Our 2019 low waste advent calendar

Are you hoping to slow things down and savor this special time of year WITHOUT a ton of trash?  Want some ideas for a low waste holiday season?  

 

Check out our easy low waste advent calendar ideas from 2019.  Having a low waste advent calendar is one way that we embrace the holidays and stay connected with each other during these busy days.  

photo of Christmas pyramid

 

We’ve been doing this family advent calendar for the last 5 years.  You can read about what we’ve done in previous years here.

 

Each year we keep our favorite activities from the previous year’s low waste advent calendar and create new ones too.  So I thought I’d share our 2019 low waste advent calendar ideas with you in case you are looking for some near zero waste advent calendar inspiration.  

 

Oh, and if you’re wondering what our physical advent calendar, it’s basically a fabric tree with 24 pockets.  Each pocket has a little fabric ornament that velcros to the tree.  We slip a piece of paper behind the ornament with each day’s low waste advent calendar activity/treat :).

low waste advent calendar
This is our actual calendar with pockets and velcro ornaments.
rocking horse ornament
The little slips of paper fit behind the ornaments in the pockets.

 

Ready to hear our ways of staying connected?  Here we go!

1-Make paper snowflakes.

 

Got paper in your recycling bin?  Watch a quick tutorial on YouTube to learn how to turn that paper into paper snowflakes.  We have fun make at least a few paper snowflakes each in different colored paper.  Then we’ll tape them to our windows and walls for a little extra holiday spirit.  

 

Don’t forget to compost the tiny bits of paper that come off in the cutting.  Most recycling centers don’t have a way to easily catch these and so they probably won’t get recycled.  

photo of paper snowflakes

2-Check the cupboard or fridge for a special treat.  

 

We’ll go by a local bakery the night before and get them each a cookie, donut, cupcake or anything special that we wouldn’t normally get to eat at breakfast.  Pre-COVID days we’d bring our own container to avoid the packaging trash.  And even today some places are coming back around to the realization that our own containers aren’t filthy, disease ridden super spreaders.

 

Little low waste treats like this are sprinkled into the advent calendar for busy days – we don’t have time for fun-tivities everyday, but we can take a moment to mark the day in easier ways.

 

3-Hot chocolate with whipped coconut cream.  

 

Another easy breakfast treat.  We get coconut cream in a can.  Simply scoop out the hard part of the cream (leaving behind any coconut water/milk) and then whip it either by hand or in your stand mixer.  You can add a dash of vanilla extract and sugar too.

photo of hot cocoa
Coconut cream is an awesome vegan whipped cream alternative.

4-Candlelight snuggle story time on couch.  

 

SO fun!  After dinner one night, we got out extra blankets, light candles, and snuggle around a good book.  We have a few Christmas decorations that involve candles, so this is a perfect time to light & enjoy those.  As for books, we’ve been loving The Mysterious Benedict Society lately.  My partner will read outloud to them for long stretches at a time.  I tend to lose my voice before him, so I get to sit and snuggle and listen instead :).

photo of Christmas pyramid
Our Christmas pyramids arent this fancy after years of wear and tear :).

 

5-Shop for adopt-a-family.  

 

Does your school or church or community group adopt a family around the holidays?  Our school participates each year and we join in too.  Last year the kids and I had fun at Target picking out what we thought our person might like.  My partner stayed home (not a huge shopping fan) and made dinner so we could squeeze this in after school and dance.  We don’t all 4 have to do everything on the calendar together – we try to keep it manageable for our regular life stuff like school, dinner, dishes, homework, piano practice, etc!

 

6-Night swimming.

  

Yes, just like the REM song ;).  We have a local heated swimming pool (Simpkins Swim Center) that has evening hours.  It was a blast.  Swimming at night feels magical.

 

7-Watch the lighted boat parade.  

 

At the Santa Cruz Harbor each year, there’s a parade of boats decorated in lights.  We went last year and took a couple of their friends with us.  It was pouring rain, but that made it more memorable.  Plus I packed a thermos of hot apple cider and some cups, and some popcorn.  We huddled under umbrellas, sipped cider and munched popcorn and watched the boats go by.  The rain seemed like a bummer at first but it made the night that much more memorable for everyone. 

 

8-Pick out a tree.  

 

We’re still getting a real tree each year although we’ve talked as a family about other options, wondering what is the most eco-friendly option.  As long as we aren’t driving far to get a tree (fewer emissions) and if we compost the tree at the end of its life, it feels fairly sustainable to get a real tree.  But there’s a tree rental place in our area called Rent a Living Christmas Tree (RentXmasTree.com) for another option.  

