DO's and DON'T's for an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season (Zero-Waste Christmas)

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

In western culture, the holiday season has become more about stuff and less about the real meaning behind the holidays: celebrating and spending time with family and loved ones.

Gift giving, decorating, and buying a whole bunch of stuff has become the norm. So much so that if you don't decorate, you aren't even celebrating according to some.

Now, don't get me wrong, you can still partake in all the holiday traditions that you want, but this year, go about it in a smarter way. Think through each purchase and be more mindful of the festivities you participate in.

So, here are a few "DO's" and "DON'T's" to help you have a more eco-friendly holiday season this year.


1. Purchase sustainable gifts:

Think intentionally about the gifts you want to give someone. You probably want them to cherish that item or memory forever. So, don't buy them junk this year. And also, think about the environmental and ethical impact of the items you buy. Did a lot of waste go into creating that item? Were people paid fair wages?

For more information and a whole lot of ideas (that's right, 110 unique gift ideas), click here to read my full holiday gift-giving guide or watch the full video version here.

2. Use what you have:

Instead of heading to the store on the first of November to get the latest and greatest holiday decor, try to utilize what you have. I understand that it might be considered boring, but try your best not to contribute to this wastefulness. Here are some ideas to change up the decor you already have:

- Paint wooden items a different color

- Make homemade garland from gingerbread or popcorn

- Organize a holiday decoration swap where you swap with friends and family. This way you all get to have "new" decor without anyone having to purchase new decor or throw out perfectly good items

My mother in law got us this "Noel" set which she had had for years, regifted decor and it is so lovely!

3. Try to eat plant-based this year

I think one of the best things you can do for the environment is to eat more plant-based. I understand meat is a big part of western holiday culture, but maybe try to reduce your meat (and other animal product) consumption this year. Here are some ideas:

- Substitute dairy for vegan butter and milk when making mashed potatoes and desserts

- Use a vegan egg substitute when baking

- Try vegan cheese in your mac n cheese

- Just omit meat from the menu and have more sides (I mean who doesn't love holiday side dishes?!)

4. Try to avoid wrapping paper and unnecessary packaging:

These things are just going to get thrown away after covering your present for a few minutes. Instead, use something like a newspaper (that is already going to get recycled) or find some sort of reusable wrapping like a bag, a scarf, or a blanket. This way your present is still concealed, but the "wrapping" will still get more use out of it. And, try to avoid bows, sparkles, ribbons, and things of that nature. They might look cute for a minute, but they will most likely outlast your life on this earth. The less single-use plastic, the better!

If you still want traditional wrapping, avoid plastic-based wrapping and go for something that can be composted (like organic brown paper), recycled (like plain paper), or even grown like this paper that actually has seeds in it. Even this brand, Wrappily, takes recycled newspapers and gives them bright new life!

Using newspaper is so resourceful, can be recycled afterwards, and is so rustic

5. Avoid wasteful games and traditions:

Or try to make them more eco-friendly! Games like Secret Santa, white elephant, and that game you play where you wrap a bunch of dollar store junk in a giant roll of saran wrap and then each person unwraps it until they receive a piece of junk (yes, that exists), can be extremely wasteful. Instead of just disregarding those games altogether, try to make it eco-friendly. If you organize it (or participate in one, just bring this up), maybe make a stipulation that the gift someone buys for someone else or for white elephant is useful. Ban items that are just gag gifts and will instantly land in someone's trash can.

Those things are fun for a moment, but how wasteful (money and material wise) is it to buy something, wrap it in more plastic, open it and enjoy the joke for a few minutes, just for it to get thrown away. I am literally cringing just writing this. So, please, if you partake in one of these traditions, try to make it more eco-friendly.

6. Buy second hand when purchasing new decor:

If you do decide you must have some new-to-you decor, try finding some second hand. Ask friends, family, and neighbors if they have any they are willing to part with. Check Facebook marketplace, eBay, or just your local thrift store. These options are also much cheaper than buying brand new and the items are more likely to be unique. Instead of having the same ornaments or tree skirts that 1,000 other people have, yours could be a unique antique.

The thrift stores are typically booming with decor in October/November when everyone is buying their brand new decor. Honestly, maybe even in January when everyone is decluttering from last season so hit the shops safely in January and stock up for next year.

My mom got us our first and only set of ornaments thrifted at Good Will

7. Participate in low/zero-waste Holiday traditions:

Listen to music, watch classic movies, go see Christmas lights, sing songs by the fire, and so much more. A fun zero-waste option to enjoy the holidays. I just included this to prove that there are already traditions that exist that are zero-waste and so much fun.

