I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s hungry for a bit of good old-fashioned Christmas spirit this year. However, between the many exuberant feasts, drinks, decorations and gifts, the merriest time of the year also has the potential to become the most wasteful.
Christmas waste is very real and undeniably impacts the environment. In Australia alone, it's estimated that our national waste output increases by at least 25-30% around Christmas time. On average, Australians receive $20 million in unwanted gifts around Christmas, and will use more than 150,000 km of wrapping paper.
While these statistics are a little alarming, they're not a call to throw out the joy and cheer entirely. They're more a reminder to keep sustainability in mind while going about our celebrations — and it is possible to do so without becoming a total Scrooge.
Christmas can already be a time of heightened stress, so we've compiled a few easy ways to make your time over the holidays a little more sustainable. It's all about doing the little things you can, that all add up in the long run.
Be mindful of your lights
No matter how old you are, Christmas lights are undoubtedly a highlight of the season. There's something so perfectly wholesome about driving through the suburbs and gawking at the displays — yes, it may sound a little Hallmark movie-esque, but it's true.
However, huge light displays can ramp up national electricity usage a great deal — in the US, it's estimated that Christmas lighting consumes over six terawatts of energy per year, which is equivalent to the total monthly energy consumption of around 500,000 homes.
If you're looking to deck out your home, LED lights are a great substitute. They use approximately 90% less energy than regular Christmas bulbs, and last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors, so you can keep them for more than one season. Solar-powered lights are also another great option if you're looking to decorate the outside of your home too.
Christmas lights take a long time to biodegrade (with some lights spending anywhere between 60 to 200 years in landfill), so assess what your recycling and proper disposal options are when January rolls around.
Plan your gift-giving wisely
Considering that we're collectively left with millions of unwanted gifts each year, really thinking about what people will want (and need) is the first step to prevent yours from ending up in landfill.
Getting on top of your shopping early to avoid the rush of Christmas Eve shopping centre madness (and impulse buying) is integral in avoiding wasteful gifts. Also consider also buying fewer gifts, or higher-quality gifts that'll last longer. If you're looking to get rid of the material waste factor from gifts entirely, 'experience' gifts are a great choice, especially considering that lockdown is over all over the country. Restaurant vouchers, concert tickets, gallery passes etc. are easy enough to acquire, and feel more meaningful too.
If you receive an unwanted gift, donating it to charity (or, giving it away tactfully) is a good way to ensure that it won't go to waste. And when you're caught out needing to buy something for someone you don't know too well, options like The Body Shop's popular range of pre-packaged gift boxes, house plants or locally crafted goods are a great way to reduce the environmental footprint of your gifts by making sure the receiver will love and actually use them.
Find a way to use food waste
Christmas lunch (or dinner) is symbolic of so many things. It's the pinnacle event of the season for so many, and with all the delicious goodies going around, oftentimes, food waste is inevitable around Christmas.
It's a good idea to dig into your leftovers for days after, freeze your desserts and ensure your guests leave with heaped plates. They're all simple but easy ways to reduce food waste and keep the spirit going.
Purchasing from local butchers, farmer's markets and providers is an easy way to source local produce (usually with less or no plastic packaging too) and gives a leg up to businesses that did it tough during lockdown too.
Opt for eco-friendly decorations
Whether you opt for gaudy tinsel or chic modern baubles, ensuring your decorations are eco-friendly is a simple way to work on your Christmas ecological footprint this year.
Artificial Christmas trees are made up mostly of materials that can't be recycled, meaning that most will end up in landfill for years after their heyday is over. According to the Carbon Trust, you would need to reuse your artificial Christmas tree for at least 10 Christmases before its environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree. So if you're looking to buy a new Christmas tree this year, investing in a quality artificial one is your best option to get as much use as possible out of it.
In terms of tree decorations, opt for those made out of sustainable materials, such as wood or glass, and avoid plastic. Storing decorations correctly so they don't break during the year is also important in minimising Christmas waste.
It's also a good way to ramp up the nostalgia around Christmas, as decorations can be passed down as meaningful family heirlooms for years.
Get crafty with wrapping paper
In Australia it’s estimated that 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper is used each year – which is the equivalent of approximately 50,000 trees. Generally, the more glittery and shiny the wrapping paper is, the harder it is to dispose of.
Making wrapping paper part of the gift is also a crafty and meaningful option — using old photos, old magazines or even painting your own box can add a personal and eco-friendly flair to a gift. And while it may be tempting on Boxing Day to pop everything into the one bin, taking the time to sort what can and can't be recycled will make all the difference to your Christmas' environmental impact.