Skip to main content

Tag: zero waste holidays

25 Meaningful Zero-Waste, Ethical Gifts

Aspiring to live “zero-waste” doesn’t mean being perfect or never buying anything ever again. It means valuing and taking responsibility for what we bring into our lives or into the lives of others.  This list first debuted on my Food for Thought Podcast, so if you’d like to hear it in the context of a larger story about living meaningfully, compassionately, and thoughtfully, check out the episode Lessons and Gifts: Making Meaningful Holidays (and Lives).

As for our list, I’ve categorized them into a few different categories and look forward to hearing your thoughts and your ideas for meaningful, zero-waste, ethical gifts. Please use the comments below to do so!

FOOD

  1. Loose Tea — find your favorite in bulk or in tins; if you order from FarLeaves.com (their tins are reusable and recyclable), enter “colleen” as the coupon code for 10% off
  2. Herbs and Spices — If you can’t find them in bulk near you, you should be able to find spices and herbs in glass jars (which can be reused again and again).  When creating your gift for others, you can make theme-based gift packets, such as “baking spices” (including cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom), or “Italian herbs” (including parsley, basil, and oregano), or “favorite herbs for soup.” You get the idea. Add the spice jars to a basket and wrap in a pretty kitchen towel and raffia ribbon.
  3. Fruit and Nut Basket — Go to a local farm stand or farmers market and buy some beautiful seasonal fruits like persimmon, pomegranates, and apples and some whole walnuts (along with a nice metal nutcracker) — even a jar of local or homemade jam and create a gift basket. Add a couple hand-written recipes that feature the fruits you’ve included. 
  4. Ready-to-Bake Ingredients in a Jar — Instead of giving chocolate chip cookies, what about giving chocolate chip cookies ingredients (and promising to come over and bake with your friend)! Get a bunch of jars from a thrift store and add exactly the amount of all the ingredients in each jar, along with the recipe itself. Make it more special by adding a pie plate or cupcake tin, and pack it up in a pretty paper box. 
  5. Homemade Baked Goods — Bake a pie, crumble, or cobbler and hand-deliver your gift! Make my Caramel Popcorn (from The Joy of Vegan Baking), and present it in a pretty  tin. There are so many ways to create a pretty presentation of homemade goodies.

REUSABLES
Give these individually, as stocking stuffers, or Secret Santa gifts — or create a gift pack of some or all of these. (If you order online, just call when you’re placing your order to request using only paper and not plastic packing materials.)

  1. Reusable straws
  2. Stainless steel food containers
  3. Reusable coffee cups
  4. Reusable grocery shopping bags
  5. Reusable produce bags
  6. Reusable water bottles
  7. Reusable tea thermos (you know me and my favorite tea thermos!)
  8. Reusable shampoo and conditioner bottles
  9. Reusable travel cutlery set
  10.  

EXPERIENCES

  1. The 30-Day Vegan Challenge Online Course 
  2. Concert or Theatre Tickets  — Either find a theatre near your recipient and pick a show you think they’d like to see, or buy a gift certificate from the theatre so your recipient can choose exactly what show they want to attend. 
  3. The Gift of Time (in a Coupon Book): Something I’ve done over many years is create a little coupon book, which you can make as simple or as elaborate as you like, that you give to a loved one for them to redeem — for a massage, a home-cooked meal, a movie, a walk, a hike, a dance — whatever experiences you want to encourage you loved one to ask you for. There are companies that sell these nowadays, but I just like making my own. 
  4. Travel by Theme: My husband David and I set for ourselves the goal to sleep in every county in California. When we lived on the east coast, one theme was “Literary / Author’s Houses” (and still is, depending on where we go) as well as “Lighthouses of New England.” The National Parks of North America is another on our list, and that can be done either by driving or by train! (Travel doesn’t have to include flying, though if you want it to, then I recommend my CPG Vegan Trips!)
  5. Local Walking Tours. Many cities have walking tours led by docents who love where they live and relish sharing the history of the place with others. Lots of cities also have themed walking tours — they might be literary, history, architectural, women’s history, etc. (For those who came to my Compassion in Action a couple years ago, I led a walking tour of the animal protection history in Oakland!). Contact a city’s chamber of commerce and register you and a friend today! Many are free; some ask for donations, some you pay a minimal fee for — it’s worth it! I promise!

BOOKS 
 Obviously, as a writer and a reader, I’m a huge fan of books — even if they’re ebooks or audiobooks. I usually buy a bunch of my favorite books to give out throughout the year, and I’ve listed some below that I use as manuals for living every day. I encourage you to create your own.

  1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (trans. Stephen Mitchell)
  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (trans. Gregory Hays)
  3. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  4. Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
  5. Zooburbia by Tal Moses
  6. Commonplace Book and / or Blank Journals — I journal every day, but I also keep a common book inspired by the Stoics. (Ryan Holiday explains here.) The idea is to not only record your own thoughts (blank journaling/free-writing) but also to record quotes and thoughts of others you find meaningful and want to remember. The act of just writing down meaningful sentences and paragraphs penetrates your mind even more than just reading them. 

BONUS IDEA: MY BOOKS. I’m an author. I’m proud of my seven babies. If you’d like to buy one or more as gifts for others, you’ve made it worth the work I’ve put into each of them. Thank you. 

ENJOY!


Enjoyed this post & want to show your gratitude? Then please support me on Patreon!

