7 December 2010
By: Laura Trotta (BEng(Enviro), MSc (Enviro Chemistry))
So Christmas is just a few weeks away and you’re starting to get swept up in the season. You’ve attended several Christmas parties, installed your Christmas tree and hung your fairy lights. You’ve completed most of your shopping and have it gift wrapped under the tree waiting for eager hands to unwrap on Christmas morning. If you’re super organised, you’ve probably written and mailed several Christmas cards too.
You may be surprised to hear that Christmas, the most celebrated event in the Christian (and western society) calendar, is extremely environmentally unfriendly.
In a country renowned for its consumerism, retail spending in Australia typically increases by over 25% in December, compared with previous months. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2006 that Australia imported in excess of 34 million stuffed toys, 11 million dolls, $10m of Christmas tree lighting and $58m worth of other Christmas-related articles.1 That’s an awful lot of stuff that may not be used once after the Boxing Day handover has cleared!
If you’re interested in reducing your environmental footprint this silly season, here’s a few tips to get you started:
- Give pre-loved items – garage sales are a haven for these!
- Give toys that do not run on batteries.
- Give experiences or vouchers for helping e.g. cooking meals for busy families, gardening or cleaning for elderly parents / grandparents, a back rub for your partner.
- Give a living present – plants grown from cuttings from your garden in a decorative pot. A tomato bush or herb garden makes a useful and beautiful gift.
- For children, consider gifting one or two quality items that will last, rather than plenty of cheap toys that will end up in landfill by next Christmas.
- Rather than wrapping your present with paper that will be thrown away, use material or scarves that can be re-used. Items such as bags do away with gift wrap altogether and can be re-used easily themselves.
- If you can’t go without, go green by buying sustainable goods such as organic cotton clothing, fair trade goods, and locally made items.
- Send electronic Christmas cards.
- Make your own from cards you received last season or if you must buy new ones, choose cards made from 100% post-consumer recycled board such as Earth Greetings Boxed Christmas Cards.
- Recycle the cards you receive by dropping them into the Planet Ark bins at your nearest Australia Post outlet.
- Gift the Christmas cards you receive another lease of life by turning them into Christmas Gift Tags for next year!
- Purchase a native Christmas Tree that can be planted afterwards for years of enjoyment. Growing Gifts offer a wide range and deliver throughout Victoria, NSW, ACT, SA and QLD metro areas.
- Turn off Christmas lights when not being viewed.
- Ensure tree lights are made with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) rather than traditional bulbs. LEDs use semiconducting material rather than incandescent filaments, are 90 percent more efficient than traditional Christmas lights and last 10 times longer.
- Buy decorations that can be used each year.
- Make your own decorations from recycled materials or natural materials – painted pine cones and gum nuts make fantastic decorations.
- Make your own eco-friendly Christmas Bon Bons.
- Use solar-powered lights when decorating the outside of your home.
- Turn off lights when not at home or when you go away on holiday.
- Serve organically grown food, wine and beer. These items have been produced without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers and are much better for you and the environment!
- If dining on seafood, eat sustainable fish species (i.e. those that have healthy stock numbers and/or are caught using methods that minimise by-catches or damage to sea beds). Local Australian whiting is a good option.
- Eat a cold meal (save energy on cooking) or go vegetarian!
- Eat your leftovers or turn them into new meals such as Christmas Ham and Parmesan Baked Risotto
Since happy memories are the best gift of all, perhaps ditch some of the stressful traditions and expectations this festive season to free up some extra time to spend with your little ones. After all, "the best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other" (Burton Hillis).
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18 Dec 2006, Media Release, "Festive Facts and Figures from the ABS."
About the Author: Laura Trotta (BEng (Enviro), MSc (Enviro Chem)) is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She lives in regional South Australia with her husband Paul and son Matthew.