#HaltonWasteChallenge Going Into the Holidays

Hello Friends of Halton Green Screens! There is lots to share today, with the holidays upon us. The holiday season can be joyful, stressful, delicious, and often full of parties and dinners with friends and family. It is also usually a time of tremendous amounts of waste production. There is waste from gifts, from wrapping, from party favours, Christmas crackers, New Year’s Eve hats and noise makers, throwaway dishes, and more. So today I will focus on how I plan on dealing with holiday waste while doing the #HaltonWasteChallenge.



Since part of my challenge includes not buying any “stuff”, even secondhand, I am limited in the gifts that I can give and receive this year. This year my friends and family can look forward to edible and/or homemade gifts (without excess packaging) and experiences. Studies have even shown that gifts of experience, especially experiences with friends and family (think presence over presents), give lasting happiness while more “stuff” gives short-lived happiness. That’s not to say that there are no material gifts that bring lasting happiness; I have some cookbooks that bring me happiness over and over and over again, and a heating pad that is a life saver in the winter months when Neelan and I don’t like to waste energy heating our entire house too warm. My advice to anyone giving material gifts this year is to choose carefully and consider buying secondhand. I think it’s time we got away from this notion of more, more, more – if we all keep buying unnecessary or excessive material gifts each year, it is just more stuff that will ultimately end up in the landfills. My friends and family read this blog, so I can’t get much more detailed about my gift choices until after Christmas 🙂



I will admit, I love the mystery leading up to Christmas, wondering what’s in each package. So I do still wrap my gifts to others, even if it is just a handmade upcycled card that tells them what experience they will be getting. My goal when wrapping gifts is to not use anything new. Since my family doesn’t follow that guideline, there is always lots of wrapping paper each year after we open gifts. I volunteer to clean up, and I carefully fold any piece of wrapping paper big enough to be reused. Each year I have more than enough to wrap my gifts, and they still have that holiday look. My family also reuses a lot of baskets and some pieces of festive looking material to go around the baskets. For other gift-giving occasions, I use newspaper or pages from old magazines or calendars and find creative ways of decorating the packages.

If you have any low-waste or no-waste wrapping ideas, please share them in the comments!


Party favours and crackers:

Neelan and I are hosting Christmas this year, which means prepping our home to handle 30+ people. Usually my family has crackers at Christmas, which means cardboard tubes (recyclable), some type of pretty wrapping paper (some may be recyclable but most is not), that cardboard piece that makes it go *pop* (recyclable), a paper hat (recyclable), a joke (recyclable), a small toy (not recyclable), and lots of packaging (some is recyclable, but most packages contain a lot that is not).

It is kind of a fun tradition, but one that comes with a lot of stuff. I thought about making crackers out of old toilet paper rolls and other upcycled materials, but prepping will be enough work without making 30 crackers plus everything that goes in them. So we will be forgoing this tradition this year, and any other year that we host. My family does have fun making everyone wear those silly hats, so maybe I will make a few hats out of an old newspaper, but mostly we just have fun being together. I hope the lack of crackers will not detract from our experiences. I may make party favours instead, but all I’ve thought of so far are gingerbread men and we usually have more than enough dessert as it is. And I would not want to package the gingerbread.

Again, if you usually get crackers and decide to go with an alternative this year we’d love to hear about it. Here is one person’s alternative that I may end up using this year!


New Year’s Eve hats and noisemakers

This will not require any change for me – I don’t use those things anyway. I have in the past, but it always makes me sad to look around at midnight and see so much garbage. It’s not a nice way to bring in the new year. It looks like we will be having a small new year’s celebration this year, with just a few people, so hopefully I will be able to entice them to forgo the hats and noisemakers or at least find more eco-friendly ways to make noise at midnight. Maybe we will bang some pots and pans together if anyone wants to start the new year with a bang.


Throwaway dishes

I think many of us have experienced the temptation to use disposable dishes when hosting large numbers of people. Who has 30 plates? Not us. In my family, the hosting family usually sends out an email to the larger group asking for people to volunteer to bring whatever they don’t have. The same goes for wine glasses, regular glasses, cutlery, table cloths, cloth napkins, chairs, and tables. We have also on occasion rented dishes for the convenience – there are even places that rent dishes and take them back dirty! If you do give in to the temptation of convenient, throwaway dishes, try for ones made with recycled, unbleached paper that are not wrapped in too much packaging and make sure they end up in the compost after. Cutlery is not so simple. Many of the “compostable” ones made of cornstarch do not break down fast enough to go in our green bins, and end up in the landfill. The same goes for the “compostable” plastic cups. It’s an unfortunate case of greenwashing.


Christmas tree

This has been a difficult one for me over the years. I love the look, smell, and feel of a real tree, and do not like the idea of a fake tree (even secondhand) because however long they may last, they are eventually destined to spend practically an eternity in a landfill. They also often have lead-based paints to give them their colour, and drop tiny but dangerous amounts of toxic dust as they break down over the years. Real trees on the other hand do have some benefits, such as providing habitat for birds and other animals, but Christmas tree farms are usually monocultures (meaning they grow just one species in an area) and need to use pesticides to prevent pests and disease. Monocultures make it very easy for pests and diseases to spread.

I am also uncomfortable having a tree cut down just for me every year. My family used to have an annual tradition of going to a Christmas tree farm and cutting down our own tree. I have a lot of fond memories of walking through forests of Christmas trees to find the perfect one. There came a year when I wanted to be the one to saw down the tree, but when I started doing it I couldn’t. If you’ve ever watched Ferngully, I felt just like I imagine Zak felt when Crysta said “Can’t you feel its pain?” and he could.

So I wanted a real tree, but I’m not okay with having one cut down for me. Which left me with a potted tree. I had two options: 1) get a typical Christmas tree such as a fir, spruce, or pine, keep it indoors for at most 10 days, then plant it outside or 2) get a tropical tree, keep it indoors year round, and use the same tree year after year. I went with option 2 and got a Norfolk Island pine, which is not actually a pine but which has that Christmas tree look. It’s only about 3.5’ tall this year, but it will grow. I didn’t have any qualms about buying the tree itself, but I do think that the pot it came in may have been cheating. On the other hand, I think a live, potted Christmas tree will send a positive message while still giving my house that holiday feel. Thoughts?


Let me know if I missed any major holiday waste sources, and share your own holiday waste reduction tips in the comments! Stay tuned after the holidays for some photos and to learn how I did. I am really hoping these next few weeks won’t fill up my bin.


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