 

 

How to Host a Zero-Waste Holiday Dinner

It’s no secret in our home and among our friends: I love to host — parties, dinners, dinner parties, happy hours, anything that brings our loved ones together. 

I blame (READ: credit) my mother. She was the consummate hostess, and I have very fond memories of constant parties at our house — in every season.

  • In the summer, she hosted neighborhood picnics and potato sack races in our backyard!
  • At Christmastime, she hosted holiday parties and even arranged visits from Santa!
  • In the spring, she hosted brunch and Easter egg hunts.
  • And I have oodles of photos of my mother in every Halloween costume imaginable as she this holiday very seriously.

She loved bringing people together, and I just wish I could tell her how much she inspired this quality in me — without even realizing it. She died in 2020.

And so on this Thanksgiving, eight of us sat down to dinner together, and in keeping with my intention to live “zero waste,” I thought I’d share with you how I’m able host dinner without buying any “stuff.” Of course, the term “zero waste” is aspirational rather than rigid. No one is truly zero waste, but for me it means:

  • valuing what I choose to bring into (or already have in) my life/home
  • giving away or refusing what I don’t or can’t value/use
  • taking responsibility for whatever goods I do bring into my life/home
  • avoiding single-use plastic/plastic packaging as much as possible

With that as my guide, it’s very easy to look around my home and see what I already have that can be used for decorating and table-scaping.

THE TABLE

I have had the same couple sets of plates for decades — and one in particular is perfect for fall and winter. I let the season, my mood, and the light dictate the decor, and this year…it’s warm greens and browns.

THE CENTERPIECE

This beautiful stag is our year-round centerpiece, because…deer! But for the Thanksgiving dinner, I added height by propping him up on a cake stand and creating a bed or rosemary for him to stand on. 

ELEMENTS FROM NATURE

On that note, I use a lot of natural materials whatever the season — going outside and gathering leaves, pinecones, flowers, branches — and in this case, cutting rosemary from the numerous rosemary plants we have.

NAPKINS AND TABLECLOTS

We use cloth napkins every day as a matter of course, and of the yellow, brown, and green ones we rotate, the brown seemed perfect for this table. I’ve had these leaf napkin rings for eons, and they’re perfect for fall and winter. I have a few different runners for the table, but I don’t tend to like to use placemats. I find it’s just easier to wipe the table than wash table linens. That’s just me.

PLACE SETTINGS

I wanted to personalize the place settings, which also makes it easier for everyone to know where to sit, so I printed out everyone’s names on cardstock — using paper I already had and ribbon and string I picked from my “gift-wrap” drawer. I also pulled out these little bud vases, which you can easily find these in thrift and second-hand shops. Or, alternatively you could just tie the rosemary together and lay down on the plate.

CHAIRS

As we have only 6 chairs for our small dining room table, instead of buying additional chairs, we borrowed 2 from a neighbor.

THE FOOD

Even though we’re hosting, our friends are also contributing dishes (such as  bread stuffing, green bean casserole, mushroom gravy, salads, pumpkin pie, and apple cobbler. I, however, am in charge of the main dish and some sides:

Oh, and cranberry sauce. Here’s a confession. My husband loves the cranberry sauce from a can, which actually works out well from a zero-waste perspective. As I said, it’s not that zero waste dictates we don’t buy anything; it means we take responsibility for what we do buy.

(SIDE NOTE: Because glass and aluminum are both materials that still have a value in the marketplace and are thus recycled again and again and again (unlike plastic, which is either NOT recycled or able to be recycled only once or twice before losing quality and thus being sent to the landfill). Plus, most plastic is just packaging and just goes straight to the landfill. Listen to my podcast episodes on this topic in Food for Thought.)

  • That means if I have the choice of buying something in a glass container, aluminum can, or plastic container, I’m going to choose glass first (because I wash and keep the bottle/jar), aluminum second (it gets properly recycled), and never plastic (if I can avoid it). 
  • Because I wanted to add corn kernels to my cornbread and because David wanted cranberry sauce, I was able to find each in a can. (Corn on the cob is not in season right now.)  In the past, I used to buy corn and cranberries (to make fresh sauce) in the frozen section in a plastic bag. Being mindful of packaging now, I would rather buy in aluminum cans.
  • Everything I needed for my lentil loaf was already in my cupboard and had been bought in bulk (lentils, herbs, onions, etc.), but we had just bought walnuts that David cracked open as his contribution to dinner.
  • The milk for my cornbread (and potatoes) came was homemade soymilk using my 2nd-hand soymilk maker and dried/soaked soybeans. 
  • The flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda all came from the bulk sections of my local grocery store, and Miyoko’s butter actually comes in paper packaging that I can compost.
  • As for my carrot soup, I’m thrilled to have found a few grocery stores in my neighborhood that sell carrots in bulk — meaning NOT in plastic bags! Yellow potatoes are also easy to find not in plastic (especially at the farmers market but also in stores, as are ginger and garlic (the other ingredients for the soup). 
  • We also serve wine and spirits, all of which are in glass and thus recyclable. 
  • Finally, all of our food scraps are added to our own compost bins OR to our city’s green bins (Oakland has a robust compost program). 40% of food brought into our homes goes straight into the garbage (and thus the landfill), causing additional problems such as the creation of greenhouse gases. (Listen to my podcast episode Food is Not Garbage for more on food waste.)

And so there you have it. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about doing the best we can. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. 

Happy holidays!

What are your favorite zero-waste tips for decor, table-scaping, and cooking? PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS BELOW!