friends get together to celebrate with food and gifts. One of the highlights of the Christmas celebration is the Christmas tree. 

There have been several debates about using a fake tree vs. a real tree. Both types have their pros and cons. 

Faux trees are made of PVC plastic, lead, and other materials, contributing to a large carbon footprint. They can also be harmful to workers during production. However, the good part is you can use an artificial tree for many years if kept in good condition. 

To use more sustainable faux tree options, you can check with local second-hand stores or online thrift stores and marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, where you can get second-hand trees. To maintain and ensure your faux Christmas tree lasts for many years, you can purchase a tree storage bag for safekeeping between seasons.

On the other hand, you can also use a live tree. Millions of trees are planted and grown on renewable Christmas tree farms by local farmers. You can easily buy a live tree from a local farm and recycle or compost them at the end of its life. The great part is that you get to support local farmers. 

However, while live trees are biodegradable, they are also often dumped in the trash, contributing to waste in landfills. This can make it difficult to biodegrade, adding to increased greenhouse gas emissions.  

Another sustainable choice for Christmas trees is to rent a potted tree or potted plants which you can reuse. These trees are more gentle on the environment. You can weigh your options and choose which works best for a more zero-waste Christmas

Go for zero-waste decor options 

There are several ways you can decorate your home for a more zero-waste holiday season. You can substitute those nasty plastics for more zero-waste party decorations.

Alternatives to biodegradable balloons create a great latex and plastic-free party vibe. And if you've got kids, and maybe a pool, reusable water balloons can add to the outdoor fun without waste.

You can use DIY ornaments to add some unique festivity to your house.

You can choose more natural holiday decor like citrus ornaments, cranberry and popcorn garlands, and reusable organic cotton decorations. The best part is your home will smell natural and fresh. You can also go for more reusable options like glass ornaments and metal decor. 

Focusing on the lights, you can switch from the traditional incandescent to LED lights. LED lights use less energy helping you to save electricity at home, and can last longer. 

Opt for low-waste holiday cards 

Sending greeting cards to family and friends is a great way to stay in touch and keep memories even after the holiday is long gone. However, holiday greeting cards have a short life span and end up in the bin. 

For more zero-waste options, you can go for cards made of recycled paper or eco-friendly paper. Avoid cards made of ribbons, foils, and other embellishments, as they can't go in the recycling bin. You can also opt for paperless options like e-cards or shop specifically for eco-friendly Christmas cards. You can turn those lovely messages and photos into an e-card and send them to your friends and family via email or social media. 

Plan your menu in advance 

What’s a holiday without some good food? If you are hosting a party or planning a family dinner, you know how important it is to make mealtime memorable. For the holidays, try some zero-waste cooking. This means you need to plan your holiday meals and buy only what you need. 

There are many farmers’ markets with fresh foods like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and even turkeys where you can source your meal ingredients. You can do a little research for the best markets and grocery stores in your locality. Don’t forget to take your reusable containers and packaging along when shopping and go for zero-waste stores if you can that’ll provide refills and bulk buys with less waste. 

Avoid food waste 

A large portion of food goes to waste during the holiday every year. To prevent food waste, carefully consider how much food your guests need and do all you can not overdo it. 

Leftovers are almost inevitable, so consider freezing the leftover dishes for later. You can also provide containers or ask your guests to come with their own containers for the leftovers. 

Instead of disposable plates and cups, opt for reusable dinnerware. You can borrow kitchen utensils from friends or go thrift store shopping. Don’t forget to compost the rest of the food to eliminate all waste. 

Give zero-waste holiday gifts 

Zero waste holiday gifts
Photo by micheile dot com on Unsplash

Gifts are always a major highlight during the holiday. Whether you’re putting gifts under a Christmas tree or sending them to neighbors and family members, you need to consider the environmental impact of your gift. You want to avoid a gift made of single-use plastic. Instead, go for zero-waste gifts.

They are both affordable and good for the planet. Some zero-waste gift ideas include collapsible water bottles, reusable gift bags, air purifiers, zero-waste soaps, zero-waste shampoo, etc. 

You can also decide to spice things up by giving out experience gifts like a travel ticket for a vacation, gift cards, or a coupon book. 

Wrap your gifts with zero-waste alternatives 

Conventional wrapping paper is a single-use product made of processed paper, toxic inks, and plastics, contributing to environmental pollution. 

You can wrap your gift with more sustainable wrapping paper options like old tablecloths, leftover paper, tissue paper, newspapers and magazines, eco-friendly gift boxes, and so on. 

7 zero-waste travel tips for the holidays 

Zero Waste Holiday Travel
Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

The holiday season is the perfect time for families and loved ones to unite from far and wide by going on a trip, perhaps a vacation. 

Although traveling is a memorable experience, it can also get very wasteful. It’s easy to pack more than is needed or accumulate disposable items like plastic bottles, which come at a costly price for the environment.

Here are simple zero-waste travel tips to create less waste and help you be mindful of the environment even while on vacation. 

Pack lightly 

One way to reduce waste is to pack only what you need. Include essentials like toiletries and travel essentials, including:

Go paperless

For more eco-friendly travel, consider going paperless. You can get your tickets and receipts on your phone. Instead of printing maps or taking notes on paper, you can download maps and type your travel experience on your phone to save paper.  

Avoid flying

Consider other means of transportation. However, if you must fly, you can book a low-carbon emission flight which will help lower your carbon footprint

Note that you may need to pay extra money for carbon offset. However, this cost goes into projects like tree planting and renewable energy projects. When you get to your destination, walk as much as possible. Walking involves zero emissions and is equally good for your health. 

Choose sustainable travel clothes

Go for travel clothes that are both eco-friendly and produced by sustainable clothing brands. For example, brands like Patagonia make their clothes from recycled plastics. Also, you want to look out for odor-resistant clothes so you can wear them for longer before washing. For those day trips, grab an eco-friendly backpack, and don’t forget a eco-friendly phone case to protect your device from drops and knocks. 

Eat at local restaurants

You can avoid using plastics by eating at local restaurants. You can also take the extra step to look for restaurants that locally source their produce. If you must take away food, look out for restaurants with recyclable utensils. 

Stay in homes instead of hotels

Staying in homes like Airbnb makes it easy for you to cook your meals, do your laundry, recycle, and compost. This will also help you save money you will otherwise have to pay for these services. 

Conserve energy  

While you have a great time during the holiday, don’t forget to conserve energy. Be mindful of how much you consume. Turn off the lights, put off the heater, skip the dishwashers and washing machine, and conserve as much water as possible.

Read more: We’ve 15 more tips for eco-friendly travel and gift ideas for eco-friendly travelers


As you enjoy the holidays, don’t forget to do all you can to lead a zero-waste lifestyle. With the tips above, you can reduce waste and treat yourself to an enjoyable zero-waste holiday while saving the planet.

By Jennifer Okafor, BSc.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash
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