You can even stream movies or rent movies instead of buying them brand new!

8. Try to make food from scratch:

Things like premade cookies, break-and-bakes, box stuffing, pre-made casseroles, and the like are great options for busy people. But, if you manage, try making things from scratch. These premade options are extremely wasteful and usually are not even that healthy (and sometimes don't even taste good). There are so many easy recipes on the internet for beginners and I'm sure you can find one that you can follow and make. Plus, homemade just tastes so much better and will always please and impress a crowd.

Be sure to check out my vegan Friendsgiving feast (which all the foods can be applied to any holiday!) collab I did with Coco Shin and Susie from Chew on That for some homemade holiday food ideas!

9. Make your own advent calendars:

A lot of premade ones are very wasteful, plus yours can be totally unique! Like other things mentioned above, there will be thousands of people with the same advent calendar. So, try making your own and have something totally unique. There are so many ideas on the internet for you to create your own advent calendar if this is a tradition you must keep.

10. Make DIY holiday scents:

What I mean is, you don't have to spend loads of money on Holiday candles every year, especially if you are looking to save some money. Or you don't have to buy toxic air fresheners. Instead, you can make all-natural (and compostable) holiday "air fresheners" that make your whole home smell like the holidays. And the best part is, is that most of these will make a lovely punch for your holiday get together or just to have for yourself. Here are some ideas:

- Mulled wine: wine, cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks, orange peel

- Mulled cider: apple cider or apple juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice

- Spiced cranberry juice: cranberry juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange peel

- Even just natural essential oils

- Easy holiday concoction: water, a whole bunch of orange peels, cinnamon sticks

After making your holiday scents, you can drink the liquid and compost the other items! A lovely zero waste holiday drink that will make your home smell heavenly.

11. A house declutter before the holiday season:

This is great for many reasons. First, you will have a clean and organized house before the holiday season and not have to stress about being messy during get-togethers. Second, you can donate any unwanted and unused items to those in need. Or, instead of a full-on declutter, you can have children chose an old toy they no longer want in place of a new Christmas toy. This way your house doesn't become overrun with toys and you can donate this toy to teach your children the gift of giving.

12. Unplug your Christmas lights when not in use:

I see SO many people with their lights on when I am walking my dog at 4:30 am...yeah I get up at a ridiculous hour. The point it, I know they are not awake to be enjoying their lights so their lights should be off. If you’re asleep, your lights should be off. If you’re not home, your lights should be off. It’s like leaving your kitchen light on all night long when you sleep it just doesn’t make sense!

13. When buying new lights, try to find solar-powered or LED lights:

Both variations are much better for the environment because they last longer and of course solar-powered lights require zero fossil fuels to enjoy! Also, if you have a bulb go out, try to find a replacement bulb instead of throwing out the whole strand. If your strand truly is broken, you can actually send String lights to to be recycled properly instead of sending them to the landfill!

14. Make your own decor (or buy local art):

I have an old video where I made my own decor using sticks, pinecones, and repurposed wood. Sure, you can use brand new materials from the craft store but it is much better for the planet to upcycle and forage things to use. It was free for me and required no extraction of new materials to create beautiful decorations for my home that I can cherish each year.


1. Get real trees:

While Christmas trees are grown like crops and will be replanted with each one cut down (which is great because that means more carbon sequestered from the atmosphere, read more about that here or watch the video version here), if you can find a used artificial tree, this is definitely the greener way to go. That way, you won't be contributing to the supply and demand of fake trees and more real trees can continue to grow each year versus get cut down.

If you do get a real tree, don't forget to utilize it after Christmas. What I mean is turn it into firewood or properly dispose of it instead of hoping your trash company takes it to the landfill where it will just contribute to CO2. Try to buy locally and recycle the tree after the holidays.

Reusing an artificial tree every year (please, for the love of the earth, DO NOT buy a new artificial tree every year!) definitely reduce the environmental impact of Christmas trees. If you are getting rid of an artificial tree, donate it or find a friend or family member who could use it. There are so many fake, plastic trees being created every year, the last thing we need is for used ones to end up in the landfill just for someone else to buy a brand new one.

We got our tiny 5 ft tree at Walmart on clearance and it will remain our only tree for years to come

2. Buy random decor you will only use for one year:

When buying your first set of holiday decor, even if brand new, try to find timeless pieces that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Try to avoid cheap items that will break and "trendy" items that will just "go out of style" next year. If you must buy something new as a replacement, try to find it second hand and donate what you will no longer be using.