17 December 2013
5 min read

What is it about Christmas that requires us to consume and waste with such abandon? At Christmas Australians buy more, travel more and eat more than at any other time of the year.

Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan reminds us, "Christmas is a time for celebrations, it's good for business and shops, but we also need to take some responsibility for the waste".

Research from the Commonwealth Bank claims Australians spend over $16.2 billion at Christmas – that’s $993 for each adult! Gifts are the biggest expense, with each adult spending an average $475 on presents and a combined $554 million on extra food and drink. However, just half of these gifts will be wanted, and a third of all that extra food is wasted.

We’ve put our heads together to provide you with some quick and easy solutions to reduce your carbon footprint over what is traditionally an incredibly wasteful time of year.

1. Think Fairtrade & local

This applies to pretty much everything from your tree to your turkey or your presents. By buying locally you are reducing emissions as a result of increased road and air freight and also supporting local businesses.

Check out the Australian Farmers Market Guide to find your local food market and don’t forget the green bag! 

2. Unwrap

One of the biggest sources of waste each Christmas is wrapping paper, with more than 8,000 tonnes being used each year - the equivalent of approximately 50,000 trees.

Why not pop your presents in reusable gift boxes or if you really have to go for the wrap then at least only use recycled paper and avoid foil sheets.

3 Think green when its comes to the tree

Most Christmas trees sold in Australia are plantation grown under sustainable forestry systems. As they reach maturity they help act as a filter to clean the air before being cut down for the festive season.

When making your selection, be on the lookout for organic/seasonal tree farms or “live trees,” which still have the roots attached and can be planted after the season is over. Keep in mind that fresh trees can also be recycled after the holidays. Recycling your Christmas tree means you’re keeping it out of landfill. This small step will help reduce the production of greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change.

Or even better, why not hire a tree. Eco Christmas trees rent out live Christmas trees, which you simply send back once the festive season is over and they will re-plant for use next Christmas!

4. Don’t waste food

Australian households and businesses are throwing away an estimated 4 million tonnes of food every year. That’s enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks with wasted food.

Christmas is one of the worst times for this as we stock up for the holidays and then open the fridge on Boxing Day to find it still full, which not only impacts on your pocket but also on the environment.

Don’t go crazy! Think about what you’ll actually need and how many people you’ll be feeding. Create a food plan and consider how you can use left overs for meals the next day. Here are some great ideas for Boxing day treats.

5. Recycle

Its an obvious one but definitely one of the most important, especially when you consider all the extra paper, plastic and glass bottles you’ll be acquiring over the holidays.

This is especially critical when thinking about electrical items such as phones and computers, which have a tendency to get shafted once the shiny new toys arrive and are hard to recycle properly.

Batteries are another toxic nightmare that come part and parcel with Christmas. Australians spend around $400 million each year on batteries - that’s about $50 per household! This also equates to an annual waste of over 8,000 tonnes of used batteries, which are the most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by Australian households. Rechargeable batteries have up to 32 times less impact on the environment than disposable batteries and after using them a few times you are actually saving money as well as energy. To recycle household quantities of batteries, take them to your nearest Battery World store or search for local recycling options.

PlanetArk have put together a great guide to recycling electricals.

6. Donate unwanted gifts – don’t throw them

Unfortunately, a huge proportion of the gifts given this Christmas will end up in the back of the wardrobe never to see the light of day again. This year make a special effort to see that any unwanted presents go to good use.

Unwanted toys can be donated through organisations such as Second Chance Toys who redistribute them to children in need.

Donate your old or unwanted clothes to your local charity shop – the majority of their revenue comes from goods donated so donations are vital.

Check out Give Now to find social enterprises and organisations looking for pretty much everything from books to bikes to electricals . This way you can make sure your unwanted items go to good use and don’t end up in landfill.

7. Switch off and switch down

Make sure your Christmas lights aren't hogging the electricity all night: use a timer and energy-efficient choices like LED bulbs instead of incandescent. LED lights use 95% less energy and cost less to run.

Ausgrid have put together a useful list of ways to cut down on energy this Christmas.

8. Give geniously

This year, think about swapping physical gifts for experiences or donations to someone more in need that you.

For example, instead of buying a CD, consider buying a singing lesson or tickets to a live music event or an experience like a day out or an IOU for something you’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Alternatively, consider buying people unusual gifts though charities such as Oxfam who have cleverly come up with the ‘Give Geniously’ gifting system whereby you can make a donation on behalf of someone and give the gift of chickens, pigs or even fresh water for communities in need. You even receive a card showing what you’ve ‘bought’ so you still have something to hand over come Christmas morning.

9. Go digital and send e-cards

Why not make your own personalised e-card that can be emailed to your friends and colleagues rather than sending a real one? Not only will you save some trees but the result will be a lot more personal as well.

If you really must spread some festive cheer by post, consider giving charity cards. Always look for cards made on recycled paper.

10. Travel responsibly

If you travel over Christmas, as many will do, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the impact of your trip.

  • Consider offsetting your emissions when flying.
  • If you are driving, don’t go it alone and consider using a lift sharing service. These are a great way to split the cost, meet new people and reduce the number of cars on the road.
  • When you leave the house make sure you turn off all electricals at the source to reduce usage. Gadgets left on standby can use up to 10% more than when completely switched off which adds up if you are away for a few weeks.

Hopefully a combination of some or all of these tips will help you reduce the environmental impact of your Christmas. We've also written a blog on ethical gift ideas.

If you have any more tips or stories we’d love to hear them! Just head over to our Facebook page.

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