For those celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and other seasonal holidays, this is a time of being with family and friends to share joy, love, celebration, prayer, food, giving, and gratitude.
In this modern day and age, it has also become a time of monumental wastage and garbage generation - and a sizeable portion of that waste is plastic. Furthermore, many of those plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that find their way into the environment and up the food chain.
Between late November and New Years Day, the amount of garbage produced in Canada increases by an additional 300,000 tons and in the U.S. by an additional million tons (both relative to normal annual garbage production rates). That's a deluge of extra garbage - never mind the already obscene excess that is "normally" produced the rest of the year.
If so much extra waste - much of it containing toxic chemicals - is being generated by the holiday season, the logical way to reduce it would be to try and minimize the creation of that waste from the start. One way to take tangible steps in this direction is to try and have a plastic-free holiday season. It's easy and fun, and will even make your life richer.
So where to start?
A holiday card is a missive of love, a warm thought made tangible and sent directly into the hands and heart of another. Many of us adore sending cards over the holiday season as a way to reconnect with family and friends annually and share life updates.
We tend to make all our cards - holiday cards, birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day - on recycled paper, of course. It's a chance to put a piece of yourself into the message and make it truly personal. An amusing picture pasted on the front, an attempt at painting a bouquet of flowers - who cares if it ends up looking like unrecognizable abstract expressionism, or a blotch of smudged colour. It's from you, and it's full of love.
If you prefer to buy cards, find some you like that use non-toxic vegetable- or water-based inks and are printed on post-consumer recycled paper or non-tree paper, such as cotton, hemp or elephant poo. Local is always best, and if you go to a local gift shop you are almost certain to find stunning, eco-friendly handmade cards made by local artists and photographers.
Avoid cards with glossy, shiny or gold foil coatings or finishes as they cannot be recycled and likely have plastic in the coating.
Save cards you receive and cut off the front of the card to make "postcards" you can use next year. This will save on postage too.
Avoid paper altogether by sending e-cards. Care2 offers a range of free e-cards that generate donations to non-profits and charities helping the world. Many organizations doing good work offer e-cards, including the David Suzuki Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.
Just like the cards, make your own or look for local artist creations. In our local community there are always two huge holiday craft fairs around now where local artisans come out in full force with all kinds of homemade, handmade decoration and gift creations.
For some do-it-yourself holiday decoration ideas, the dynamic folks at Apartment Therapy have plenty to share: here are 18 Holiday homemade ornament ideas.
Like single-use plastic bags, drink cups and water bottles, gift-wrap is a hugely polluting waste item that has an extremely short useful life.
Instead of buying wrapping paper, why not, um, once again, make your own! Using a roll of recycled kraft paper, you can create colorful, fun potato stamped wrapping paper - kids love doing this.
Newspaper - especially the funnies! - magazine pages, paper bags, old maps -- they all make wonderful wrapping paper. Or you can avoid paper entirely by reusing old cookie tins, baskets, boxes or bags. Cloth bags are an elegant and easily reusable option.
If you must buy wrapping paper, opt for post consumer, 100% recycled paper, and please avoid the unfortunately increasingly ubiquitous shiny, glossy plastic wrapping papers. They cannot be recycled and become pure landfill trash.
When unwrapping presents, do it carefully, so the paper can be saved and reused. This is pretty tough to do with kids, so their paper wrappings can make a great fireplace starter, or, of course, be recycled.
Or best of all, make the wrapping part of the gift...more on this below when I talk about our take on...
Making Your Own Gifts
Making your own plastic-free gifts offers a magical personal touch unlike anything you could buy. And this is an amazing way to reduce one of the most environmentally-destructive elements of the holiday gift-giving season: plastic packaging. In Europe, it is estimated that 50% of ALL goods are packaged in plastic.
Homemade food is always a hit - cookies, jams, bread, chocolate, granola, pies, cakes. How about some healthy, life-giving raw walnut coconut bliss balls in a mason jar?
