Tips for a Plastic-Free Holiday

Did you know that turkey day is actually a very trashy day? But it doesn’t have to be that way. Too much plastic is needlessly purchased for the holidays. Are you ready to say goodbye to needless plastic this holiday season?

My new book called Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide To Plastic-Free Living is packed full of tips to help newcomers to the plastic-free lifestyle as well as inspire practiced veterans to continue to dramatically reduce their holiday waste print. Studies have shown that very year Americans needlessly throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of year.

Let’s bring on the holiday cheer this year (yes, even in a pandemic) and put the brakes on using and discarding plastic. After all, why pay money for plastic packaging that is destined for disposal when you can save money and our planet by opting for biodegradable solutions and reusables instead.

With some forethought, it’s easy to celebrate the holidays elegantly and without plastic waste. Say Goodbye to Plastic is organized according to rooms in a house. When it comes to zero-waste tips for the holidays, there are many strategies covered in the chapters focused on the Kitchen as well as Dining and Entertaining.

I founded my plastic-free food container company ECOlunchbox in 2008 as part of my work as a plastic pollution activist. I see my book as an invitation to readers to join me in the plastic-free movement. Through the telling of my own learning to say goodbye to plastic, I aim to inspire and activate readers.


Whether you’re celebrating small with immediate family or hosting a gathering, here are some of the ideas from my book to help you kick off the holiday season joyfully and with much less plastic.



1. Put It In the Invitation

Set yourself up for success by being honest. Let people know this is a plastic-free Thanksgiving celebration. If you need them to bring their own reusable containers, ask them up front. If it’s a potluck, request items in reusable containers instead of plastic throw-aways.

Don’t expect people to share your values without any notice. Making an announcement is an easy way to invite participation and set the stage for dramatic plastic and waste reduction.


2. Shop Smart

Once November rolls around, the grocery store transforms into a minefield of stressed out shoppers, extra long lines, and waste waste waste. Make your next shopping trip relatively painless and waste free with some careful planning ahead.

The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic every year. Just remember that what goes in, goes out when it comes to plastic packaging you bring into your home. If you don’t bring it home, you won’t have to discard it! So as you shop, pay close attention to the foods you’re buying and the plastic packaging you’re avoiding by buying in bulk in reusable containers as much as possible.


3. BYO Bag During A Pandemic

During COVID times, sometimes it’s tricky to even bring your own bag because of contamination fears. No worries, just request the checker to put your groceries back in your cart and you can bag your own items in a reusable bag at your car as you load to go home. Some groceries in California have set up bag-your-own tables outside the front of the store to enable waste-free shoppers to continue to say no to single-use grocery bags.


4. Eco Decorating

I hate to burst your bubble but balloons and their strings can entangle, choke, and kill marine life and other animals when lost in the environment. Some balloons are made of latex, which is considered a biodegradable material, but it takes months or years for the rubber to break down and until then, it’s hazardous to wildlife.

I have foregone disposable streamers made from plastic or throw-away paper for festive, reusable artisan banners made out of cotton pennants with designs and words. Decorating with found items in nature, whether it’s roadside wildflowers or autumn leaves, is a lovely way to bring the season into your home.


5. Ask For Help

Once everyone arrives, you can also make a short announcement about what you’re doing and why. Ask your guests for their help in reaching your goal of a plastic-free party. Let them know where the compost and recycling bins are located. Invite people to make themselves at home and use your kitchen sink if they have reusable serving platters or other items they’ve brought that need a quick wash-up before being toted home.


6. Build Your Stash

If you throw a lot of parties and you have the storage space, it’s worth investing in enough dishes, glasses, and utensils for your parties so you never have to resort to single-use plastic items. Put out a call for items from people on your neighborhood online bulletin board or purchase what you can for less at your local thrift store.

For very large events and when reusables are not practical, I find certified compostable options, like bamboo plates without plastic lacquers. Paper plates coated with water-resistant plastic are not compostable or recyclable, so don’t let the word “paper” on the packaging fool you.


7. Smart Hydration

Everyone is obsessed with sparkling water these days—and that means way more plastic bottle waste. Is a little bit of the bubbly truly worth it?

If you’re not equipped to make sparkling water at home (see the Kitchen chapter in Say Goodbye To Plastic for how-to options), skip it and all the other individually packaged drinks! That’s right, I said skip the sparkling water. Serve filtered tap water with lemon, mint, cucumbers, or any variety of herbs and fruit instead!

I’ve picked up a couple of glass drink dispensers with spigots that sit side by side on a metal stand. I usually make iced tea with plastic-free tea bags for one side and something else like infused water or lemonade for the other.


8. Non-Toxic Flames

Ready for a buzzkill? Finding a candle that’s not sold in plastic packaging can be tough. Plus paraffin candles may look innocent, but inside their soft, romantic glow they contain… petroleum and often unhealthy fragrances.

Paraffin is a petroleum derived product, like plastic. Combine the off gassing of the burning petroleum wax with synthetic fragrances and you’ve got a toxic combination. Beeswax candles are here to save the day. They burn with almost no smoke or scent and clean the air by releasing negative ions into the air.


9. BYO Everything

If you don’t have enough of your own reusable dinner supplies yet, you can always ask your guests to join in on the plastic-free fun by bringing their own. When I first started throwing plastic-free parties, I would ask people to bring their own utensils and cups. The upside: everyone washed their own dishes before taking them back home so I didn’t have to!


10. Hide the Trash Can

I like to only have labelled bins for recyclables and compost items out during parties—no landfill! It’s a pretty good trick to slyly move guests into the direction of reusable and compostable items.


11. You Can’t Control Everything

Inevitably, some people are going to bring stuff that turns into trash. When a guest shows up with a plastic platter of veggies just smile and say thank you. It might be hard to bite your tongue, but choose to lead by example instead. Invite them warmly into your plastic-free lifestyle; don’t chase them out with a snarky attitude or educational criticism.



Learning to live plastic-free is accessible to everyone. Ready for more easy hacks to help you say goodbye to plastic? As a plastic pollution activist and founder of ECOlunchbox, Sandra Ann Harris invites us in her book, Say Goodbye to Plastic, which is part memoir, part inspirational ode to the ocean and packed with how-to tips to say goodbye to plastic. The foreword, written by Dianna Cohen, the CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, gives perspective to the plastic pollution movement and frames it within the current environmental and racial justice movement unfolding worldwide.



SANDRA ANN HARRIS is an entrepreneur and CEO of ECOlunchbox, a plastic-free company which she started in 2008 to empower people to say goodbye to plastic. Former humanitarian aid worker and journalist, she currently lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. She is the author of Say Goodbye to Plastic.