 

We go to a local business to get the tree (Capitola Produce) and the kids usually want to play hide and seek among the trees a few times before we bring one home.

photo of kids in Christmas tree farm
We try to have a little fun when we pick out our Christmas tree.

9-Pick a charity to donate to.  

 

As a family last year, we talked about the different causes we cared about and then picked one charity to donate to.  The kids wanted to donate to a charity that provides global health services, and so we picked Partners in Health.  

 

I will say, though, the amount of unrequested paper mail we’ve gotten from them over the year has been INSANE.  So this year, when we make a donation, we’ll remember to make a firm request for NO MAIL.

 

10-Make caroling video.  

 

The past few years we’ve recorded ourselves on our iPad singing a Christmas carol.  It’s of family-viewing-only quality, and a lot of the joy comes from looking back at our videos over the years.  Pretty dang cute! It’s neat to see how they’ve grown each year by Christmas time.

 

11-Write a letter to Santa.  

 

This is a big highlight for the kids, of course!  They each get to ask Santa for 1 pre-approved thing from Santa (i.e., we might veto certain items before they get in the letter.  Think more animals or an iphone or other devices).

 

12-Aquarium outing with Grandma & Grandpa.  

 

We are super lucky to have grandparents nearby who do fun things with our kids.  This past year they wanted to take them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the day.  So fun!  There are lots of great outings in our community – local parks and beaches, art museum, children’s discovery center, the animal shelter, etc etc.  You get the idea.

 

13-Ornament shopping with Grandma & Grandpa.  

 

This is another annual tradition in our little family.  Each year the kids head out for the afternoon with Grandma & Grandpa.  They drive to a few different locally owned stores that carry really cute ornaments.  The kids take everything in and then make their decision (sometimes having to go back to an earlier store, but that’s okay).  Part of the joy of this is just seeing all the creative and sparkly and beautiful ornaments.  Plus they love showing us and picking a spot to hang it on the tree.  And when we decorate the tree (which is often an advent calendar activity), we all like looking back at what they’ve picked each year.  E.g., a glass pink cadillac, a glass stand mixer, a fuzzy squirrel, glass ballet slippers, and more.

 

14-Doggy christmas at dog park.  

 

We made this up but basically brought our dogs to the dog park (which we RARELY do) and got them each a little something at the pet store.  Fun for the dogs, fun for us!  

photo of dog and ball
happy dog at the park!

 

15-Gratitude letters and hot spiced cider. 

 

One evening after dinner and before bedtime, we sat down to write a few things we’re each grateful for while we enjoyed hot spiced cider.  I like to buy spiced cider from Santa Cruz Organics because it comes in a glass container vs plastic.

 

16-Make an online family Christmas card.  

 

This was super fun, especially for my older daughter who’s into design.  We found some simple templates (Canva.com has plenty – all free), picked our favorite, and then picked family photos from our google photos and uploaded them into the card.  Once we were done, we downloaded it and sent it in email to our family and friends.  We aren’t doing real cards any more, although it was fun to do each year in the past.  But this is a more eco-friendly option.

 

17-Tea party for dinner.  

 

Although this is the most work, it’s my FAVORITE advent calendar event.  I make a big pot of herbal tea and then a bunch of finger foods – homemade cookies, popcorn, hummus, chopped veggies, vegan cream cheese & cucumber sandwiches, a couple other dips, and crackers. We put all the food in the living room and sit around our little coffee table on the floor and enjoy our special meal.  So fun!

 

18-Family S’mores night.  

 

By December we’re out of fire season, so it’s s’more season! At least for a bit.  Again there’s the packaging of vegan marshmallows (and graham crackers and chocolate!) If you’re feeling super ambitious, I’ve seen recipes for vegan marshmallows & you might be able to find the ingredients unpackaged in a bulk store.  Here’s one recipe: https://thehiddenveggies.com/vegan-marshmallows/ and another one: https://happyfoodhealthylife.com/vegan-marshmallows-recipe/.  

 

You could get creative and roast something else – i’ve seen folks do bananas (but they’re wrapped in tinfoil).  Or just have a little backyard fire.  The real fun is being in the yard on a cold night, warming our hands and feet around the fire pit.  

 

19-Family movie night.  

