Updated: Dec 14, 2019
A How-To Guide: Being sustainable over the holiday season
Alright, where to even begin. First off, happy holiday season everyone! I would consider this time of year to be one of my favourites – the first snow fall, outdoor winter fun, hot coco with Baileys (always), gift giving (and receiving, no doubt), and spending time with friends and family. However, one of the things during this time of year that I struggle with is the enormous amount of waste that is generated and the unconscious, “buying for the sake of buying” shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I am also guilty when it comes to the madness of Holiday shopping. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting the perfect gift for someone and wrapping it beautifully with bows and ribbon so I can lay it under the tree. But this holiday season, it is time to be more conscious and mindful of these choices.
Before I buy that gorgeous roll of wrapping paper, I’ll ask myself, “Can this be recycled? Is there something that I already have at home that I can be creative with to wrap my gifts?”
Before I go on that shopping spree to find gifts for my friends and family, I’ll ask myself, “Do they need this? Is this a sustainable and ethical purchase? Can I buy this locally to support small businesses?” These are questions to ask ourselves because we have the chance to make a difference during this time of year. So, here are a few things that we can do to have a Crap-Free Holiday Season!
Let's Talk Gifts
With Christmas around the corner, and everyone trying to get in their last-minute shopping, I ask you to slow everything down. Typically, when people feel rushed or stressed, they will make impulse decisions that may not be the most ethical or conscious purchases. Instead of running to the store on Christmas Eve (we’ve all done it) to grab that extra, mindless something, let’s brainstorm some other options and plan ahead.
1. Buy an experience rather than a thing
We have enough “stuff”! Let’s remember our planet’s precious, finite resources. Buying an experience for your special someone will create memories that will last a lifetime, and hey, maybe you’ll get to tag along (this is my strategy). I got my significant other two tickets to see Mumford and Sons; I love Mumford and Sons! Here are some ideas:
Pick up some concert or sports' tickets
Book a cooking class
Take a trip to a spa
Sign up for a paint class or pottery class
Can’t go wrong with a wine tour
Make a reservation at their favourite restaurant
Date night at the movies
Plan a night in and cook dinner
Visit a National Park
The options are endless!
2. Donate to their favourite cause or charity
The gift that keeps on giving!
3. Shop second-hand
Let’s hit the thrift shops. This may seem weird, buying gifts that are second hand, but if you make a list of what you are looking for, you can bee line to the section you want instead of browsing the racks for hours. However, this may not be easy for the Christmas Eve shopper. We live in a consumer-based society where we always think buying something brand new is the only option, but it shouldn’t be. Rather than following the fast fashion path, make conscious purchases and focus on quality rather than quantity. There is nothing wrong with pre-loved, upcycled, hand-me-ups, or second hand. Let me add, you can find some steals that are a one-of-a-kind! Pass on a book that you loved to a friend this season or dig for some treasures at your local thrift shop.
4. Make, bake, create!!!
Thoughtful, handmade gifts can go a long way. Try to plan ahead this holiday and pick some fun DIY’s. One of the big advantages to giving handmade gifts is that you eliminate all the packaging that comes with new purchases. Here are some ideas:
Learn to knit and make some mittens
Create a mixtape
Hit the welding or wood working shop (got some old scraps you don’t know what to do with? Be creative)
Make a scrapbook or a memory box
Bake their favourite dessert
Cook a nice dinner
Make a voucher book and have some fun with it
My significant other made me a wooden map of the world to hang on my wall and mark off the places that I’ve travelled to. Homemade gifts win!
5. Shop local, ethical, & sustainable
Shop local this holiday season and support small, Canadian brands during the madness of the holidays. By shopping local, you are eliminating the need to ship products via overseas or long truck trips, you are encouraging innovation and development in your community, and you are eliminating the need for excessive packaging. Over time, this will save enormous amounts of energy and resources. Small business owners also tend to go the extra mile to make your experience with them great. With small businesses you can be more confident in knowing whether the products are being made sustainably and ethically. And don’t be afraid to do a bit of research before you make your purchases. When we order products from across the globe, we don’t always know how our products are being created. Let’s take a look at some sustainable gift ideas.
