A Waste Free Holiday

Christmas decoration with cookies and spices on an old wooden background.

From festive gifts to holiday parties, Christmas is a time of togetherness, merriment and … shopping! While we’re trying to create the perfect experience for our dinner party guests or pick out the ideal presents for our loved ones, we often don’t think about the impact our choices have on the planet.

Did you know that during and after the holiday season there is a 50 to 75 per cent increase in the amount of material received at Calgary’s waste and recycling facilities? That’s well over 100 truckloads a day.

We’ve curated a list of gift and party ideas to help you celebrate the Christmas season with style and sustainability.

Earth-friendly Gifts

While the following are tangible physical items, it can also be fun to get creative and offer the gift of experience. This could be spa services, tickets to a sporting event, adding credit to your friend’s Starbucks card, or a dog walking coupon for your neighbours with a new baby. The possibilities are endless!

  1. Safety Razor: These are badass. They are plastic free, will 100% save you money, and give you a seriously nice shave. Bonus: these are a crowd-pleaser for both men and women.
  2. Reusable Water Bottle: In my opinion the best ones in this category are insulated bottles that can be used for both hot and cold liquids. I own a HydroFlask and I carry it around like I do my phone. So yes, everywhere.
  3. Skoy Cloths: Essentially like a miracle sponge. Toss them in the washing machine once you’ve had enough and its like a brand new cloth. We use them in the kitchen, bathroom, garage… essentially anywhere you might use paper towel.
  4. Books: This is a fun one – why not gift books you have purchased for yourself, finished reading and truly loved? Passing these treasured stories around is a perfect way to promote a circular economy.
  5. Reusable Cutlery: I like bamboo as its super lightweight making it easily transportable. The cutlery sets are neat, but also haven’t you secretly always wanted a spork? Haha maybe not but they’re hella handy, I promise.
  6. Beeswax Wraps: Anything you currently use saran wrap on, I promise you beeswax wrap will do a better job.
  7. Food: Think coffee, honey, olive oil, spices. These you can often find packaged in glass and produced locally. Bonus points for homemade foods like nut butters, jams, teas, pickled beans (mmm – grandma you reading this?) and the list goes on.
  8. Stasher Bags: Basically a ziploc bag for champions. You use it, then you re-use, then you put it in the dishwasher or maybe the microwave and keep re-using it. Not kidding, they are the real deal.
  9. Candles, Soaps, Salts, Bath Bombs: These are easily found with minimal packaging and ooh are they a treat!
  10. InstaPot/Food Processor: Cooking your own food is a sure way to cut down waste and these items make cooking a heck of a lot easier.
  11. Craft Markets: There’s nothing quite better than heading to a craft market where all your favourite local vendors are gathered in one large auditorium. Get into the holiday spirit by shopping local and finding a great item for a loved one all while sipping cider, hot chocolate and snacking on locally made baked goods.
  12. Make It Yourself: This one takes a little bit of planning, but if you’re the crafty type and know your way around a crafting table, then have at it. There’s really something special about giving and receiving a gift that is made with love.

(A gentle reminder: Christmas wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. That stuff that makes it shiny and glittery and oh so Christmas-y — you can’t separate that out, so it has to hit the black bin. Instead try brown paper, newspaper or recycled gift bags)

Zero-waste Party

Hosting a zero-waste party may seem easy with many simple and obvious answers such as: using your own, reusable dishes, decorating with natural items or offering cloth napkins instead of paper. All are great solutions, but for many of us these options may not be accessible or realistic. Not everyone has two dozen or more wine glasses, plates, cloth napkins or utensils. And most of us don’t have the extra funds to buy such supplies. So, how can one host a waste-free party, without buying new or breaking the bank?

1. Include your guests in the preparations: As a host, you know guests will ask “What can I bring?” And all too often, a host’s polite reply will be, “Oh nothing, just yourself!” Because a good host is one who does everything, right? We’ve all been in the situation where we don’t have enough glassware, cutlery, plates, or cloth napkins, forcing us into a situation where we have to consider buying the dreaded disposables! Eek!  To avoid this why not try one of the following solutions:

  • The Party Supplies Wish List: Create a list of all the things you need for the party from dinnerwares to decorations. Then when you get asked, “What can I bring,” share the list with your guests to see if they can cross off an item. You never know which of your friends has giant stacks of wine glasses in storage.
  • The BYO___ Party: Another approach to a lack of supplies is to make it a BYO Theme party. Ask each guest to BYO wine glass/plate/cutlery/napkin/favourite decoration/ etc.

Giving your guests a unique and meaningful way to help will make them feel like they’re co-hosting. This will boost that feeling of coming together over the holidays.

