The festive season is almost upon us! We will soon be busily organising Christmas parties, family events, gifts and more. Although Christmas is a time of joy and celebration, it is also a time of waste, with excess food, packaging, decorations and gifts galore! This waste comes from a place of generosity, culture and kindness, making it seem daunting to deal with. However, with a few simple tips and tricks it is possible to have a wonderful and sustainable Christmas celebration with all the trimmings while reducing our impact on the environment.
Decorations are a big part of the Christmas tradition. Whether it be decorating your house inside or outside, it certainly brings a festive feeling to your home. While baubles, shiny tinsel and plastic Santa’s are great fun, they do create waste. Never fear, there are plenty of options to enjoy a decorated home, while also doing your part for the environment.
Firstly, re-use what you have. Most of us already have a stash of decorations in the cupboard waiting for December to arrive once again. There is nothing wrong with using the same decorations each year. There’s something comforting about opening the box of decorations to find the old family favourites ready to be hung up again.
If you really like to jazz things up each year, look online or at your local second-hand store for second-hand options.
If your friends and family are keen Christmas decorators, organise a decoration swap party. Host a party, request all guests to bring a bag of pre-loved decorations, and guests can negotiate to swap decorations. This way everyone gets something ‘new’.
Making your own from recycled materials from around your house is another great option. Making decorations is also a fun Christmas activity for kids. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.
This year, my four year old and I decorated our Christmas tree solely from paper supermarket shopping bags, an old t-shirt that could not be donated, glue and paint I found around the house. We used paper chains as a tinsel replacement made from strips of shopping bag, a star made from a shopping bag and a t-shirt, and finally we tied strips of t-shirt to the tree to add a splash of colour. The colour theme was designed by my son!
I love buying second-hand gifts and it is a great way to ensure new items are not needlessly produced, saving on energy, resources and packaging.
It is common to have reservations about judgement from family and friends on receipt of your second-hand gifts. The fear of appearing ‘stingy’ is a big hurdle for second-hand gifts, which is why they are rarely a cultural norm. However, you can play an important role in mainstreaming this concept. It is important to have conversations with friends and family to discuss how they feel about second-hand gifts, and what type of items they may be comfortable receiving as second-hand. This sets expectations and will make sure that Christmas day is full of delightful surprises and not rude shocks. You never know, other people you buy for may want to do the same – they just didn’t want to be the first to raise the issue.
Buying second-hand is particularly easy for kids. Young kids don’t care that their new toy is not in a box or plastic pack. They are just excited to have something new to play with. And let’s be honest, they don’t have to fight their way through the packaging to start playing! My kids have had hours of fun playing with their second-hand presents without complaint (except if they need to share!). I am honest with them and they understand their gifts are pre-loved. I talk about how this helps to look after our planet, our trees and our animals and my kids are happy to be a part of this. So in essence this doubles as a teaching moment to impart sustainability knowledge to your children. I heard a rumour from Santa’s little helper that there’s a trampoline, skateboards, board games and books from Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace in the sleigh on its way to our house this year. The kids are going to love them!
So, what are you waiting for? Log-on to Gumtree, Facebook Market Place, your local ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook Group or visit your local second-hand store and start searching for the perfect gift. There is an abundance of amazing quality items available. You may even find some still in the original packaging as it was unwanted by the original owner!
Gifts made from recycled materials
If you are not convinced by second-hand gifts, or your attempts to convince family and friends are met with confused stares, then buying gifts made from recycled materials is a great option. You can buy toys manufactured from recycled plastics, sunglasses made from discarded fishing nets, and even shoes made from old clothes with recycled plastic bottle shoelaces! There are endless options. Have a Google and you will be amazed at what you find.
If second-hand and recycled material gifts are really not your thing, try to buy a non-material gift. This could be an experience, a restaurant voucher, a class, a subscription, a massage or even a donation on the recipient’s behalf. These options all come without packaging and many provide e-vouchers, so you don’t need to worry about wrapping! They are a great option to reduce waste.
For the person who has everything, a donation is a great feel-good option for both parties. There are so many great causes to donate to and you can match your donation to an area of interest of the recipient.
My brother and I agreed several years ago to not buy gifts at all. Instead, we go out for a nice meal together to catch up and eat good food. Spending time with those you care for is what Christmas is all about, and this option creates better memories than any material present. Likewise, we have agreed with my husband’s siblings to make a donation each year in place of buying gifts and have also gone out for dinner when we are all together. This is a lovely way to spend time with family and reduce our reliance on the need for material items.
