Okay, you are in LUCK because today I’m spilling the beans on our awesome zero waste advent calendar so that YOU can have a low waste holiday too!
Rather than focusing on things, we use the holidays to focus on experiences together and soaking up all the holiday awesomeness as a family.
My kids get SO excited for the advent calendar – they’ve been talking and asking about it for weeks. They remember these mini-adventures more than any gifts.
Our actual advent calendar is a hanging fabric tree with 24 pockets. We write the activity on a little slip of paper and put it in the pocket. But you could use anything that lets the kids track the days and read the event for each day. Check pinterest for loads of cute ideas.
So, if you want to make the holidays more memorable for you and your kiddos, and focus on experiences rather than things, here’s my guide for you.
A zero waste advent calendar – experiences, not things
A couple of the easiest ones are:
1. Decorate the Christmas tree
Whether you buy one or have an artificial one, or hang something simple on the wall, this is a great family activity. We have a couple big bins of ornaments that we put up every year.
2. Decorate the house.
Mixed in with our tree ornaments are a few other decorations – gifts from my mom – including a nativity scene, mini Christmas carousel trees with candles, and some nutcrackers. We’ve made a few garlands too that we hang.
3. Make a wreath.
We have this awesome spot in town to make wreaths called Rancho Del Oso. But you could make one with scraps from a Christmas tree yard, or go onto Pinterest for ideas that don’t involve real tree scraps.
4. Family Christmas carol night
I’m not sure about you guys, but we love singing in our house. We get the lyrics to a few popular songs and light up our Christmas carousel trees and sing a few together. We even recorded ourselves singing one song and shared it with close family (ONLY!).
5. Make paper snowflakes
All this takes is a few sheets of paper and scissors. We love to hang them in the windows once we’re done. If you’re ambitious, make enough for a strand of snowflakes. So cute.
6. Write a letter to Santa
We still do gifts and ask our kiddos to pick one thing to ask Santa for. Something within reason, of course. We get veto power (Apple watch? I don’t think so).
7. Family movie night
We don’t watch a ton of movies so this still feels special for us – Elf is one of our holiday favs.
8. Hot chocolate for breakfast!
We don’t normally make hot chocolate, so it feels special. AND it’s easy to do before school. Win Win Win.
9. A teeny tiny gift
Okay, this is another thing, but it’s awesome for busy school mornings to just slip a little something in the calendar. We’ve done bulk candy before and little hair barrettes. Maybe a tiny glitter crayon, a tiny notecard, or necklace charm. Or a tiny succulent cutting (they’ll need something or somewhere to plant it, of course). Or a tiny eraser. Or a tiny magnet. Or a little homemade chapstick in a tiny jar. I try to think of stuff that isn’t just going to collect dust in their room, but might actually get used. Also, google tiny gift ideas for some of the CUTEST things you’ve ever seen.
We have a few fun outings too:
10. Breakfast at Gayles – before school!
I know this might feel a little crazy. But if you can get up a little extra early, maybe pack lunches the night before, you might be able to get a nice quick bakery breakfast before school. It feels extra special this way.
11. Donut breakfast!
Another before school treat, if you can fit it in. Or bring it home to them. Either way, we don’t get a lot of donuts around here, so it’s an indulgence.
12. The Nutcracker ballet
13. The symphony
14. The holiday lights train
These can be a little pricey, but it is super memorable for them kids. And it could be a great gift from grandparents, if they need ideas. (Hint hint, mom 😉 ). We don’t do all of these each year – usually just one.
And we get the family and friends involved too:
15. Make Christmas cookies with Grandma
An annual tradition that they look forward to each year. I look forward to the cookies.
16. Special playdates with family friends
We have grown-up friends who are like aunts to the kiddos. We make a special effort to schedule something with them during this time – a little tea party or making ornaments together.
17. Picking out an ornament with the grandparents
Okay, this is a thing but it’s also an experience. They each get to pick out one ornament a year. The kiddos get super excited about this. I think it’s not about the actual ornament, but really about looking at all the shiny and creative options at different stores – surfing pink flamingo for the tree? Yes, please.
18. Craft date with momma
I try to come up with a few simple craft ideas that we could do in an hour after school (a simple necklace, sculpey ornaments, popcorn garland, or other simple garland) and then let the kids pick one for us to do.
19. Holiday party
Any holiday parties? Put ‘em on the calendar! We have a family birthday during this time, so that party counts as one of our advent calendar events.
And we try to think of others who are in need during this time.