2. Plan ahead and adjust your menu: The food, drinks and snacks you chose to serve can have a huge impact on the amount of waste your party makes. By planning and adjusting your menu you can not only reduce the amount of dishes that need to be used and then later washed, you can reduce the amount of food that might be thrown out and reduce the amount of effort you have to put in!

  • Planning makes perfect. Sit down and plan your menu. Chose items that you know can be purchased unpackaged like produce or items in the bulk aisle.
  • Finger foods for the win! By serving foods that your guests can simply grab with their hand, you automatically reduce the amount of utensils, plates or bowls needed.
  • But warm foods are so much better! If you must serve a warm, comforting appetizer, think it through. Chose recipes that are simple, quick and not processed (processed typically means plastic packaging).
  • Make the “serving-ware” edible. Serve dips and sauces or recipes that guests can scoop up with chips, veggies, buns or pitas.
  • Yes, finger foods need napkins! When it comes to napkins, offer cloth napkins if you have them. Guests will take one and typically keep their own napkins throughout the evening.
    If you don’t own cloth napkins, make them! Re-purpose old towels or t-shirts by cutting them into a unique selection cloth napkins. Stick-em in a jar and label it!
    If cloth napkins aren’t an option for you and you must supply paper napkins, only put enough out for 1 paper napkin per guest and let your guests know! No-one wants to be the guy who takes several napkins when there’s only one per person available.

In addition to the food menu, be sure to plan your drink menu.

  • Serve a signature cocktail: Offer a signature cocktail to your guests and serve it in a large dispenser or bowl. This pre-mixed drink will reduce the need for multiple drink mixes like orange juice, pineapple juice, coke, sprite, eggnog, ginger ale, etc.
  • Growlers and kegs: Calgary’s brewery scene is growing and most of them have growler refills at a decent price so you can offer your guests delicious, waste-free, local beer! Or consider getting a keg. Kegs are also a fantastic option to reduce the number of cans and bottles your party produces.

Remind your guests to reuse their glass, and supply glass markers so they can write their name on the side.

3. Get creative with what you already own: The holidays are always full of sparkle and fun partly because of the decorations we like to put up, but a lot of these decorations are made of plastic and created to be used only once. Before going on a huge decoration shopping spree, consider the following options:

  • Use what you have. Take an inventory of what you already own for decor. Most of us have a box or bin stowed away in the garage or basement filled with ol’ garland and tinsel. Make sure all of these decorations are put out first.
  • Re-create with your decorations. Are some of the tree ornaments not going on the tree this year? Hang those extra ornaments and Christmas balls from your curtain rod above your window or along a stair railing.
  • Everyday items with a holiday feel. If you still need to add a little something, start looking around your house — you’ll be surprised by how some items may be just right to help decorate. Use pretty scarves in your closet to drape over side tables. Tie old ribbon around a jar and put a candle inside.
  • Bring the outdoors IN. Something as simple as a few pinecones in a vase can look really nice.
  • Food for thought. Oranges adorned with cloves in a silver bowl not only make the room smell festive, they add a little colour to the table (plus you can eat the orange). Cinnamon sticks tied in a bunch with a ribbon can also add some nice scents.
  • Go back to step 1. Ask your guests to help decorate by bringing extra decorations to fill the space!

4. Re-gift and re-use: We all know gifts are a huge part of the holiday season. Reducing the waste associated with gift-giving can be difficult, so why not try some of these ideas:

  • White Elephant Gift Exchange. Have your guests bring an item they have in their home already. It’s usually something a person doesn’t need or want or have any use for. This is rather entertaining as you never know what kind of random gifts people may bring!  Follow the rules of this typical group gift exchange.
  • RE-Gifting is not that rude. There is this idea that re-gifting a gift you received is rude. But if you get something that is absolutely of no use to you, but perfect for someone else, why not re-gift it. This saves a lot of time, money and waste!
  • Wrap it up, with love not garbage. When considering how to wrap your gift think of ways that won’t create waste. Use a pretty cloth or scarf. Re-use packing paper that came with your recent online shopping. Or simply re-use a gift-bag!
  • Don’t gift, donate! A truly waste-free gift is giving a donation. Have your guests bring donations of money, food or even warm winter wears to donate to your favourite charity or nonprofit.

These hosting ideas will not only save you money, time and stress, it can also bring you back to what the holiday season should really be about. You will spend less time stressing about how much money you’re spending or if you have checked off all the people on your gift list, while spending more time connecting with the ones you love.

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons this year! If you’re looking for a little more inspiration and direction on how to have a waste-free, plastic-free holiday, come to our Plastic-Free YYC Holiday Fundraising Mixer on November 30th. More details here.

~ Stephanie @mrs.keresztes