Consumption & Production

Zero Waste Christmas – Rethinking consumption


19 Dec 2013

Written by

Joan Marc Simon


We all want to show our love and appreciation to our loved ones and sometimes presents are a good way to do that. However, can we make sure that our love for something doesn’t imply the destruction of something else?

Some hints that can help to stay sane during the busiest shopping time of the year are:

Dematerialise your gifts;

When preparing your presents try to avoid material stuff. Give a voucher for a massage, or tickets to the theatre, or a dinner to a local restaurant, or a yoga lesson… there are hundreds of non-material presents that can make your loved ones happy without putting an extra burden on the environment.


Your present can be material but it doesn’t need to be 100% new, for it will have implications in the extractions of new materials, transport, energy and water-use. For instance you can refurbish –upcycle- old clothes into something new, or used plastic packaging to do the Christmas decoration, or buy presents in vintage clothes stores and antique shops. Like this you make sure your presents are unique!

Responsible shopping;

Sometimes it is necessary to buy something material and new but watch out because the choices are not neutral. Things that you should especially watch are:

  • the toxicity of most stuff; there are many products which contain toxics which can cause cancer, infertility, asthma, allergies, etc. For instance, when possible choose plastics that are BPA free, avoid PVC, etc.
  • the source of the materials and choose those from renewable sources; for instance wood is better if certified FSC.
  • the hidden costs; some things might look cheaper than average but they will break before, consume more energy during its use or have a worst post-consumer service. When you buy cheap ask yourself why is this product cheaper than the others, if you don’t find a plausible explanation it might not be that cheap after all!


When it comes to food, Christmas holidays is the time for family meals and we should watch what we buy, what we eat, how we eat as much as what ends up in the bin.

Before going shopping do some planning in order not to over-stock stuff you will not need. If you are not sure about how much food you may require, check out a helpful serving calculator such as LOVE FOOD Hate Waste site

Also, try to buy locally grown and seasonal products which support the local economy, need less packaging and have smaller ecological footprint.  If you see Christmas as a tradition think that European traditions are built on what was available, hence seasonal and local, no need to consume food coming from the other end of the planet.

Remember to serve food in reusable tableware, with cloth napkins and avoid disposable stuff.

If for any reason you need to use single-use items make sure that they are biodegradable so that they can be composted together with food waste.

Talking about food waste, remember that our ancestors generated almost zero of it. Left-overs were reused to prepare filling for croquettes, cannelloni, ravioli, cakes or was given to pets. By the way, domestic pets are a very good manager of food waste and until not too long ago they were fed to pigs and cattle. Have you heard of the Pig Idea?

Only when it can find no other better use consider the food-waste for home composting, community composting or to be separately collected by the municipality. If you don’t have separate collection of food waste in your town, put pressure on your representatives to set it up!


It is time to rethink how we spend our Christmas holidays; media commercials will always insist in linking happiness to consumption when experience and scientific evidence proves that this is untrue in most of the cases. After all it’s not rocket science, just reflect on what builds your long term happiness and think how much of that is related to compulsive Christmas shopping… not much, uh?

Christmas holidays is the perfect time of the year to rethink our life-style and plan 2014. Let’s just use the common sense and focus on what makes us happy without having to trash the planet!

Here you have some other practical advice of ways to enjoy happier Christmas:
Zero Waste Guide by Zero Waste Brussels
Pour feter Noël autrement by Fondation Nicolas Hulot
Rethink Christmas – Reduce & Rejoice by Zero Waste Canada
Give a Gift, Not More Stuff by the Story of Stuff Project

There are hundreds of non-material presents that can make your loved ones happy without putting an extra burden on the environment.