British Columbia

How to explain going zero waste to your family and other tips this holiday season

The Christmas holidays can be the season of excess and waste but some families have found a way to get by with less as part of their commitment to try to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

CBC News asked B.C. families committed to reducing waste how they get along with less

A jar that a Victoria family filled with waste they weren't able to recycle or compost over the course of a year. (Katelin Leblond/Facebook)

The Christmas holidays can be the season of excess and waste, but some families have found a way to get by with less as part of their commitment to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

CBC News asked for tips from B.C. families who have reduced the amount of waste they produce over the holidays through some hard decisions. One potentially fraught topic: how to raise the issue with family members who are happy with the status quo.

"Well frankly I would say, it's never been easier to have these conversations," said Tara Moreau, a married mother of two daughters whose family lives in Vancouver without a car.

Zero waste is a philosophy — and lifestyle — that promotes consuming less to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill sites.

Moreau also runs sustainability and community programs at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. She said news about the warming planet due to climate change, plastic waste in oceans and rallies attended by hundreds of thousands of people have helped spread awareness about the benefits of reducing waste.

Zero-waste has come to prominence in recent years as cities, businesses and residents consider the negative environmental impacts of disposing of consumers items, clothing, single-use plastics items and even food in landfills.

Moreau said Christmas can be a difficult time to buck traditions.


"I think it's difficult when we live in a bit of a consumer culture." she said. "There's these conflicting messages between what we're sort of marketed and kind of sold on, but then at the same time this year, we know that we are in a climate emergency so there's this tension."

When asked by family members what you want for Christmas, Moreau says you could reply that you are challenging yourself to reduce waste in the coming year, and a gift like reusable containers or bags would be appropriate.

She also says asking for help in reducing waste is an invitation to discuss the topic.

"I've tried to not be one to sort of throw it down peoples' throats. I don't always think that's the way to do it," she said,

Zero-waste honesty

Vancouver couple Oliver Giving and Elisabeth Ormandy came to prominence last summer after they celebrated creating just four bags of garbage over a three-year period. In 2018, they stopped giving Christmas gifts to each other and extended family.

Elizabeth Ormandy and Oliver Giving pose for a photograph with the garbage they collected over a three-year period starting in 2016. In July 2019, they finally put it all in the a garbage bin after storing it in a closet in their home. (Oliver Giving)

For Christmas, the couple only gives their parents gifts. They don't decorate their home to reduce waste — and to avoid the stress they feel the season brings.

"It was honestly an easy decision," Giving wrote in an email. "There is already so much happening in December ... that gifting just adds to the pile of too many to-dos."

The couple also realized most gifts they've received over the years were often discarded.

"It's okay to set boundaries and communicate that you will no longer be giving gifts at Christmas and that you hope others will do the same," Giving wrote.

He said it can be tough to be honest with family members. Offering alternatives can be a compromise, he said, such as placing a money limit on gifts or giving a loved one an experience — in lieu of a physical present — such as a concert ticket.

This is Moreau's approach too. She tries to create gifts, rather than give consumer items.

The giving-an-experience approach is something that Metro Vancouver has promoted for a decade through its Create Memories, Not Garbage campaign.

As for 2020, the zero-wasters have new goals. Moreau hopes to only buy second-hand clothing while Giving and Ormandy want to research co-housing as a way to reduce their carbon footprint.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.