20. Get gifts for a family in need and wrap them.
Their school often adopts a family, and a lot of churches do this too. Rather than making this an errand for MOM or DAD, this is a family affair – we go together to pick it out and the kids wrap it up themselves.
21. Volunteer for a few hours
Last year the kids spent a morning volunteering at an organization that was wrapping gifts to donate to families in need. This one is a little tricky because it might not be easy to find something to volunteer for if you aren’t already involved with the group. And finding something that’s age-appropriate can be challenging too, so call around to find some options. And scheduling this can also be tricky when weekends are already jam packed. So plan it out in advance!
22. Donate a toy
We ask the kids to pick one of their gently used toys to donate. Last year this ended up being a major toy closet clean-out, which was awesome. But in other years, when they were younger, picking just one toy was a good goal.
And finally, I think our all time favorites are these:
23. Night time Light walk .
We bundle up and grab an umbrella if it’s rainy. We usually walk over to Depot Hill in Capitola for an awesome view of the town and all the lights at night. It’s fun walking in the dark and cold together. And this is an easy after-dinner activity too for those busy weeknights.
24. Tea party for dinner
This does require a little planning and effort, but it is so worth it. We make a ton of finger foods including mini sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, peanut butter and jelly), deviled eggs, hummus and veggies, fancy olives from the bulk bar, popcorn, maybe some cookies or other baked goods and tea, of course. We sit on the floor in the living room and eat around the coffee table. I love this dinner so much.
There you have it!
easy zero waste advent calendar ideas.
Do you have any to add? I’d love to hear about them! Share in the comments!
It might feel really overwhelming to get a year of your trash into a mason jar – and might be impossible, depending on where you live and what you can recycle.
But there are actually TONS of easy ways to cut down your waste.
Think beyond the mason jar!
Here’s a roundup of 75 ways small ways to cut your waste.
1. Bike more
Did you know that transportation (i.e., cars) is one of the top sources of pollution and contributors to global warming? Driving less is an amazing way to reduce your waste and have a positive impact on the planet. Check out local bike resources for bike paths and bike-friendly routes near you. In Santa Cruz we’ve got www.bikesantacruzcounty.org for loads of awesome resources on biking safely in our community. And don’t forget to wear a helmet!
2. Fly less
Each flight you take is a major resource drain. Just like cars, planes are a major source of greenhouse gases. Try some local travel and explore your own part of the country. Or, if you have to fly, offset your flights with carbon credits. And try to limit flights to those that you really want or need to take. If you live in California, we have so many amazing state parks that you can drive to. Check them out here.
3. Eat vegetarian
This is a MASSIVE way to reduce your waste WAY beyond the mason jar. The meat industry is a MAJOR source of pollution. Even if you can’t do this all the time, try swapping out a couple meals a week for vegetarian. Good for you, good for the planet! And there are so many great resources out there. I love Minimalist Baker for vegetarian recipes.
4. Eat vegan
Going vegan has even more benefits for the planet than vegetarian. All those animal products really have a negative impact on the climate – especially the dairy industry. Try swapping some vegan meals or vegan substitutes when you can. Or go all the way! Join the millions of others in the world who do it every day. My favorite vegan blog is by my friend and favorite yoga teacher, Amey. Check it out here!
5. Compost at home
This is also a GREAT way to cut down your waste. All those fruit peels, veggie skins, egg shells, and more can go into your compost. No yard? No problem! Try a worm bin that fits under your sink. And if you live locally, check out the Santa Cruz Compost service, which collects your compost by bike! They are here.
6. Line dry your laundry
Dryers use loads of electricity (pun – ha!). You can line dry all year too – some racks are easy to set up in even the smallest space and then fold up to be tucked away behind a door or under a bed. We’ve been dryer free for about 4 years and it’s still working great for our family of four. If we can do it, so can you! We even were mostly dryer free during the cloth diapering days!
7. Use hankies
Tissues be damned! Switch to reusable hankies. I say buy mine here or make your own or look for some in the thrift store. When all of ours are in the wash, I start in on our rag stash for hankies – hey, they’re clean! Any ol’ rag will do.
8. Use dishtowels instead of paper towels
Paper towels can be composted, but why not preserve those resources for more essential goods? We have a stack of about 20 dish towels. We use each dish towel until it gets soiled and then we toss it in the wash. I make some here, you could make your own, or look for them at the thrift store! Try finding all natural fibers – much better for the earth.
