12 ways to reduce waste this Christmas

Want to get through the festive season without feeling a sense of overconsumption? We don’t blame you!

Did you know that the amount of waste produced by households grows by almost one third in during the Christmas and New Year period, largely thanks to all those gifts and celebratory events? In a single fortnight that’s around 17kg more waste being produced per Western Australian home.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. In fact, with a few waste-savvy switches, careful gift choices and some space in the freezer you can make a significant dent in the amount of waste piling up in your bin this year.

Forget the ‘12 Days of Christmas’, this year we’re asking you to embrace the ‘12 Ways of Christmas’!

brightly wrapped presents stacked into a christrams tree shape

1. Ditch the Christmas list

Before you share your wish list this Christmas, think carefully about whether you really need more ‘stuff’. Would it mean more to you to spend time with loved ones doing something you enjoy? Why not ask for an activity voucher (and always opt for an e-voucher if possible rather than a plastic card!) or lunch catch up date?

clipboard with a blank piece of paper entitled 'Christmas gift list'

Think about gift-giving differently. Try a new approach with family and friends – agreeing to a Secret Santa where, instead of everyone buying something for each person, each person buys only gift, or adopting a ‘buy nothing’ rule, requiring any gifts to be sourced or made. Vouchers for babysitting, pet-sitting, cleaning or gardening services, or a cooked meal can be a genuine treat for most time-poor people.

2. Rethink the ‘perfect’ gift

Reducing waste is a year-round commitment, so don’t let all your good work fly out the window with your gift choices at Christmas.

tandem skydiving

Gifting experiences (and therefore giving memories) is a great way to cut down on unnecessary waste over Christmas.

Stop gifting ‘stuff’ for the sake of it. When shopping, ask yourself two important questions before you head to the till – firstly, “Will be used and loved by the recipient?”, and secondly, “What will happen to it if (when) it’s thrown away”’. 

Embrace experiences (which create memories), vouchers (which will help to ensure the recipient gets something they will use and love), and consumables such as food and drink which are likely to be enjoyed at another time of the year. Also, don’t be afraid to scour second-hand and vintage shops – a well-chosen pre-loved gift is likely to spark far more joy than an off-the-shelf panic buy.

Some of our favourite low waste gifts include: cooking class vouchers, a meal out at a favourite restaurant, concert or movie tickets, memberships such as those for a toy library, the zoo, a yoga studio or golf club, homemade baked goods, plants and tools that will help to reduce the recipient’s waste.

3. It’s a wrap on non-recyclable cards and paper

Presentation is important, of course, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of the environment. Over Christmas, Australians use more than 150,000km of wrapping paper – that’s nearly enough to wrap around Earth’s equator four times. And, unfortunately, not all of it is recyclable.

christmas wrapping paper

Say no to foil wrap, excessive trimmings and over-packaged items this year to reduce the volume of waste that you AND your gift recipient will send to landfill.

Foil wrapping paper and rolls embellished with glitter will end up in landfill. Cards with glitter or plastic attachments are also sadly not suitable for your kerbside recycling bin. Reusing last year’s wrapping paper and gift bags, and saving materials from gifts you receive this year for next, means there is often no need to buy new supplies.

If you do need to refresh your wrapping options, look for wrapping paper which is 100% paper and marked as recyclable, or opt for brown paper or newspaper for a chic effect.

Second-hand scarfs can also double up as both part of the gift and the wrapping for a gift. Or tie your gift up with string or ribbon rather than tape for a winning low-waste combination.

4. Shop your wardrobe

Feeling like you need to buy a new outfit for every Christmas party can be stressful, expensive and wasteful. It’s also just completely unnecessary.

fesitve outfit

Say ‘no’ to buying new special occasion outfits this year and shop your wardrobe instead.

Instead of hitting the shops, say no to buying new ‘special occasion’ outfits this year and shop your wardrobe instead. Take an hour to re-familiarise yourself with what you already own (it’ll be quicker and far more enjoyable than browsing 20 different websites or battling the crowds at the shopping centre, we promise). You’ll probably find that you have more options than you thought (and while you may remember wearing it to a particular event in the past, chances are most other people won’t!).

Another low-waste option is to borrow an outfit from a friend or to do a clothes swap ahead of the festive season to freshen up your look.

If you really feel like you need something, browse your local op shop and look for items that will stand the test of time – in terms of both quality and style. Remember the two golden rules of an impact-owning clothing purchase – make sure the item makes you feel at least an ‘8 out of 10’ (anything less and it’ll find a way to the back of your wardrobe very quickly) and think about whether you’ll be able to wash and wear it 30+ times (so long sequins!).

