7 Tips for a more eco-friendly Christmas

Television, newspapers and magazines display images of what the ‘perfect’ Christmas looks like. Shops are packed with Christmas decorations and gifts and the message is to buy now or miss out. It’s not even December yet. In fact the message to spend on Christmas starts the minute Halloween is over.

Christmas is big business in Australia. The Commonwealth Bank Christmas Consumer Spending Study reports that Australians spend nearly 11 billion at Christmas time. Each adult spending an average $500 each on presents alone. Along with this spending comes lots of waste – plastic packaging, wrapping paper, unwanted gifts and uneaten food…

Rather than get caught up in all the hype, let’s try to be more mindful about what we buy. It’s not hard to have a more environmentally friendly Christmas.

You can reduce your impact this Christmas with these 7 tips.

1. Give Less at Christmas time

Do you need to give a Christmas gift at all?

Many families agree to limit gift giving only to children under 12. This saves everyone time, money and waste.

And do children even need so many presents? Studies show children play more creatively with fewer toys.

In our family we follow the rhyme

“something to read, something to wear, something to play with, something to share”

Some families like to do a family Kris Kringle so each member of the family gets one thoughtful present.

Or you could ask everyone to pitch in for a big present that the whole family can use – a trampoline, an inflatable boat, a musical instrument…

2. Give memories not things

Although our culture emphasises giving physical gifts, research shows experiences make us happier.

One reason is that experiences are more likely to be unique. This makes them harder to compare than physical items – say, a different colour or similar item we’d have preferred.

Another is that as we re-live the experiences in our memories, we tend to wear rose-coloured glasses. We adapt to physical items more quickly, so they don’t make us feel happy for as long.

Experiences also tend to be more social, we enjoy doing things with other people. We also like talking to other people about our experiences more than about physical things.

Create memories together as a family by spending your Christmas gift budget on something you can all enjoy. A meal out, at a restaurant you wouldn’t normally afford. A day out at a waterslide or hiking in a national park. A special dress-up theme like Hawaiian Christmas with luau music and pineapple drinks…

I want my daughter’s memories of Christmas to be about what we did together and the fun we had. Not that she didn’t get the right Barbie doll. Instead of buying more stuff this year, try swapping physical gifts for experiences.

3. Buy digital Christmas gifts

With online shopping increasing by 25% in Australia over the last year, why not gift an online store voucher or gift certificate? A code to the value of your gift is simply emailed to your gift recipient. Instead of driving to the store, they can shop for their gift online, use the discount and have it delivered to their door. They get exactly what they want, which eliminates the risk of your present being unwanted.

You could give a digital subscription. There are lots of digital subscription services, like Netflix for television, Spotify for music, Audible for books or even Lynda for online courses. Many newspapers and magazines are now available online to subscribers only. Or consider giving your stressed out friend a subscription to a phone app like Calm or Headspace. For the family bookworm try Epic – an online digital library for kids.

Additionally, sending e-Christmas cards saves both trees and delivery miles. You can design your own personalised e-card and have it emailed to all your friends and colleagues. Or if you must send Christmas cheer by post, consider supporting your favourite charity by buying their cards. Look for cards made on uncoated paper or card that is compostable or recyclable.

4. Reconsider Christmas wrapping paper

Wrapping paper is the epitome of Christmas waste. Typically it is only used once, for decorative purposes, and then discarded. Apparently Australians use over 150,000km of wrapping paper during Christmas. That is enough to go around the centre of the Earth nearly four times!

Do you even need to wrap your gift at all? Experiences and digital gifts don’t need any wrapping.

You can save and re-use wrapping paper on gifts you receive.

Or share some of the artwork your children bring home from school. Grandparents love to receive gifts wrapped in a unique drawing or painting by their grandchildren.

Even newspaper can be a beautiful gift wrapping solution when done with care.

You could try Furoshiki – the Japanese art of fabric wrapping.

Or simply pop your presents into gift boxes that can be used again.

If you do buy wrapping paper, avoid the coated or foil paper as it cannot be composted or recycled.

5. Shop locally

From your tree to your food to your gifts, try doing your Christmas shopping at a local market instead of your local mall. By shopping locally you reduce emissions from road and air freight. Buying from local artists, makers and growers supports small businesses and their families, and contributes to the local economy. You’ll find a more unique range of items to choose from that are made or grown straight from the heart.

6. Vote with your wallet.

Whatever you decide to spend your money on consider who you spend it with. What are the stories behind the shops and brands you spend your money with? Do they have the same values as you? From excessive food miles, to poorly treated workers, animal testing or toxic chemicals… your choices support the way companies do business.

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” – Anna Lappe

I want my daughter to grow up in a world that honours and cares for nature. Where the environment is more important than the rights of a few to amass private wealth.

I want to spend my money with small businesses that show integrity and provide transparency. Ones that are making themselves part of the solution, not the problem.

So choose where to spend your hard earned cash thoughtfully. Start to become more conscious of what you spend your precious time, attention and money on.

7. Re-gift Christmas presents that are not wanted or needed

Reports show over 30% of gifts given at Christmas are neither needed, nor wanted. This year, try to be mindful in your giving so that your gifts are appreciated and used. And avoid giving novelty or throwaway gifts for Kris Kringle.

If you do receive any gifts you don’t want this year, try to see that they go to good use instead of landfill.

You can donate unwanted plastic toys to children in need through Second Chance Toys.

Or give the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ by donating unwanted clothing and gifts to your local charity shop. Most charity shops can’t take donations that need to meet safety requirements like electrical items. But other organisations do. Give Now connects not-for-profits with unwanted or pre-loved items from computers to bikes to food.

Conclusion

There are many ways you can leave a greener footprint this Christmas, from what type of Christmas tree you choose to wasting less food. Despite your best efforts to reduce your consumption this Christmas, extra paper, packaging and bottles will still build up. Make sure you dispose of them mindfully.

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