Waking up last Boxing Day I wasn’t just nursing a food hangover, but a waste one too.
Boxes full of wrapping paper, an overly glad-wrapped ham and the brightly coloured plastic gadgets from inside our Christmas bon bons were all guilty reminders of just how wasteful this time of year has become.
That awful feeling stayed with me long after the holidays, and has only been solidified by the passing of my children’s birthdays, also leaving a mountain of plastic waste in their wake.
This year, I’m determined not to repeat the mistakes of last, and I want to a start a family tradition of a ‘Sustainable Christmas.’
Sustainability and Christmas are not two concepts that usually go hand in hand. The holiday season is arguably the most consumerist period of the year, and in the next few weeks Australians will spend more than $11 billion on food and gifts, a large portion of which will end up in the bin.
I feel overwhelmed at the thought of a zero waste Christmas, but small changes feel doable.
This year has undoubtedly been the year of The Planet. This time last year Greta Thunberg wasn’t yet a household name, and hundreds of thousands of people of all ages were yet to walk out of schools and workplaces to protest against inaction on global warming. Even the big supermarkets are finally taking notice, with Woolworths recently announcing it will roll out reusable packaging in 2021.
So this Christmas certainly feels different.
I’m just like any other parent trying to give their kids a Christmas filled with fun, magic and laughter. But this year more than ever I'm trying to balance that with a deep sense of responsibility for the planet, and duty in reducing our household waste.
Like many others I feel overwhelmed when thinking about trying to further reduce waste. Despite following the zero waste movement, this kind of dedication is not practical for most families, including mine.
But I will be going out of my way to source only plastic free products, and wherever possible, reusing things we already own.
Any gifts or food items that I can buy locally, I will. And I’ll be taking my own reusable bags and containers, too. A year ago I would have felt embarrassed taking a stainless steel container to my local deli to be filled with potato salad, but this year I’ll do so with pride.
Realistically, I’ll be purchasing the majority of my gifts online, but will be choosing only those retailers that offer sustainable products or packaging options, like Nourished Life, Patagonia, or for my husband the coffee addict, Crema Joe.
The fact that Christmas goes hand-in-hand with excessive and elaborate home decoration is also a huge source of sustainability-angst. Luckily, last year we invested in a sturdy tree, so I’ll be happy to put it up knowing that we will get many years of use out of it, rather than a cheap throwaway option.
The fact that Christmas goes hand-in-hand with excessive and elaborate home decoration is also a huge source of sustainability-angst.
And because those boxes of wrapping paper still haunt me, I’ll be re-using some from our birthdays as well as unearthing the plethora of barely-used gift bags I’ve stashed in the cupboard, unable to throw away.
I’m also saying no to anything single use. Plates, serving trays, napkins, food storage items, straws and cups will all be reusable, or if that’s not possible, compostable. And, this year, no bon bons.
Food waste, in addition to plastic, is also a huge problem. And while I love leftovers, I’m already crossing things off our Christmas lunch shopping list because I know we don’t need five favours of everything ‘just because it’s Christmas.’
I feel overwhelmed at the thought of a zero waste Christmas, but small changes like these feel doable. And more importantly, they feel good.
So will my kids even be aware that I’m making an effort to reduce our waste this Christmas? Probably not.
Considering my daughters' favourite gift for her last birthday was a $4 jar of miniature toy lizards and not the designer bike I lovingly chose, I know that prioritising quality over quantity this year won’t even be noticed.
They’re too young to understand climate change but I will be telling them that we all have a role in looking after our planet. And we do that by throwing less rubbish in our bin.
Zero waste might still feel like a pipe-dream but if we all push ourselves a little bit out of our waste-reduction comfort zone this Christmas, then together we can make a real difference to our planet.
Now, does anyone know where I can get a local, plastic packaging-free Christmas ham around here?
Nicole Rodwell is a freelance writer.