Keeping it clean over Christmas

Christmas decorations in Federation Square, Melbourne (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

With less than three weeks to Christmas it’s easy to get bogged down with buying tinsel and planning what to cook than remembering the damage we do to the environment during the festive season.

The environmental impact of Christmas is massive, according to David Herold, a sustainable logistics researcher at Griffith University and author of Sustainable Shopping: the eco-friendly guide to online Christmas shopping.

“It’s the gift wrapping, the packaging, the food waste, and also what leads up to Christmas Day,” he told Hatch, adding that his research suggests a third of the food bought for Christmas meals goes to waste.

That’s an international problem. In Britain, a study some years back by the University of Manchester found that the nation’s Christmas dinners produced the same carbon footprint as a car travelling around the world 6,000 times, and last Christmas a whopping third of Britons admitted to throwing away food they’d bought for Christmas before they even got around to cooking it.

And then there’s the wrapping the food comes in, and the packaging around our gifts. Plastic waste is now recognised as a global problem, and earlier this week the UN committed to reducing the amount of plastic entering the world’s oceans.

The damage Christmas does to the environment does worry young Australians, as I’ve been finding out from people visiting the Christmas display in Melbourne’s Federation Square:

So what can you do to reduce your environmental footprint this Christmas? Here are some tips so you can enjoy your time with family and friends knowing you’ve done what you can to keep the festive period clean:

1. Hire the tree
A company known as ‘Eco Christmas Trees’ allows you to hire a tree over the festive season. When Christmas is over, and you are well and truly over vacuuming the stray pine needles from the floor, simply send it back to the company and they replant it to re-use next Christmas.

2. Shop online
David says Australians use 8,000 tonnes of Christmas wrapping every year. That’s the equivalent of 50,000 trees. So why not reuse wrapping paper and packages – or buy your gifts online instead of from a shop. It might not be as pretty, but it’s a lot kinder to the planet.

3. Make virtual Christmas cards
The American card manufacturer Hallmark estimates 1.3 billion Christmas cards get sent around the world every year. If we send our Christmas greetings by email, we can save a lot of trees. Websites such as ElfYourself and jibJab are a hilarious and great way to virtually send some Christmas cheer and warm wishes.

4. Reduce Food Waste
Carefully plan your shopping list, make as much of your food at home as you can – and don’t over-cater. You don’t suddenly need more calories just because it’s Christmas.

5. Buy rechargeable batteries for new gadgets
Australians spends $400 million on batteries a year, which is the most common form of hazardous waste, David says. Rechargeables, he says, “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.”

6. Recycle
Obviously you can recycle Christmas paper, cardboard and some of the plastic waste. We can also recycle our decorations by doing some craft. Instead of throwing away our old ornaments to buy a different colour each year, paint them to create a fresh new look for your eco tree.

7. Think Local
Not only is buying local keeping small businesses alive, according to David, it is reducing carbon emissions too: “By buying locally you are reducing emissions as a result of increased road and air freight.”

8. Dispose of your tree sustainably
Rather than burning your tree or dumping it in the rubbish, find a recycling service that will turn it into mulch or compost.

It’s easy to get ‘wrapped up’ in the joys of Christmas. This year, let’s try spread the love to not only our family and friends, but to the planet, too. – Alanah Hallam