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The Secret to a Zero-Waste Christmas: Gifts that Keep on Giving

Braedan Aubry

Somewhere in the outskirts of Edmonton buried deep under nearly two decades worth of compressed trash and debris, the Christmas wrapping paper that wrapped your 2003 Much Dance CD and your Easy-Bake Oven is still sitting in the landfill waiting to decompose. Nothing takes the shine off the holiday season like imagining how much trash we’ve created over the years, so with the Christmas holidays fast approaching, it’s time to think about reducing waste this season. 

According to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre web page, their center receives almost double the amount of waste at the end of December compared to the start of the month. Zero Waste Canada reports that 545,000 tonnes of waste are generated from gift wrapping and shopping bags in Canada each year. Most wrapping paper that is glossy or waxy is not recyclable, which means the wrapping paper from your gifts goes straight to the landfill. Thankfully, most of us have already been gifted with the knowledge we can use to help limit our environmental impact: reduce, reuse, recycle.

The pursuit of a zero-waste holiday season will look different for everyone, but Re:Plenish co-founders Meghann Law and Karine St-Onge suggest taking small, meaningful steps toward your goal. Re:Plenish is a refillerly and zero-waste retail store located in the Ritchie neighbourhood that seeks to combat our relationship with single-use plastics. Since 2019, the store has focused specifically on eco-friendly personal care products, home products and more, and they have a few tips for a greener holiday approach.

Storefront of the Re:Plenish zero-waste market in the Ritchie Neighbourhood

The most sustainable option is always using what you have! Avoid the urge to buy new Christmas decor items and create/reinforce traditions with the ones you already own. You can also reach out to family for Christmas decor items that they might want to unload – those ones often come with nice memories” says Law.

If you’re looking for ways to reduce plastic waste, Re:Plenish carries Furoshiki wraps, a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth that can replace single-use wrapping paper. “These can be used every Christmas and packed away, or they can be traded back and forth between family and friends,” says Law.

Furoshiki fabric gift wrap available at Re:Plenish

Furoshiki wraps have somewhat of a cult following since the cloth itself creates a yearly ritual between close friends and family, and there are countless tutorials showing creative ways to wrap a gift.

Stocking stuffers are another classic holiday tradition, but it might be time for your household to revisit the quantity and quality of these items. “A lot of small gifts and stocking stuffers are unfortunately single-use objects. Items that are sold at dollar stores, or as impulse buys near the till at large retailers that are often poorly made and end up being thrown away within a week or two of gifting them.” Try looking for locally made soaps, stainless steel straws, beeswax wraps and other items that can be enjoyed time and time again.

When it comes to gift exchanges, the green alternative is to opt for an experience rather than an item. “Some low waste ideas are passed to museums, a night’s stay at a nice hotel and gift cards for a nice dinner,” says Law. If you still want to opt for a physical gift, Re:Plenish suggests that you shop for items that are durable and well-made, items that can be handed down from one generation to the next. “Last year, I got my brother a fancy hatchet that will long outlast him!”.

None of us are perfect, and many of us will still end up with extra waste after the holidays. Still, by making a conscious effort to reduce how much we purchase, reuse what we have available and recycle what can be recycled, we can start to make a positive impact towards a zero-waste holiday. You can take pride in the fact that the wrapping paper you’ve used this year is tucked away safely in a box in the basement ready to be used next year, instead of blowing in the wind or piled high with other single-use plastics in Edmonton’s waste management facilities. 


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