Christmas is the best and worst time of the year. We all love the time with family as well as (lets be honest) the plethora of gifts we get. Even if we are wanting to try and be more minimal there is just something about getting a lot of things (that you probably wont ever look at again past the holidays) that gives us that childish giggle and joy. I love getting presents, even as I transition into a minimal lifestyle I still love getting things. Recently, I love getting things that are practical and fit into my lifestyle. However, we started transitioning into this lifestyle in fall and that was too late to inform my family without causing major anger and fights. My my mom is an all year kind of shopper, with a closest stuffed full (not even kidding) with potential gifts she is 100% always prepared for the holiday season. Many a panic over what to get people ended with my mom opening up that closest and pulling out an array of picture frames, lip balms, lotions, note pads, ornaments and other little Knick knacks. She saved my skin in the gift giving department over the course of my childhood, but this also meant that if I didn’t inform her in January that we don’t want any Christmas gifts this year, or we want them unwrapped and unpackaged, she would not handle it very well. I get it, buying something for someone they don’t want is a slap in the face and while she is very prepared (maybe too prepared) I just can’t do that to her. So we sit back and accept this one last (hopefully last) Christmas of wrapping paper and packaged items.
That doesn’t meant that you can’t do your part in the minimal waste side of things though. There are many ways that you can reuse, reduce and recycle all without having anything go to the trash or even the recycling bin.
So here goes, my handy list of zero waste Christmas without actually having anything zero waste(side note this is just what my family has learned and done over the years, please remember we are not experts and are not telling you to actually do any of these things these are just ways to reduce the amount of Christmas waste that my family does regularly. Also, I can not promise that you will have no waste either, but we can work together to greatly reduce the things we just toss in the trash.):
1. Reuse what you can: This is something that my family has been doing for years, not because we had cared all that much about what we throw away. Sure my family was more conscious than others and we did our best to throw away the least, but my mom was more focused on saving a little at Christmas. So each year we got our gifts my mom would have us save what we can. You can reuse gift bags, tissue paper, clothing boxes and even bows and/or ribbon. My mom would make the annual walk though the living room asking us to hand back her bows, gift bags, tissue paper and gift bags. She would tell us that she can use them again next year. She would collect the gift boxes for clothing and fold them back up to reuse them (on the same kid) each year. I am 23 and we are still using the same clothing boxes that my mom got us as babies. It might seem a little crazy but my mom has NEVER had to buy those things again. Pretty smart and then non of those items are going to a landfill anytime soon. You can even reuse wrapping paper that is still looking good, if you want to make sure that the wrapping paper isn’t thrown out.
2. When in doubt…BURN IT! As a family with a pretty spacey fireplace many a Christmas items have been chucked in the fireplace. I don’t advocate this method as much because it can be dangerous and I do not know the full extent of fires on the environment. But my family also never threw in anything artificial. The things we burned we already biodegradable anyways, it just saved us a trip to the recycle bin or having to break down boxes. On a side note, this is also a way to decompose pizza boxes since recycling won’t take them. So in went the paper and boxes. The occasional tissue paper because we had discovered that the colored ones changed the first color too. Is this the best way to dispose of things? Probably not. But it certainly is fun and the ashes went straight to the garden to fertilize next years crop.
3. Recycle what you can: So there are things that can’t be reused or burned, like packaging from toys. So recycle them, or upcycle. Save bubble wrap as long as you can for other packages. Check the labeling on plastic items to see if they are recyclable. Amongst a million other things you can do to recycle and upcycle. My mom was a fan of taking away those items during the year we didn’t care for and then regifting them either to us or others during Christmas. I don’t recommend that one, the look on your kids face when they receive the underwear they never even missed is NOT priceless. But you can make sure the plastic you get for Christmas is at least reused once by making sure it gets to the recycle bin. A lot of the time people just toss it all in a garbage bag and chuck it in the trash. At least make sure it’s disposed of properly.
4. DON’T use plastic ware during the meals: This is the one thing my family was never good at. Paper plates are a staple for our Christmas Eve bash. We can save the heaping trash pile from ever happening if we just use regular reusable dishes. If you think that where you’re going won’t have that option, bring your own. One thing I learned from the zero waste home book was to just simply tell people “I don’t have a trash can” when they inquire why you’re bringing your own. Genius, and simple and minimal questions asked in response to that.
5. Wrap less, save more: Either wrap the present in something biodegradable (for those still wanting a pretty package Kohl’s makes biodegradable paper printed wrapping paper-it still comes wrapped in plastic though) or forgo traditional wrapping all-together. For my dad’s gift we got him a new (by new we already had it lying around and it was in perfect condition) laptop with adobe photoshop-also had that lying around. We decided to put his gift in an a old army surplus bag we also had. He loves surplus, the gift isn’t wrapped and we got rid of something we didn’t need. If this doesn’t scream zero waste Christmas I don’t know what does since his entire gift is thrifted and regifted.
6. Save, save, save: Anything else that does not fall under any of the other tips-like shipping boxes-save them! Reuse all cardboard boxes, you can even reuse twisty ties from toys if you can find a creative use for them. Like use them to bundle up cords or tie up a food bags etc. Reuse the old boxes to ship items, or for donations. If you’re anything like me you go through your place about once a month picking up all the items you don’t need or use. Save the boxes for those items and easily transport them to your donation destination of choice.
While it might seem crazy to go to this effort for Christmas, when Christmas is already a huge effort it is definitely worth it when you go to take out the trash and all you have is one little bag of Christmas leftovers. Especially if you’re like me and are going to a Christmas that isn’t trying to be zero waste like we are. But we can make the most out of Christmas, and even save a few dollars as well, simply but reusing and upcycling a majority of the gift wrappings.
Have a Merry Christmas!