9. Use your own coffee mug
Those disposable coffee cups are the worst! Some super progressive coffee shops have even stopped handing them out because they are such massive polluters. Bring your own! Buy one from a locally owned business to support the locals. I got mine from Wild Roots in Felton. Love that shop. And you can buy No Trace goods there (another shameless plug!!).
10. Keep a napkin in your purse.
How many times have you needed a napkin when you are out and about? This still happens to me sometimes but I almost always have a little napkin in my purse. I make really cute ones here but make your own or find one in a thrift store super easily.
11. Bring a water bottle.
You are already doing this, I’m sure. We’ve got to get rid of plastic water bottles! Even though often times you can recycle those, our recycling days might be numbered and these are ending up in the landfill more and more often. Just bring your own. I got mine at Jones and Bones in Capitola. I love supporting local business.
12. Shop in bulk.
Look for what you need in the bulk section of your grocery store. I’ve got a whole post about zero waste grocery shopping that you can see here. Also, i make these gorgeous bulk bags here. Made from recycled cotton. If you can’t get something in a bulk bin, try getting something with as little packaging as possible or in the largest amount possible that won’t also spoil.
13. Shop at the farmers market.
Again, check my post here for resources to find farmers markets near you. You can often buy loose produce here that come without those pesky stickers.
14. Stop buying those prepackaged treats.
I know they are super convenient. You can do it, though! Just say no. Fruit, anyone?
15. Try making it yourself.
Is there something you really miss? Crackers? Granola bars? Hummus? Pesto? Pick a few of those prepackaged treats and try making your own. Read about my favorite easy homemade zero waste snacks here and you can start having snacks on hand whenever you need them!
16. Get your beer in a growler or just enjoy a pint in person.
You might not want to pay micro-brewery prices, but you can treat yourself and the planet once a while with something fresh and local. Although you can recycle glass and cans almost everywhere, recycling is not the solution to our problems – reuse is way better.
17. Get your wine from a local winery.
They might let you bring your own container for refills. Some wineries even have harvest or tapping parties where you can fill up loads of bottles to get you through the year. Or at least the week ;).
18. Buy your clothes from a local thrift store.
Fast fashion is a MAJOR polluter. Think twice before buying new and see if you can find it used.
19. Get your shoes repaired at a shoe shop.
Do you have a cobbler or shoe repair person in your town? Buy shoes that are built to last and be repaired.
20. Go to a repair cafe to mend your worn clothes or small appliances or other household items.
If you live in Santa Cruz, reach out about repair cafes in town! No Trace has hosted this!
21. Grow your own food.
Even if all you have is a sunny window, you can grow fresh herbs like basil from home. If you have more space than that, consider planting some trees and growing what you can. In northern California, we can grow some veggies all year like kale, chard and lettuce.
22. Compost worn out, all natural textiles
These are good for the soil! Fibers like cotton, hemp, and linen can be composted at home. I wrote a post about keeping fabric out of the landfill here, so check it out for more tips.
23. Recycle synthetic, worn fibers
If something is beyond repair, not useful as a rag, and not compostable, find a fabric recycler. Some cities have curbside fabric recycling (San Francisco! I’m so jealous).
24. Try sashiko stitching
If something has a small stain or tear, don’t toss it – mend it with sashiko stitching. This is a beautiful way to fix something. I get loads of inspiration from Miniature Rhino. Check her out here.
25. Try canning your own food.
Zero waste chef has loads of great resources on this topic. When tomatoes are in season, you can stock up and then make some awesome canned tomatoes for all your cooking needs during the year. Or make some fresh fruit preserves. Yum yum. Read her amazing blog here for loads of home canning and preserving tips.
26. Make your own Kombucha.
Another zero waste chef specialty. Eliminate all those bottles you might recycle and make your own. Save money, too! Check her out here.
27. Think about the household goods and furnishings you buy
Try to avoid synthetic fibers and toxic resins in the furnishings that surround you. Buy high quality pieces that can be repaired rather than tossed out. I wrote a piece about building a simple bench at home that you can read here. It’s important that we think about the full life cycle of what we bring into our homes.
28. Don’t print it!
Might be obvious, but try getting comfy with your laptop rather than a print out whenever you can. All those papers can be recycled, of course, but why not preserve those resources for things we really need? Need a break from the desk? Move your laptop around and try reading in a different spot before thinking you have to print something.
29. Give experiences, not things
I love this one for kids. We try to avoid “filler” gifts – little things just for the sake of giving something – unless it’s meaningful and sustainable.
Be prepared and bring a kit to help you avoid trash on your travels. Read my post here about that here.
