16 ways to have a zero waste holiday in 2020

With many cancelling annual gatherings, this is the year to think of ways to have a more sustainable, zero waste holiday season. Here are some ideas:

Haley Clinton

Holidays are a time when we can reflect on the year and think about all that has happened. This year has had many hardships to say the least, and with COVID cases still spreading uncontrollably, the holiday season will be more of the same. As such, we’ve encouraged families to take the necessary steps this year to remain safe at home for the holidays

With many cancelling annual gatherings, this is the year to think of ways to have a more sustainable, zero waste holiday season. Here are some ideas:

First, there is the option to do away with gift giving altogether. This year has been a financial burden on many families, and many of us are ready to embrace the freedom that can come from a no-gift holiday. Instead, consider spreading joy by doing the following:

  1. Schedule times to video chat with eachother to ensure you don’t go too long without talking to your loved ones. 

  2. Record a video as a cute, no-cost way to demonstrate your love. As an added benefit, the video can be watched for years to come, especially as children grow up.

  3. Choose a charity as a family and donate what you can to make an impact larger than yourself.

Completely getting rid of gifts doesn’t work for everybody. All the same, gift-giving doesn’t need to involve a bunch of brand-new, plastic products. Even when you decide to give gifts this holiday season, there are ways to concentrate on creating less waste:

  1. Make your own gift with upcycled materials. The internet is full of amazing ideas for gifts made from materials destined to be thrown away, including candles out of wine bottles and tote bags out of old clothes.

  2. Create a new tradition similar to Secret Santa, but uses all re-gifts.

  3. Cook a meal or bake holiday treats and contactlessly deliver it right to their doorstep. Many people this year are tired of cooking all their meals or ordering food delivery all the time, so this will be an especially welcomed gift.

  4. When shopping for clothes, pick durable, quality options that will last a long time. Opt for items made from non-synthetic materials like wool or cotton that don’t release millions of microplastics into our water systems as do rayon or polyester. 

  5. Shop for zero-plastic toys. It can be hard to find sustainable toys when so many kids’ products are wrapped in tons of colorful plastic layers but it’s definitely worth it. (Warning: not only are plastic toys wasteful, but they can be hazardous too. Check out our Trouble in Toyland report to find safe options).

  6. Pick out self-care gifts in reusable or refillable packaging to combat acne or skin irritation from wearing PPE masks for long periods of time. 

  7. Lower environmental footprints with gifts like LED light bulbs, reusable water bottles or bamboo toothbrushes.

  8. Choose refurbished electronics instead of buying new. Check out our fixed for the holidays article for more information.

Even in a good year, shipping emits tons of carbon dioxide from transportation vehicles and manufacturing packaging. With many people buying things online this year, UPS has had a hard time keeping up and the holidays are bound to make it harder. Here are ways to ship smarter:

  1. Think twice, buy once. Given how easy it is to make an impulse buy online, you should aim to wait for an extra couple minutes before making a purchase. If you do this, there is a higher chance you will realize it’s not really necessary. 

  2. Deliver local gifts via bicycle or walking, and safely leave them at the receivers doorstep.

  3. Minimize packaging size if you are shipping a box to someone. Getting the appropriate size container will help avoid using unnecessary filler materials.

  4. Ship in bulk. It’s a better value for you and the environment to use less material by sending everything all at once.

  5. Opt for sustainable packaging materials (if you absolutely need it) that can be repurposed or recycled, like paper instead of foam peanuts or bubble wrap.

As we reflect on this year through the holiday season, the harmful effects of single-use plastic are becoming more clear than ever. This is as good a year as any to think about a sustainable holiday and focus on what really matters, our friends and families, not the gifts we give them.

With these tips in mind, may you all have a happy, healthy, and zero waste holiday season!


Haley Clinton