5. Recycle, recycle, recycle

Resist the temptation to discard big piles of mixed waste in your general waste bin – if you do this you’re sending perfectly good, reusable resources to landfill. There will be no team of elves at the other end to sort it, so we need to make sure it happens in the home.

biscuit dough with the recycling symbol cut out of it

Don’t forget to make recycling a part of your Christmas preparations.

If hosting an event, create clearly labelled bins or areas where people can take responsibility for sorting their own waste. Remember empty wine, beer and soft drink bottles and cans should go in your yellow-lid bin. So do metal lids, non-foil paper and cardboard packaging. For a full list of what you should be putting in each bin take a look at our A-to-Z list.

Make the effort to recycle all of those chocolate wrappers, chip packets and postal bags too. Gather up your soft plastic waste and drop it in the REDcycle bin next time you head to Coles, Woolworths and other participating venues. 

6. Say no to the non-essentials

We’re not here to be the party-pooper, but the simplest way you can reduce waste at during the festive season is to opt out of the extras. Remember that choosing not to buy things like Christmas crackers filled with junky plastic toys and bad jokes, ribbons and bows for presents, new decorations or party poppers doesn’t make you a scrooge, it makes you an impact-owning citizen!

7. Get creative with upcycling

Before you throw something away, ask yourself whether it can be used for something else - especially over the silly season when the family has some time on their hands to get creative and the house could do with some festive flavour.

mason jars filled with baking ingredients

Consider repurposing jars, twine and fabric scraps collected throughout the year to create homemade gifts.

Can your kids use the back of old paperwork to draw on? What about those pickle and jam jars – could you fill them with treats, wrap a ribbon around them use them as table decorations or gifts?

8. Make and reuse decorations

Instead of topping up your stash of Christmas decorations every year, take the do-it-yourself approach.

handmade christmas decorations

Think twice about purchasing new decorations this year.  Make do with what you already have if you can.

Try your hand at homemade paper crackers; make your own wreaths using greenery or herbs; and your table with beautiful fresh fruit and flowers. You can also hang Christmas cards over string and use these as bunting-style decorations around your home.

If you do end up buying decorations, choose things you will reuse in years to come. Avoid anything that looks like it will break easily and anything with the year printed on it.

While plastic trees can last many years, a real, living tree in a pot (which can be used every Christmas) is the most eco-friendly option.

9. Plan your menu

Food waste is a problem all year, but wastage can sky-rocket over the holiday season if you let it.

Firstly we suggest adopting a ‘use it up’ attitude in early December to make as much space in your fridge, freezer and pantry as you can.  As a bonus, taking this approach also helps you to familiarise yourself with the items you’ve already got at home.

fork holding a mini santa hat

Taking a small amount of time to plan your meals can prevent a lot of waste from occurring.

Next step is to make a list before you head to the shops and stick to it once you’re armed with a trolley to avoid over-purchasing. Don’t forget your reusable produce bags and shopping bags while you’re at it.

Getting portions right can be tricky. If you’re ‘bringing a plate’ keep reminding yourself that you aren’t responsible for feeding the entire room of people. Also be prepared to freeze leftovers or plan your other meals around using them up so that you don’t have to throw perfectly good food out.

Chances are, even for those who plan their catering really well, there will still be leftovers on Christmas Day. Instead of trying to find a space for it all in your own fridge, ask guests to bring a reusable containers along so that they can enjoy their favourite dish again the next day.

If you know you’ll be eating out for the next few days, it might also be a good idea to freeze your leftovers so that you can enjoy them at a later date.

Unavoidable food scraps can be thrown into your compost heap or worm farm.

10. Be prepared to wash up

stack of plates and wine glasses

Boycotting single-use plates, cups and cutlery over Christmas can make a sizable dent in your waste (and save you money in the process). It will of course mean there’s a bit more washing up to do but that can be a good way to break up the eating and drinking.

11. Choose local and/or handmade

ladies at a market stall

Purchasing directly from the maker can saves on packaging.

Local farmers and makers markets are great for low-waste and zero waste shopping – because, realistically, even if you have a low-key Christmas, you will need more than usual. These markets often offer options with less packaging. You’ll be supporting local businesses which have a far smaller carbon footprint than big corporations, and you’ll also avoid all of the soft plastic waste that comes from ordering presents online.

12. Borrow or hire equipment for parties

For those with big families, it can be overwhelming to have everyone over all at once – it only happens once or twice a year so it isn’t always worth buying chairs, cutlery and crockery in bulk and having nowhere to store them the rest of the time.

glasses of champagne

Instead going down the disposable route, an impact-owning option would be to borrow or rent them. There are a lot of companies who hire out equipment for events at a reasonable price – you may even find a great deal to rent a karaoke machine and take festivities to the next level.

Get in touch if you have other ideas on how to reduce your waste over the festive season.

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