 

You know those nights when you’re exhausted and want to be horizontal for as long as possible?  Perfect excuse for a family movie night.  We try to pick a holiday movie, but honestly whatever the kids can agree to is great.  Elf and Home Alone are a couple of our family favorites.  

 

20-Ice skating with Grandpa.  

 

He likes to take the kids to the ice skating rink at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that gets set up around the holidays.  Super fun for everyone.

 

21-Hanukkah breakfast at the Bagelry.  

 

We love our local bagel restaurants and added a little breakfast to the advent calendar.  They have loads of vegan spreads.  Yum!

 

22-Birthday celebrations.

 

My youngest daughter has a birthday in the middle of the holiday season and this day is her day – we do a family dinner party and then she has something with friends too.  We put any parties that we’re going to on the calendar as well – those are special enough for the day! 

 

23-Cookies with grandma.  

 

Another super special annual tradition.  Grandma bakes a bunch of sugar cookies the day or two before and then the kids come over for a decorating bonanza.  The kids have also helped bake the cookies in the past, but the decorating part is their favorite. And it makes it a little easier for everyone if they’re baked already.  Bonus: parents get to eat the cookies!

 

24-Craft date with momma.  

 

I like to put together super simple crafts that we can finish in a couple hours.  It’s a fun time to invite the kids’ friends over too.  One year we made cloth crowns with elastic bands out of fabric that they picked.  Another year we made simple sandwich baggies out of fabric they bought at the store.  Friendship bracelets are fun and easy.  Or bookmarks out of scrap fabric.  Lots of easy options!

 

There’s our 2019 low waste advent calendar.  Do any of these sound like fun for your family?  Or do you have any to add?  I’d love to hear – leave a comment below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

 

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Are you hoping to make less waste this Halloween?  I’ve got some easy zero waste Halloween ideas that you AND your kids can get behind.  Read on to learn about:

Our 2019 zero waste Halloween ideas

 

Halloween again already??  I’m not complaining – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays.  And although it’ll look different this year cuz of COVID, we’re still aiming for a zero waste Halloween.  Last year we made even more strides towards a zero waste Halloween, so I thought I’d share our low waste Halloween ideas with you.  

 

For last year’s Halloween, we were inspired by Amanda at mamaeatsplants.com.  She described their zero waste Halloween in 2018 and I knew that was what we would aim for in 2019.  

 

How we had a zero waste Halloween in 2019

Zero waste Halloween
our zero waste Halloween

Here’s what we did.  Each year, the kids get a UNICEF box from school to collect spare change and bills that get donated to UNICEF – trick or treat for UNICEF, it’s called.  In the past, my partner and I have done our best to fill the little cardboard box with coins & bills. 

We didn’t want our kids asking strangers for candy AND money on Halloween. It felt like asking for too much.  So we figured we’d do the UNICEF part at home and let the kids do the candy part on the streets.  

 

But this year, we got behind trick or treat for UNICEF, instead of trick or treat for candy.  And one of the friends who came along collected spare change for a couple of other non-profits that support immigrant children at the border.  How cool is that?? 

 

Let me explain how we got the kids into these zero waste Halloween ideas. 

 

  • First, I told the kids what Amanda and her family did – trick or treat for UNICEF, followed by a homemade dessert party at their home.  Isn’t that a great idea? Says mom.  

 

  • Second, I proposed that if the kids decided to trick or treat for UNICEF instead of for candy, we’d have a literal BUFFET of homemade vegan desserts to come home to and pig out on.  And plenty of leftovers to carry us through the next few days, fully sugar-fueled.

 

  • Third, I proposed that the kids could each pick TWO desserts that they wanted to have on Halloween, and that I’d make them (within reason, of course, and with help from the kids if they were inclined).   Basically, we were aiming for a dessert BONANZA.  

 

  • Fourth, I reminded the kids that the fun of Halloween is not about the candy.  It’s about the planning, the costumes, the friends, the walking around, the excitement of it all.  The energy on the sidewalks from throngs of kids and parents walking in the streets, having a good time.  Such a fun night.

    Halloween costumes
    My kiddos in their DIY costumes (Wednesday Adams & Evie from the Descendants)

 

  • Fifth, I reached out to another family who cares about low waste living to see if they would be interested in joining us and being a part of trick or treat for UNICEF with a dessert buffet to follow.  They were in!

 

After going through all this, my girls had no qualms about giving up the candy in exchange for a dessert party with their buddies.  