Reusable stainless-steel, bamboo or glass straw with cleaning brush (can find these at pretty much any sustainable, zero waste shop – I’ve posted a link at the bottom of this post that locates sustainable shops near you)
Bamboo toothbrush (got a brush.naked toothbrush at Great Lakes Refill Co. in Sarnia, ON)
Mini glass jar of refillable, biodegradable floss (got KMH Touches Flosspot at Great Lakes Refill Co. in Sarnia, ON)
Reusable bamboo cutlery set (got mine at Zero Waste Bulk in Waterloo, ON)
Reusable cloth or mesh produce bags (can find these at pretty much any sustainable, zero waste shop. Some supermarkets sell them too!)
Reusable tote shopping bags (I’m sure you have some lying around your house somewhere. If not, you can find them at any zero waste store or supermarket!)
Reusable cotton rounds (got OKO facial rounds at Great Lakes Refill Co. in Sarnia, ON and got Rhymes with Orange facial pads at Zero Waste Bulk in Waterloo, ON)
Beeswax food wrap (made my own!!!! Check out our DIY blog to see how)
Package free shower essentials (shampoo bar, conditioner bar, body bar) (got my Unwrapped shampoo bar at Great Lakes Refill Co. in Sarnia, ON)
Safety razor (patiently waiting for my Well Kept safety razor to arrive!!)
Organic cotton hair ties (I’ve heard great things about Kooshoo!)
(Peep our hand made beeswax wraps above!!!)
Zero Waste Gifts
French Press coffee maker (rid yourself of disposable coffee pods)
Reusable water bottle
Travel coffee mug
Sustainable, ethical clothing
Stainless steel takeout container set
Mason jars to revamp your pantry and transform to a zero-waste kitchen
Reusable silicone sandwich bags (got mine at Reimagine Co. in London, ON)
Wool dryer balls (to replace dryer sheets!)
Organic cotton backpack or tote bag
Let’s Talk Wrapping
Because most wrapping paper is laminated, chemically dyed, and is mixed with non-paper add ins, it is not recyclable. And then we throw in some shiny bows, ribbon, gift tags, and tape, and we have a sustainable junkie’s worst nightmare. Around 540 000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags are disposed of each year in Canada (I wish I were joking). That is like the weight of one hundred thousand elephants!
When I was younger, we would frantically rip open all of our presents on Christmas morning and once the madness was over, we would toss everything in garbage bags (yes, plural). And to think that every family with young kids would be doing the same thing! Think of the resources that were used to make all of that wrapping material, only to be thrown away after that “perfectly wrapped” gift has been opened.
So, I decided to get a little creative this holiday season. I used only what I had lying around the house (with the exception of some seed paper gift tags I purchased at a zero-waste shop).
It is truly amazing what you can round up. I glammed up some old newspaper, upcycled some ribbon, repurposed an old brown paper leaf bag, transformed an old pillowcase, and decorated with trimmings from my Christmas tree! And no tape was used in the process! And ta- da! My gifts have never looked so good.
The best way to wrap your gifts is to use something that already exists. An old tea towel, for example, or a cardboard box from a shipment you got in the mail. That scarf that sits at the back of your closet or those scraps of paper in your craft bin can be repurposed to create a pretty good-looking gift wrap. Don’t forget about that old road map our parents used to use (who has those anymore?) or pages from that ancient magazine subscription that you had ten years ago. Pinecones, lavender, tree trimmings, and holly can all be used to jazz up your gift too – be creative! As a substitute for plastic tape, try Washi tape or compostable tape. There are so many ways you can switch up your wrapping habits this season.
If you’ve made it this far, here’s my final take-aways to make your holidays a little greener. Before you head out on a holiday shopping frenzy, make a list of what you need so you can avoid those impulsive purchases. If you are shopping online or in stores, do some research before you take out your credit card. Check out how the companies are making their products and see if their packaging is sustainable. Consume consciously and make intentional purchases that make sense and will last long. Opt for sustainable products from local brands to support small business owners. Stay away from excessive plastic packaging and refuse those crappy free gifts that you are offered along with your purchases. And don’t forget, when you head out to buy some goodies, bring your reusable shopping totes. Don’t feel the need to buy new, shiny things. Get creative and hand-make a gift, try an experience or find some second-hand treasures. And rather than picking up those ten rolls of shiny, reindeer decorated wrapping paper, take a look around your home and see what you can find to wrap your gifts this year – you might just surprise yourself.
Let’s embrace the change my friends and have ourselves a greener holiday season!!!!
Check out https://app.zerowastehome.com/ to find zero waste shops near you!