32. Plan for a zero waste Christmas.
We give lots of gifts, but we avoid plastic. We also wrap in fabric that we can reuse, rather than in paper. I make these adorable furoshiki wraps here but any old fabric will do.
33. Host zero waste birthday parties
Keep the food and drinks simple and you can avoid all that trash!
34. Loan utensils, plates, cups, napkins to friends for their parties or borrow some for your own.
Some communities have lending libraries for big events. Ask around to see if yours does.
35. Bring your own utensils, plate, cup, napkin
If you’re going to a party and you’re not sure what they’ll serve on, bring your own stuff.
Also, don’t leave it in the car and forget to bring it into the party like I sometimes do!
36. Recycle broken, unrepairable electronics
We’ve got awesome Grey Bears in town for this amazing service but check your local waste management agency for ideas.
37. Make your own deodorant.
I use the recipe by Trash is for Tossers, but you can find loads of free resources online.
38. Swap out some beauty products for what you can find in bulk.
For example, you might try some light body oils or even lotions in bulk. Sunscreen even if you’re lucky enough to have it in your town!
39. Make your own household cleaning products
Lots of folks make citrus vinegars with citrus peels and use this for cleaning instead of packaged cleaning products. And isn’t it nice to know what’s in your cleaning products?
40. Buy sustainable art and school supplies for you and/or your kiddos
Can you swap in some colored pencils and all natural crayons? Use recycled paper? Get your school supplies at the thrift store? A little effort can help cut down on trash from school.
41. Recycle old markers with TerraCycle.
At The Art Factory in Aptos you can drop your worn out markers off to get recycled! Hooray! Check around for TerraCycle options near you.
42. Make your own cough drops!
Okay, I found a pin for this on Pinterest and admit – I haven’t tried it yet – but I’m sooo excited to try it out. It’s on my board here.
43. Get a pressure cooker
No more canned beans. Seriously. We don’t buy these any more. Hip hip hooray! Save yourself time and money by making these at home. You really can cook beans in a flash with one of these. Works great for rice, artichokes, and other food that can take a little time.
44. Try meal planning.
If you can prep out some meals and snacks on Sunday afternoon, it’ll make the week go more smoothly. I love doing a bunch of salads in a mason jar, or making a pot of beans, rice, and some roasted veggies to last for a few days. And I try to plan for quick snacks to have on hand for after school and other busy times.
45. Get a safety razor
No more disposable razors! The Zero Shop SC sells them – check them out here. And there are loads of resources online for how to shave with a safety razor too, so get some help and make it easy for yourself.
46. Buy shampoo and soap in bulk.
We bring our own containers and refill them at our local bulk store – Staff of Life in Santa Cruz. We weigh the jars, but some stores will ask how many ounces your container holds, so it’s good to know that too. Also, you might be able to find unpackaged bars of shampoo, conditioner, and soap in your town. Lush offers these too.
47. Switch to reusable menstrual products.
I found reusable pads on Etsy that I love. There are loads of others on the market now too. Reusable menstrual cups are also available in lots of natural food and bulk stores – maybe in your local pharmacy too. I found mine at CVS!
48. Recycle your toothpaste tubes
In Santa Cruz, New Leaf Market on 41st Avenue has a TerraCycle box for recycling Tom’s packaging! Yay! You can call around to see if there is some place near you as well – schools sometimes have TerraCycle boxes.
49. Use compostable floss
I haven’t found the perfect solution for compostable floss yet, but Dental Lace will breakdown in your home compost. Unfortunately, it does come in a plant-based plastic bag, which may or may not breakdown in your home compost. But it does create less waste than a big plastic box full of plastic floss.
50. Use a bamboo toothbrush
Easy peasy! Usually you’ll have to pull out the nylon bristles before you can compost it, but it beats throwing out a whole plastic toothbrush!
51. Make your own mouthwash
Seriously, this is so easy and will save you loads of money, too! I make mine with 1 cup water, 4 tsp baking soda, and a few drops of essential oils (4 of tea tree and 4 of peppermint).
52. Make your sunscreen or find it in a reusable container.
I’ve got a recipe from PareDownhome.com that is super easy to make, although the ingredients might be hard to find, especially not in plastic. I’ve also found sunscreen in reusable, plastic-free containers from Raw Love and Elevated Sun. I personally preferred Raw Love to Elevated Sun – I found the latter a little gritty when putting it on. But I LOVE what they are doing.
53. Make your own lotion.
Have you made your own body cream before? It’s an awesome chance to make something just the way you like it – adding in whatever scents you’re drawn to. Check out my Pinterest boards for recipes!
