As the year comes to an end with days of feasts and festive gatherings, consumerism tends to ramp up too. But although the holidays are a time of culinary abundance and generosity, this needn’t mean more waste at home. If we apply a little thoughtfulness over each of the twelve days of Christmas, we’ll find a dozen golden opportunities to make achievable zero waste goals that will last a lifetime.
On the 1st Day of Christmas… Cook a Zero-Waste Christmas Dinner
The kitchen can be a chaotic place on the 25th, but by planning ahead and getting all hands on deck you can cut waste pretty much everywhere. Firstly, once you know the number of guests, calculate portions carefully, check the back of the cupboards before shopping, and make as detailed a list as possible. If you can, shop at a farmer’s market and in bulk stores to cut out plastic packaging and shave off transport emissions.
Once the stove is firing, gather up any cooking scraps for recycling pickup or home composting. Most importantly, get the bird bones simmering for broth once they’re all shorn of meat. Sidestep disposable crockery and cutlery by tasking your guests with bringing their own if need be. Lastly, leftovers should be consumed over the next few days, frozen for later, or shared out among family, friends, or neighbours. Just remind them to bring their own containers.
On the 2nd Day of Christmas … Get Reusing (And Recycling)
With the debris mounting thick and fast by the 26th it’s time to recycle what cannot be reused. But before you begin sorting, take stock of the volume and kinds of waste you created the day before. Ask yourself what you might do differently next year and make a reminder on your phone for next December.
Around 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in landfill every year, and although you might have avoided it yourself, you can’t predict what you’ll receive from others. Any such paper that can be reused should be salvaged and stored. Anything unusable should be sorted into the appropriate kerbside pickup categories. However, it’s important to note that a lot of consumer bought wrapping paper is not recyclable anywhere because it contains a mix of plastic and paper. Finally, if your municipality doesn’t pick up waste streams like plastic wrap or food waste, there is guidance on where you can recycle the more uncommon waste streams.
On the 3rd Day of Christmas… Rethink Returns
By the time you’re casting an eye over your gifts in the afterglow of the big day, you might think of returning one or two items that weren’t quite right. However, consider that consumer returns account for five billion tons of waste sent to landfill every year in the US.
Sadly, it’s often cheaper for companies to toss items in landfill than to assess, repackage, and shelve them for resale–not to mention the additional carbon emissions from shipping everything back and forth. So instead of a straight swap for an ill-fitting sweater, ask yourself if someone close to you might appreciate a gift, or if a donation to a thrift store would be a more sustainable solution.
On the 4th Day of Christmas… Skip the Retail Madness for a Zero-Waste Family Experience
As the sales at retail stores pick up in earnest after Christmas, ask yourself if you really need another dose of consumerism right now. Maybe instead of jumping online to browse the sales or bussing the kids to the mall, try another different kind of family experience. A woodland walk with the kids can double up as gathering table decorations for New Year. Or set everyone to making their own beeswax food wraps from old clothing. And if you really do need to pick up some new clothes, take a run by the thrift store before the mall.
On the 5th Day of Christmas… Plan a Zero-Waste New Year’s Meal
With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, and without the constraints of tradition that rule the Christmas menu, use this special evening to flex your zero-waste muscle in the kitchen. Why not pose yourself the challenge of shopping entirely locally, using your own containers and zero waste bags of course, and see if you can create 0% food waste across an entire meal? Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
On the 6th Day of Christmas … Make Zero-Waste Party Decorations
Ahead of your New Year’s Eve party tomorrow night, harness nature and bring a festive flourish to your dinner table. Fallen branches, pinecones, and gourds come together to make a festive table decoration that’s 100% biodegradable. It also provides a conveniently open-ended task for small children that may be getting under your feet by this stage.
On the 7th Day of Christmas… Take Stock of Zero-Waste Opportunities
On the brink of another year, reflect about what you want to change next year. Maybe start by walking room to room and taking in the items you use every day. How many of them are single use or plastic? How many are disposable? Do they need to be?
From bamboo toothbrushes to metal straws, there are zero-waste alternatives to many household products that we never considered wasteful. Bring a spirit of curiosity rather than judgment to the process and make your own manageable list about what you’d like to change.
On the 8th Day of Christmas… Volunteer Your Time
On a day often reserved for yet another family feast, perhaps this is a chance to look beyond your own home to those who might appreciate a little help. Although you may have done your best to avoid overfilled cupboards, the reality of hosting extra bodies over the holidays might have taken its toll in overstocked kitchen cupboards. Why not gather up any non-perishable food and take a trip down to a soup kitchen or pantry near you? Just remember to call ahead and check they are taking donations.
On The 9th Day of Christmas… Reassess Your Wardrobe
When you get to storing new items of clothing in your wardrobe, stop to see what’s in there at the back gathering cobwebs. This is the ideal time to take stock of your wardrobe for the year ahead. Once you’ve culled the items that feel surplus to requirements, ask yourself if anything can be repaired, upcycled, or passed on to friends or family for a new life? Top tip; did you know that an old pair of denims sent to Mud Jeans will get you money off a new pair?
On the 10th Day of Christmas… Rethink Laundry as Zero Waste
Now that your wardrobe is feeling a little lighter, this is the perfect time to rethink your approach to clothing care and laundry. Traditional washing detergents can be harmful to the environment once they make their way into our water systems, but beyond this, dangerous microplastics, disposable plastic packaging, and cabon emissions from shipping heavy liquid detergents are all avoidable problems. There are a range of innovative zero waste laundry products to help you to cutr down waste with this everyday activity.
On the 11th Day of Christmas… Start a Compost Bin
Now that you’re getting back to your normal levels of food shopping and consumption, this is the ideal point to think about composting if you haven’t done so already. If curbside food recycling isn’t available outside your home, then composting is next on the list after consuming food or donating it. Contrary to popular belief, a garden is not a prerequisite for household composting. There is a whole market of clever, stylish compost bins designed to sit inside your home.
On the 12th Day of Christmas… Take Down the Tree
Whether you opted for a fake Christmas tree or a real one, this is the time to get it packed away for another year and to think about your plan for next year. While fake trees have grown in popularity in recent years, with sellers touting their sustainability compared to natural trees, the truth of this claim depends on how many years you keep it in use.
Research shows that if used for less than five years a PVC Christmas tree will have a comparable impact on the environment as a natural one grown over ten years. So, if you are going to invest in a fake tree, choose carefully for the long term and make sure it never ends up in landfill.
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