Five Ideas for a Plastic-Free Holiday Season

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherfold Finn

Plastic Free July inspires me to step up my commitment to reducing single-use plastic in my daily life and on tour.

~Jack Johnson, musician and Plastic Free Foundation ambassador

We’re wrapping up our American Geophysical Union virtual exhibit with a guest post by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherfold Finn, coauthors of the new book Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters.

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The festive season is a time of celebrating and gift-giving, but how can we spread goodwill without spreading the extra plastic waste traditionally generated at this time of year? Over the past decade, Plastic Free July participants have discovered some great ways to enjoy guilt-free, eco-friendly celebrations.

1. Deck the halls
Even if you can’t find boughs of holly, this festive song offers great advice. Forage around in the garden and decorate your home with fresh flowers, pine cones, and garlands of leaves. A sturdy branch from the garden can made a stylish festive prop. You can add homemade decorations such as bunting, tissue pom poms, and colourful paper chains. More stores are now catering to enviro-conscious consumers with felt, ceramic, and wooden decorations. Instead of buying new decorations each year, consider reusing what you have or find secondhand items online or at a local charity store.

2. Plastic-free gifts
Avoiding plastic doesn’t mean turning into a grinch. A popular gift-giving choice for Plastic Free July participants is to give ‘experiences’ rather than presents. You may like to give vouchers for a meal out, sporting activity, beauty treatment, exhibition, or performance. These alternatives don’t need to be expensive. It can be as simple as a voucher for a home-cooked meal, a home-based massage and manicure, or a week off doing household chores. Instead of filling stockings with cheap items that will end up in a landfill, why not give your children vouchers for an activity they have always wanted to try, or source eco-friendly toys from a local community group? For green-thumbs, plants or herb pots are a great choice; you can also visit online eco-stores for guilt-free gifts like beeswax wraps. Many of these gifts avoid the need for gift wrapping, which is a major contributor to waste. If you do want to wrap your gift, popular alternatives to cellophane or metallic wrapping include homemade material bags (that can double up as library or shopping bags and be reused every year). Or, try out Furoshiki, the Japanese art of using fabric to wrap gifts. Using a tea towel, scarf, or t-shirt as wrapping is a tasteful ‘gift within a gift’ option.

3. Table decorations
Traditional festive table decorations invariably involve plastic waste—from Christmas crackers filled with plastic trinkets to plastic utensils and cups to lollies wrapped in plastic. A popular alternative for a stunning table centerpiece is to use candles and foliage, or alternatively a bowl of seasonal fruit. Some Plastic Free July participants make their own Christmas crackers, wrapping toilet rolls in material and tying the ends with jute or ribbons. The contents can include home-baked treats, jokes or riddles, or tasteful gifts that won’t go into a landfill once celebrations are over. Using glasses and dinner plates may involve a bit more time when it comes to cleaning up, but it is well worth it to know you are not contributing to single-use plastic waste.

4. Festive food
Plastic Free July participants have come up with great ways to avoid plastic-wrapped food options. If you are lucky enough to live near farmers’ markets, then you can take your reusable bags or boxes and stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables. Many butchers are also open to customers bringing their own containers. If your family has a much-loved pudding or dessert recipe, this may be the year to step up and carry on the family tradition. In general, the more processed food is, the more plastic packaging it involves. Baking your own meals from scratch is usually healthier and more cost effective too, so it’s a win both for yourself and for the environment.

5. Happy hosts
If you are visiting family and friends over the holiday period, consider bringing a home-cooked meal in a reusable container. Snacks often involve plastic waste, but a simple hummus dip with crusty bread or vegetable sticks is a great option. Thankfully, wine comes in bottles, so keep your host happy with a refreshing accompaniment and have a wonderful, guilt-free, festive time this year!

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