Make your Holidays Zero Waste

We can hear the holiday cheer! But did you know that we produce 25% more waste this time of the year? So with the holidays fast approaching, let’s look at how we can minimize it.

Let’s start with decorations

  • Reuse old decorations and ornaments. It's a great way to create family traditions.
  • Upcycle: Using items around the house that would otherwise be recycled or thrown away is a great way to be creative and find new uses for old things. For example, make a snow globe from an old jar and a few craft supplies.
  • Make your own: Homemade decorations are easy to make and can be a fun family activity. Here are a few examples:
    • Mini-wreaths with dried rosemary sprigs and twine.
    • Citrus garlands: Slice 6 oranges into thin slices and dehydrate in a 250°F degree oven for 2 to 4 hours. Don’t forget to check on them halfway through baking to prevent thinner slices from burning. At that time you can also poke small holes with a chopstick so you can put a thread through them for the garland.

    • Orange peel stars: Cut orange and lime peels with a cookie cutter (stars or other shapes) and dehydrate them to add to the garland or to your centerpiece.
    • Salt dough ornaments: A fun way to make tree decorations and more garlands. Mix 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of table salt and 1 1/2 cups of warm water and knead into a dough ball. Roll it out like a sugar cookie dough (~1/8″ thick) and cut with cookie cutters of different shapes (or a mason jar lid if you don’t have any!). Poke a hole with a reusable straw or a chopstick, and add some texture with a fork or pine needles! Place them on a baking tray and bake for 1 hour (or until hard) at 300°F degrees.
    • Popcorn garland: Use up your stale popcorn (or make popcorn 24-48 hours before stringing), add bright red dried cranberries for colour and put a thread through them for hanging.
    • Advent calendars: Craft stores often have different styles of wooden advent calendars with small drawers that can be painted and decorated. You can also use small paper bags with numbers written on the front.
    • Candles: make your own candles using beeswax or soy wax that you melt and pour into a jar with a wooden candle wick. Beeswax candles give a sweet honey aroma when they burn. As for soy wax candles, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the soy wax once it has cooled down and enjoy the scent when the candles burn.
  • Thrift: Thrift stores are a great place to find holiday treasures - decorations that have gone out of style, wooden toys, tacky sweaters and more! Let those finds inspire you.
  • Get into the spirit! Play your favourite holiday tunes, decorate your house with nuts in shells, fresh clementines, toys from your childhood, holiday cookies and anything that creates that holiday magic.


According to Zero Waste Canada, only 1% of everything the average Canadian buys over the holidays is still in use within the next 6 months. The other 99% is discarded. So how can we rethink holiday shopping and gifting?

  • Gift experiences: Rethink gifting and opt for experiences over material gifts. 
  • E-gift cards: More and more places are offering online gift cards. It’s a great way to support local businesses and other people’s communities as well as your own. Let your loved one choose their own perfect gift.
  • Gift consumables like baked goods, recipe jars... which you know they enjoy and appreciate.
  • Offer homemade gifts: Bath bombs, face masks, beeswax wraps - all these are thoughtful and easy to make. You can also gift someone a kit to make them!


In Canada over 545,000 tonnes of waste comes from gift wrapping and shopping bags each year. We use up to 6 million rolls of plastic tape to wrap up our Christmas gifts (source: Zero Waste Canada). Here are a few waste-free alternatives:

  • Furoshiki: A recent trend which happens to be zero waste is furoshiki wrapping. Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth mainly used to wrap gifts or transport goods. The cloth is a gift in itself and can be reused again and again.

  • Bundle bags are another great option for reusable wrapping. You can reuse the bag to make a gift to someone else or use it to pack lunches, picnics or craft supplies.
  • Reusing boxes, bags and gift wraps: Let’s normalize reusing! If you already have holiday-themed boxes and wrapping from the previous years and they are in good condition, go ahead and reuse them. Reuse old Christmas cards as gift tags or magazines and newspapers as wrapping paper.
  • Use recyclable and compostable wrapping: Use herbs, pine twigs and pinecones as decoration for wrapping. Opt for simple brown bags and recyclable paper (check for the label) or kraft cardboard boxes without coating.
  • Wrap in scarves and fabric: use fabric that you already have at home or a scarf that can be reused and is a gift in itself. Most thrift stores also sell inexpensive fabric.


Prevent food from going to waste:

  • Make a leftover meal plan.

  • Refrigerate only what you can eat over the next couple days and pack these foods in airtight containers. Freeze the rest of the leftovers and include them into your meal plan over the next weeks to make sure they get eaten.

  • Think about how different food preparation is going to be this year for your family as there may not be as many people and not as much food needs to be prepared in the first place.

Food banks: Donate food and unused, unopened ingredients. Donate your time volunteering and donate edible gifts that you don’t intend to use. 

The Tree Debate 

Living perfectly zero waste is not always possible, and the Christmas tree is one example of a zero waste dilemma. Which tree is the most sustainable?

On one hand, real Christmas trees are obviously real wood and they are compostable or can be turned into mulch when they are no longer needed (they also smell really nice). However, the production of Christmas trees is often done by disturbing natural ecosystems in the same ways as clear cutting. And these trees can be considered ‘single’ use because they are used for such a short period of time during the year. The best option for real trees is to find them as local as possible and to make sure they are composted properly at the end of the holiday season (the city has specific dates where trees can be picked up). Some cities also have programs where you can rent potted Christmas trees that are planted after the holiday season, it’s just a case of acclimating the trees properly to the change in temperature to make sure they survive. 

Artificial trees are often made of plastics that create greenhouse gas emissions when produced as well as during transportation. The best option for artificial trees is to keep them for as long as possible and buy them second hand whenever possible. 

Other alternatives include DIY trees made of cardboard boxes, drift wood and discarded building materials. You can also decorate houseplants and repurpose them as Christmas trees. Or buy branches only, that you put in a vase and decorate. There's no limit to your creativity!

Want to learn more? Follow us @nugrocery for zero waste tips and these Instagram bloggers, creators and influencers for more inspiration!

@queerbrownvegan: Isaias Hernandez, accessible environmental justice content 

@hippiemoji: Moji, based in Seattle, zero waste consulting

@browngirl_green: Kristy Drutman, environmental and social justice activist 

@ajabarber : Aja Barber, social justice content

@mikaelaloach: Mikaela Loach, sustainability with inclusivity

@nattystylist: Natalie Shehata, social justice activist

Have wonderful zero waste Holidays!


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