 

The kids each picked desserts (rice pudding, cupcakes, chocolate peanut butter bars, and cookies). 

vegan cupcakes
Did you know you can whip coconut cream to make a delicious, vegan whipped cream??

I started with a shopping list the weekend before to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand, in a low waste form (planning ahead for groceries always works better than last-minute shopping and not finding what you need in bulk).  And then I started baking some of the goodies a couple of days in advance.  That way I wouldn’t spend all of Halloween baking (I’ve got other work to do too!).

 

On Halloween, our friends came over and we had a healthy dinner of vegan pesto pasta and a green salad – yum! – before we started on our walk.  Kids also got a little dessert before we hit the road. 

 

I was a little worried about how people would feel about donating cash on Halloween for UNICEF.  Surprisingly, no one blinked an eye or had any problems with the request!  Full success.  I forget the exact amount we raised but I think it was close to $100.  Go kids, go!  

 

After getting worn out walking around, we came back home and ate desserts.  Also, instead of counting candy, the kids had a great time adding up their UNICEF donations.  

 

Everyone was happy and full of sugar.  No complaints at all.

 

This felt like a more zero waste Halloween than the previous year.  You can read about our first zero waste Halloween ideas here.  This year we didn’t actually take home candy and then give it away – we avoided that trash altogether.

 

If you’re hoping to have a low waste Halloween this year or next year or whenever the world goes back to semi-normal again, here are my key tips for a low waste Halloween 

 

Tips for a low waste Halloween.

  1. Talk way in advance with your kids about your ideas
  2. Talk about the charity you’d like to trick-or-treat for, or ask your kids if they have any ideas.  UNICEF provides cute boxes but you could make your own!
  3. Make awesome desserts.  My favorite cookbooks for vegan desserts include Vegan with a Vengeance and Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World.  I also love NoraCooks.com for amazing vegan recipes.
  4. Find another family who is on board with your idea.  Are some of your kids’ friends into zero waste living?  Or some of your friends?  It’s more fun with a group!
  5. Remind your kids that the night is fun because of the dressing up & hanging with friends & and (post-COVID) having a good time in the neighborhood.  Not because of the candy!

 

BTW, this year we’ll do something different to accommodate COVID.  We might go on a treasure hunt with hidden bulk candy in the neighborhood!  Or we might just go to a few select homes of people we know and trick-or-treat for UNICEF or homemade goodies at their door instead.

 

That’s what we did last year!  Do you have any other thoughts on a low waste Halloween?  I’d love to hear so leave me a comment below!

 

xo,

Liz at No Trace

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Zero waste holidays

Don’t let the title of this post fool you – I confess that we did not have a zero waste Christmas. There was wrapping paper, toy packaging, tape, ribbon, candy wrappers, and more strewn about the house for a few days.

My kids each asked Santa for one gift, and those items both came with packaging. They also received gifts from friends and family, which also came with packaging and wrapping.

Everything was recycled or packed away for reuse except for a few curling ribbons that were too trashed or small to reuse. We used recycled paper, paper tape, fabric ribbons, and reusable bags to wrap our gifts to one another.

But there was still a lot of material that ended up in the recycling bin. Looking at the debris-covered living room, I took away some lessons for next year’s holidays to help us reach a goal of zero waste, while still experiencing the joy and magic of the holidays.

Tips to cut waste during the holidays

tips for a low waste holiday
Easy tips for low waste holidays
  • First, next year we are going to leave some reusable bags and fabric out for Santa to use to wrap his gifts. I don’t think he normally does this, but I imagine he will if we ask him too. We can even ask the kids to pick out the packaging they want him to use.
  • Second, we’ll get candy from the bulk bins and give it away in reusable containers, like jars or metal tins, instead of wrapped candy and chocolate bars. Chocolate bars have always been one of my go-to gifts for loved ones, but I have found some pretty delicious chocolate candies in the bulk bins at local food stores In a cute tin or jar, I imagine these will go over just as well as chocolate bars.
  • Third, I will graciously ask friends and family to wrap gifts in fabric or reusable bags. I hate to presume that the kids will get gifts from folks, but it tends to happen. Part of being successful on a zero waste journey is to share your goals with others. Next year, we’ll be better about conveying this.

On a positive note, I did give loved ones some of our No Trace beeswax wraps to help them reduce their waste and use of plastics. They were a hit! In giving the wraps, it also gave me an opportunity to share more about zero waste living and the opportunities that exist for anyone who wants to take a small step toward reducing their footprint.

How were your holidays? Do you have zero waste tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!