Once again, Apartment Therapy is full of unique and creative, design-inspired, crafty ideas for homemade holiday gift ideas and detailed do-it-yourself gift project instructions. And Treehugger offers a fun DIY Gift Guide Slide Show.
Other Safe, High Quality, Ethically-Sourced, Earth-Friendly, Plastic-Free Gifts
This is where Life Without Plastic would love to help you out. We have hundreds of suggestions.
Above I mentioned making the wrapping part of the gift. Well, our numerous airtight containers make superb wrapping for food - glass, stainless steel, round, rectangular - lots of possibilities.
On our website and in a recent newsletter we talked about our favorite super easy two ingredient cookie recipe which makes uber delicious cookies and a perfect gift in these containers - plus, the containers are currently on sale at 25% off, which is a fantastic saving for these much-loved bestsellers.
Looking for small gifts - stocking stuffers - here are a few of our favorites:
Some other favorites we use in our own day-to-day lives include our new stainless steel three-piece dish set, our varied selection of glass bottles, stainless steel bottles, and gorgeous stainless steel water dispensers, the kitchen brushes and tools, including the sprouting jar, and the stainless steel ice cube tray.
Not sure what the person in question would like, but you know they seek to live plastic-free? A gift certificate lets them choose exactly what they most need.
Or, if your gift recipient really doesn't need anything, why not avoid stuff altogether?! No packaging, no footprint, nothing to store in precious home real estate.
An experiential gift could be most memorable and uplifting: concert or film tickets, dinner at a favorite restaurant, spa treaments. Or it could be a promise that is genuinely useful: an IOU to help rake leaves, shovel snow, vacuum, clean the bathroom, repair a leaky faucet, paint a room.
Now here are gifts that give back in profound ways with powerful global and intergenerational ripple effects.
There are so many organizations out there doing important work for the good of the planet. They could use your help. Here are few that are focused on reducing plastic use and consumption: Plastic Pollution Coalition, The 5Gyres Institute, Algalita Marine Research Institute.
One that I just love is Environmental Defence's Gifts for the Future. Here you can adopt a beach or part of a greenbelt, or sponsor a young environmentalist. And as part of the gift you can send a personalized e-card or arrange to have a personalized paper card sent.
What to do with all the post-holiday waste?
Even if you have made supreme efforts to live a plastic-free holiday (congratulations!), chances are you are still entering the New Year with an accumulation of plastic waste from the holiday season - likely from well-meaning friends and family.
Our friend Beth Terry, the intrepid and inspiring My Plastic-Free Life blogging maven, did a superb guest post early this year for Maria Rodale's Farm Country Kitchen blog on how to deal with all that holiday plastic. Check out the excellent tips there.
And if you don't already have it and haven't given it to all your friends and family, Beth's fabulous book, My Plastic-Free Life: How I kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, makes a powerful, engaging gift. You can purchase it here.
One of Beth's Rodale post tips I absolutely love and have to share right away involves those utterly annoying polystyrene styrofoam peanuts (which cannot be recycled in most municipal recycling programs). Well, if you receive a bunch and don't want to reuse them yourself, it is possible to find a sustainable home for them that will keep them out of a landfill.
In the U.S., you can find a drop-off location through the Plastic Loose Fill Council (PLFC); they even have a "Peanut Hotline." In Canada, PakMail is part of the PLFC and can direct you to a place where you can bring your peanuts for reuse and recycling.
So there you have it. Lots of ideas for avoiding plastic, and waste in general, this and every holiday season.
If you would like to hear more about living a plastic-free holiday, I have the honour and pleasure of talking to the amazing Debra Lynn Dadd on her enlightening show, Toxic Free Talk Radio (Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 12 noon EST).
To you, the very happiest of plastic-free holidays.
Jay Sinha, Co-Owner
Images from Life Without Plastic, unless noted otherwise.