5 strategies for a zero waste holiday with your family

Thinking about strategies for a zero waste holiday with your family from a negative perspective was a little difficult for me. My immediate family doesn’t often spend holidays together and my parents are just so dang amenable to my ideas that it hardly seems fair.

But for those of you who may dread a (potential) zero waste holiday with your family, I’m here for you. Really, none of this is much different from the advice I give to people re: day-to-day zero waste actions.

Be a good role model, set and prioritize realistic goals, and get a little bit sneaky with how you introduce zero waste to people!

5 strategies for a zero waste holiday with your family - Green Indy Blog

Share your views but keep it civil

There are reasons to tear into your family. (Uncle Bob a raging racist? Aunt Betty railing against marriage equality? Go wild.) But bringing people into the fold of sustainability can be handled with a bit more tact.

Has an aggressive person ever changed your mind about anything? Probably not. More likely, you were left with a bad taste in your mouth that didn’t make you feel positively toward whatever cause you were getting shouted at about. Keep this in mind as you continue on your zero waste journey and your attempts to influence others.

While it can be incredibly tempting to force zero waste changes on family members (or partners or roommates – whoever), it’s an unsustainable practice that will likely make those close to you resentful of the zero waste movement. Be sensitive to the needs, wants, and challenges others may face that you don’t as you suggest change.

If this is a topic that interests you (or you struggle with, like me), I’d suggest reading Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times.

Be prepared to do the work

If you expect the holiday dinner to be a low-waste affair but let your mom go off grocery shopping alone and under-prepared, don’t be surprised when trash abounds. As frustrating as it sounds, the person who cares about sustainability needs to be the one leading the way. (And it’s the only way to ensure everything’s done how you want it.)

So arm yourself with your reusable bags and get the shopping done. Be sure to bring it home and show off to your family, whether they care or not. They should at least internalize your own excitement about it! Better yet, save receipts and compare them to non-zero waste shops. If the total is lower, awesome! If the total is higher, show how much less packaging is being produced and the higher quality of the food.

The goes for grocery shopping, sorting out recycling and compost, offering cool low-waste wrapping options, and anything else you may need to cover.

5 strategies for a zero waste holiday with your family - Green Indy Blog

pick your battles

Here’s the cold, hard truth: even with a super-accommodating family, you’re not going to hit every target for a zero waste holiday with your family. (Because zero waste isn’t ever zero.) So you need to prioritize.

Start by making a list (real or mental) on what a “zero waste holiday with your family” really means. It might look like:

  • using no single-use items during the big meal
  • forcing your parents to go on a zero waste grocery shopping trip with you
  •  Reducing the number of gifts you give
  • giving only practical or non-physical gifts
  • drinking cocktails at home rather than going out
  • diverting all organic matter into the compost pile

Whatever low waste goals you have, rank them in order of importance. Choose the one, (reasonable but) non-negotiable goal you have and start there. If your family feels uncomfortable and pushes back against your ideas, stick to just one. If they feel amenable to your sustainable ideas, implement more.

TL;DR? Be realistic and flexible.

Give sneaky zero waste gifts

While it may be tempting to buy 100% zero waste gifts for your loved ones, it can definitely feel like you’re bought presents for yourself – not the other person. Again, forcing a zero waste on your family is a great way to leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.

So instead of couching the gift in zero waste terms, simply present a low-waste option of something they really want. Want a new bag? Find one that’s been ethically produced and can be composted at the end of its life. Need a new phone case? Get a 100% plant-based option. Eyeing a fun new gadget? Find it cheaper second hand.

Or maybe just set them up with an experience gift they’d really enjoy. Or even a prettily done-up consumable gift if you don’t need a big gesture!

5 strategies for a zero waste holiday with your family - Green Indy Blog

Make your family feel like experts

Here’s the truth: you probably know way more about zero waste practices and your best options for [X, Y, Z} than your partner/mother/etc. But. It can’t hurt to solicit their opinion anyway, making a zero waste holiday with family feel less forced and more collaborative.

Ask the older generation what they used to do for [x, y, z] traditions before the advent of plastic overuse in the 80s. Ask younger nieces or nephews for ideas on what sort of DIY activities they’d like to do during the holiday downtime. Ask the best cook in your family on the best way to prepare a special dish with your low-waste ingredients.

You may already know the answer or not really need any help, but it’s important to show you value others. Plus, when people give input and voice their opinions they have an easier buy-in!


That’s that! Best of luck on your holiday endeavors – whether a zero waste holiday with your family is in the cards or not, enjoy!