54. Make your own shaving cream.
Or just use conditioner! One less packaged thing to buy.
55. Buy zero waste makeup or make your own.
I found this shop on Etsy and LOVE the lipstick we bought. Highly recommend for vegan, zero waste, all natural make up.
56. Switch to metal and fabric hair accessories.
Another area of your life to cut down on plastics and trash. But use up what you have first! Kooshoo makes biodegradable hair ties, but have shipped in plastic bags in the past.
57. Use a wooden hair brush.
When it’s time for a new brush, trying getting one that’s plastic free.
58. Compost your hair!
Yes, sounds gross, but it composts! Nails do too. Is that TMI? Sorry not sorry ;).
59. Shop less.
You don’t have to be a minimalist, but the less stuff you have, the less waste you’ll make. This is so true for kiddos. So many of their things – especially those freebies and party favors – end up as trash.
60. Buy the bruised veggies and fruits at the store.
If you know you’ll eat them soon, you can save them from the landfill! Lots of stores will toss out old looking produce, even if it’s still edible.
61. Finish the old before buying new.
I’m talking about the food in your fridge – you can toss less food out if you just put in a little more effort to finish what’s there first. Bonus – save yourself $$$.
62. Eat old before new food.
Same idea as above – if you do need to shop before your fridge is empty, try getting through the old food first.
63. Give the uneatable to your animals.
Have you had kids or friends over, and one of them doesn’t finish the food on their plate? If your dogs or chickens tolerate human food, pass the leftovers on to them. I’ll finish my own kids’ food or ask them to at another time, but I’m not going to eat outside the family. I’m sorry, that’s just not my style.
64. Compost that pizza box.
Yes, we still order pizza sometimes in a pinch or when we are just too pooped to cook or go out. But you generally can’t recycle a pizza box because of food contamination. So tear it up and add it to your compost.
65. Bring a container for leftovers whenever you eat out.
Have you ever ordered a little too much, and then been torn about tossing the food vs getting a to-go container? Try packing a jar or tupperware in your bag so you can pop those leftovers in your own container.
66. Get take out in your own container.
Ask your favorite place if they are open to this – you might be surprised. Our favorite Thai restaurant in Soquel (Sawasdee’s) let’s us bring our own containers. Let them know on the phone and then get there early enough so they can put it right into your bins after they cook it.
67. Remind folks – NO STRAW! – when you eat out.
If you have a reusable straw, put it on the table to remind you to say No Thanks to the straw.
68. Have a low water lawn.
Water is a precious resource too, and if you care about reducing your waste, you care about preserving water. Succulents are gorgeous little water savers and I love this website for loads of good succulent info – sunshineandsucculents.com. But there are tons of other awesome low water lawn ideas out there in the world.
69. Drive a low emission car.
Tesla? Yes, please. I’d love one of those. But for the average person, a Nissan Leaf is great electric car. Seat warmers! Back up camera! That quiet, quiet engine. I highly recommend one – it doesn’t go long distances, but works for closer ranges.
70. Conserve energy in your house.
Energy can be a massive polluter as well, depending on the source. We try to be mindful of our energy use in lots of ways – using LED lightbulbs, wearing layers in the winter to reduce our heating requirements, turning off lights when we leave a room and the home, and having energy efficient appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves.
71. Try to follow recommended energy conservation hours in your town.
For most places in the U.S. (and elsewhere) energy requirements are greatest during the day, when we’re all up and about and doing stuff. So daytime hours put the greatest strain on our power plants, and certain peak hours require the use of some of our less efficient, more polluting power plants to keep up with energy demand. So, to help out, we run the dishwasher late at night and try to run the washing machine early in the morning, outside of these peak energy use hours.
72. Order it plastic free.
Online shopping is so convenient, right? Especially when you’ve got a job, a family, and all those other life obligations. So when you order online, always ask them ship your order without plastic packaging.
73. When businesses mess up, let them know.
On the same note, if you are trying to order plastic free and the business doesn’t follow-through, write to them and encourage them to cut down on packaging. Try tagging them in social media or commenting on their own posts. A little encouragement can go a long way.
74. Say no to freebies.
Free sample in a plastic cup? Free packet of energy goop at the store? Free bag of crackers? Just say no. You don’t need it. The more we all say No Thanks, the more businesses will think twice about these practices.
75. Get your kids or partner or roomies involved.
You can ready my post all about getting kids into zero waste here.
There you have it – 75 small ways to cut your waste. What’s easiest for you? Which is the most challenging? Share in the comments below!