The Ultimate Guide for a Zero-Waste Holiday Season

Holiday gift-giving season is already upon us, and now is the time that many people start thinking about great gift ideas. This year, though, we’d like to encourage and challenge you to cut down on as much waste as possible. That’s why we’ve written this article–to create the ultimate guide for a zero-waste holiday season.

Every year, Americans flock to malls, stores, and massive online retailers to buy presents for each other. We already produce literal tons of trash regularly; on average, each American generates 35 pounds of it a week. But during the holiday season, thanks to an increase in purchases of plastic-wrapped products, wrapping paper, shopping bags, bows, ribbons, boxes, and more, that number grows significantly—25 percent more, in fact. Almost 2.9 billion more pounds of garbage are generated per week during the holidays, relative to the rest of the year.

Obviously, this trend cannot continue. Individual actions can go a long way toward reducing the amount of holiday-related waste they are responsible for, and one of the best efforts you can make is to strive for a zero-waste holiday season. What does that look like, though? We’ve got some tips for zero-waste gift giving right here.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is a way of approaching not just consumer behavior, but life, that favors the reuse of products vs. the cycle of disposing of old ones and purchasing of new ones. The goal is to cut down on trash that goes to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. Zero Waste also aims to protect human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Zero Waste is becoming more and more popular, not only among eco-concerned individuals, but businesses and industries, too. Again, Zero Waste is more of an ideal than a hard-and-fast number. There are many ways to be a part of the Zero Waste Movement, and mindful gift-giving around the holidays is definitely one of them.

How Can You Be Environmentally Responsible for the Holidays?

Photo By: Intrepid Travel

The first step you can take if you want to have a Zero-Waste holiday season is to consider giving gifts that are not things! It is absolutely a great goal to focus on recycled wrapping paper (or none at all), non-packaged items, and homemade goods. But even better is to give a gift that doesn’t need wrapping!

For many people, the gift of time together is just as valuable as, if not more than, a material present. Your gift could be organizing a fun group getaway with friends and family–a sustainable camping trip or hike, tickets and a carpool to an event like a sports game or a concert they’d enjoy, or even a sustainable vacation trip. We recommend booking with Intrepid, a certified B Corp and carbon-neutral company that can help you book trips to destinations all over the world.

If it truly is the thought that counts when it comes to giving gifts, another great non-material present is a donation to an organization that supports a cause your loved one cares about, in their name. Whether it’s an environmentally friendly nonprofit, a humanitarian organization, or a group that contributes locally, donating to benefit something near and dear to your recipient’s heart on their behalf is a meaningful, effective way to show you care–and it doesn’t create any waste.

What Are Good Zero-Waste Gifts?

Mostly it’s counterintuitive to give a new item to someone if the goal is to create a zero-waste giving season, but you can approach it from a long-term perspective. Ideally, you would give a gift that can last forever and replace that person’s dependence on single-use, disposable items.

If you want the thrill of handing someone a physical gift but don’t want to create waste, consider whipping up a homemade meal, some treats, or some other special consumable item that you know will be a hit. Bonus points: Deliver them in a Klean Kanteen food storage box, made of certified 90-percent post-consumer 18/8 recycled stainless steel, so they not only get your delicious homemade wares as freshly as possible, but they also get a sanitary, high-quality food container they can reuse over and over.

Of course, we always think that a high-quality, durable Klean Kanteen product makes a great gift. They will stand the test of time, they are made with recycled materials and philosophically support the Zero Waste movement, and there is a large variety to choose from depending on who you’re buying for. You could buy a set of certified stainless steel camping cups, mugs, and tumblers for the family who loves to camp. You could help the athlete or outdoor enthusiast in your life stay hydrated for hours with a larger insulated water bottle, like our 32-oz. TKWide. Or you could introduce a child to the concept of reusing quality items to live Zero Waste early with a Klean Kanteen Insulated Kid Classic.

How to Wrap Your Gift Sustainably

brown recycled paper used to wrap gifts with red and white baker's twine

The tradition of unwrapping a gift and the shared joy between giver and recipient is one of the most enjoyable parts of gift-giving during the holidays. Unfortunately, when it happens on a mass scale, it becomes an enormous source of paper waste that is problematic to the environment–the large quantities of chemicals used to produce many types of wrapping paper preclude some paper from being recycled, and most ends up in the trash and then landfills, creating hazardous wildlife conditions and contaminating soil and water sources.

But by being creative, you can create your own “wrapping” solutions for your gifts. For example, a gift basket rarely even needs to be wrapped at all–instead of thinking in terms of a hidden surprise, think in terms of presentation. You could gift an item “wrapped” in a reusable bag, like a ChicoBag–you can even tie the handles into a bow, with a little practice!

And if you absolutely just must wrap your presents, there are tons of recyclable wrapping papers out there–you just need to take some extra care at the point of purchase to look for them. Typically they will not have a lot of glamorous prints or designs, but they will still be attractive and much safer for the planet.

The holidays are a special time, where our generosity can take center stage. With a little mindfulness and creativity, we can turn that time into a Zero-Waste holiday season, too!