Gift wrapping options
Wrapping is another item that bumps up the waste pile. There is an array of gorgeous wrapping papers available. However, when you think about the trees needed to create the paper, is it really worth it? Small individual actions such as avoiding new-wrapping paper can build up to reduce our need for paper manufacturing and therefore have positive impacts on deforestation.
You may be on board with this concept, but what are your options?
The easiest option is to save wrapping paper from previous gifts. It is really easy to unwrap gifts so the paper doesn’t rip. The paper can be used again and again.
Another great option is to use your kids’ artwork as wrapping paper. This adds a special touch and makes the kids feel special that their work has been chosen. The never ending stream of drawings and paintings coming back to my house from child care provides ample wrapping paper to choose from by Christmas time! We did this last Christmas, and the kids looked so proud when their grandparents commented on their lovely wrapping paper.
Another option is to by-pass paper wrapping all together. We frequently use pillowcases with fun pictures on them to wrap the kid’s gifts. For larger items such as bikes, we use a sheet – this makes for an exciting unveiling! You can also place smaller items unwrapped in a Santa sack.
If you want to add adornments such as bows and ribbons, reuse what you have at home before buying something new. Another option is to look on Gumtree, Facebook Market Place or visit a second-hand shop to see what old craft supplies are up for grabs.
If you really want to buy new wrapping or adornments, opt for recycled options.
Plastic-free sticky tape is a great option to wrap your gifts to reduce your reliance on plastic. We use a water-activated tape that appears as brown paper. Simply use a damp cloth to moisten and apply like normal sticky tape. The tape can be written and drawn on too which makes it fun for the kids to decorate.
Do you want to save hours of your time in the lead-up to Christmas? Easy! Choose not to send hard-copy Christmas cards! If you love sending cards, try e-cards. There are some great options to choose from online that will make your friends and family smile.
Again, if this is something you can’t give-up, choose cards made from recycled paper or use your kid’s artwork.
Food is a major part of Christmas celebrations. Unfortunately, over catering is also a big contributor to waste at Christmas. When food decomposes in landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas far stronger than carbon dioxide and a large part of the climate change problem.
So how do you reduce food waste but still enjoy all the bells and whistles of your Christmas feast? Firstly, don’t go overboard. Sure, you can buy enough food for leftovers, but do you really need to have enough food leftover for a week or even more?
Despite your best intentions, there are many families that expect a mountain of food to be placed on the table in front of them on Christmas day. In this case, choose longer shelf-life items or foods that freeze well. For foods that have a limited storage capacity and can’t be frozen, attempt to order just what you need.
Set a phone reminder to put food in the fridge promptly after the meal, as it can be easy to forget after a couple of glasses of wine! There’s nothing more frustrating than throwing food away for food safety reasons that could have otherwise been kept.
If you do have to throw food away, look at your options before putting it into landfill. Do you have a compost bin, worm farm or chickens to feed the scraps too? Or can one of your guests take scraps home for their compost, worms or chickens? Does your council/government have a FOGO bin to dispose of scraps? Is there a community garden that accepts food scraps for their compost? These options will help to reduce methane gas emissions from your food waste.
If you don’t have a compost bin or worm farm, perhaps you can start one now to prepare for upcoming Christmas food waste! This will also allow you to reduce your methane emissions all year round, and produce great compost and worm fertiliser for your garden. Like with my other suggestions, when buying a compost bin or worm farm, look for a second-hand option first.
My kids love ‘feeding the worms’ in our home compost bin and enjoy learning about how the food scraps are turned into dirt. Our next plan is to start a worm farm!
Cutlery and Crockery
Some love to use their finest ‘once a year’ dinnerware for Christmas. However, I am sure there are many others who prefer to use disposable options to save washing-up after the entire extended family, or if Christmas lunch is held at a park or the beach. Although disposable knives and forks are highly convenient, they create lots of waste.
If you are at home, attempt to use as much reusable crockery and cutlery as possible. Accept your visitors’ offers to help wash-up to reduce the cleaning burden. People feel good helping, especially when you have prepared an amazing meal for them.
Christmas picnics are great fun, but make it difficult to use your finest crockery and glassware. However, it is possible to bring reusable options. Visit your local second-hand store or online marketplace to purchase an array of non-breakable options. I did this for my children’s birthday parties and now have a stash of extra reusable plates, bowls, cups and cutlery that I can use for all occasions. Just remember to bring a box/tub to place dirty items in and you can clean at home. Although the cleaning up afterwards is not super appealing, ask for help and you will all feel great for not throwing out plastic and paper items!
This list is not exhaustive and by no means do you need to do them all! Try some sustainable Christmas ideas that are achievable for your family and know that every small change adds up to a big change. Your ‘local impact’ does make a difference.
If you have other great ideas I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Stay tuned for my next instalment on recycling.
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