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Zero Waste Holidays

Updated: Jan 11

What is zero waste?

Storing Nuts in Glass Jars

Zero waste is a set of principles focused on the reuse of products by decreasing the waste that goes into our landfills, incinerators, and oceans. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency reported 137.7 tons of municipal solid waste was sent to our landfills. So it is no surprise that Californians have taken steps towards a zero-waste life by using glass or stainless steel water bottles, shopping with reusable bags, buying reused/recycled items, using eco-friendly products, participating in recycling and composting programs, and utilizing more eco-friendly modes of transportation.

When is the best time to start a zero-waste lifestyle?

There is no right time to start the zero waste journey; challenges will come daily. Remember, it is an ongoing process that can be successfully achieved if you start slowly by changing some of your everyday habits.

The most challenging time to go waste-free is during holidays and annual celebrations. The winter holidays are one of the most significant consumer times of the year, but they can be less stressful if you opt out of the big store and mall shopping by choosing homemade gifts or shopping at small local businesses. When entering the winter holiday season, it’s best to focus on three main areas during your zero-waste journey: decorating, food, and gifts. These main focus areas can also be applied throughout the year to spring, summer, and fall holidays.

Homemade bar soap and reusable dish scrubber


Depending on what holiday you are celebrating, decorating your home, office, or classroom is a great way to spread cheer. Winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, and New Year Ever, are easily celebrated using wood, metal, live plants, clay, and glass decorations. When considering decorations for these holidays, try the following alternatives:

  • Christmas

    • Christmas tree: plant-able tree and alternatives (ex., Driftwood wall tree or 3d stacked tree), Nature-Based Ornaments and Decor, homemade wreaths using extra tree branches

  • Hanukkah

    • Beeswax Candles, DIY wooden Menorah, Wood Dreidels or Clay Dreidels

  • Winter Solstice

    • Nature Based Ornaments and Decor, DIY Wooden Yule log, Wet Felt Lanterns

  • Kwanzaa

    • Beeswax Candles, Natural Dyes, Wooden Kinara, DIY Mkeka

  • New Years Eve

    • Leaf Confetti or Expired Seeds

    • Flower petals

    • Hold on to the old wine bottles for garden decorations and candle holders, or reuse them in natural building projects.

Furoshiki Gift Wrapping

The plant-based items used as decorations can easily be tossed into the garden or compost, which helps reduce waste and improve your garden’s soil. The best part of using many of these decorations is the fun and enjoyment you can have with family and friends by making them at home together. Acquiring many of the materials for these decorations can be done through foraging, asking local beekeepers, or harvesting clay from the soil. If you are looking into dyes, choose natural dyes found in nature.


When it comes to giving gifts on a zero waste journey, it’s a good idea to focus on items that are homemade, like pottery, beeswax candles, crayons or lip salve, soaps, consumables (baked bread, jams, cheese, and honey), plant in eco-friendly containers, donations to small local charities, gift cards to movies, shows, classes, workshops, or memberships. Be sure to look for materials and experiences in your local area, as they are also wonderful gifts to give back to your local community. Sometimes, spending time with your loved ones is the best gift you can give someone.

  • Birthdays/Baby Showers: Reusable diapers, Cloth diaper service subscription, Eco-friendly gifts, handmade clothing, quilts, knitted or crocheted gifts, handmade wooden toys, homemade chalk, crayons, and paper, and handmade dolls.

  • Holidays: Homemade consumables: pies, cookies, cupcakes, breads, jams, cheese, and honey if you have a hive. Native plants in eco-friendly containers, lotions, soaps, salves, experiences including workshops, classes, nights out or night in, local play or music events, and donations to favorite local charities.

  • Weddings: Help fund the newlyweds new home or honeymoon

When it comes to wrapping your zero-waste gifts, consider the following: newspaper, cloth, kitchen tea or dish towels, shopping totes, or veggie bags. The Japanese furoshiki method can add a special twist to your gift-wrapping presentation. Furoshiki is a method of wrapping cloth to hold your lunch in Japan; the popular method has been used to wrap all sorts of gifts, from homemade baked bread to a wine bottle from a local vineyard. You can also create your tags from old pieces of cardboard, wooden scraps, or homemade paper.

Composting Leftovers & Scraps


The most important part of any holiday or celebration is food. Food brings people together, and there are a few things to consider when it comes to buying, saving, and reusing food for your next celebration. Buy fresh local ingredients from the farmers market. Farmers' markets have everything from vegetables to meats, and you can easily find your holiday meal among the different vendors. Opt out of using plastic bags offered by the vendors and bring your own. After consuming your meal, send your guests home with leftovers and maybe print out a leftover recipe as an added holiday gift. When preparing your meals, don’t forget to compost your scraps. If you don’t have compost, ask if any of your guests compost, or look into a local composting program with your city, school, or community garden.

Avoid all plastic and throw-away products when considering place settings for your event. If you don’t have enough settings, you can always ask guests to bring their own; it’s a great way to pass on the zero-waste living ideas.

Making Homemade Soap for Holiday Gifts


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