How to be thrifty, savvy and sustainable this festive season

By Claire Bell 7 December 2020

The festive season is well and truly upon us, a relief perhaps as 2020 has undoubtably been a tough year. For many of us this time of year can bring its own pressures. We can be torn between wanting to buy lovely gifts and host family and friends at our houses, and wanting to ensure we are not adding to the burden upon the environment through consumerism. Not to mention the pressures on the household budget!

There may be a way to have it all – support the economy and local businesses, not overspend, still have a great holiday season, and be kinder to the planet. Read on for our tips and tricks to a sustainable festive season.

Savvy spending and saving

A recent report by Gumtree revealed savvy Aussies could make a whopping $5,800 on average per household from selling pre-loved items, with 85% of us having unwanted items in our homes that we could sell. 

The flipside of this is there are lots of unwanted new or near new items on online marketplaces like Gumtree that would make great gifts. Buying second-hand gifts potentially saves them from going to landfill and puts money directly into people’s pockets.

The same goes for buying from charity stores, reuse centres and second-hand bookstores, which will normally directly support your local community. Remember, any unwanted gifts or new year decluttering could be then be sold or donated too.

Real or fake, the great Christmas tree dilemma

Whether a tree is more or less sustainable depends as much on how you use it as it does what it is made from. But, buying a new plastic tree is pretty much the least sustainable choice one can make, as they are made of fossil-fuel based plastics and cannot be recycled. That said, a plastic tree that’s been in the family for years and will last for many more (or a second-hand plastic tree and other decorations) will have a lower impact. If you have a live Christmas tree, check if your council has a mulching service so you can dispose of it responsibly.

If you have a patch of garden big enough to plant in, we think the best choice is a potted native that can be enjoyed indoors through the festive season and then planted outside. A native tree will support your local ecosystem while sequestering carbon for years. Plus, it will always remind you of that year’s Christmas!

Save on festive food waste

We’ve probably all guilty of over-catering on food when hosting family gatherings. Australian households spend over $1,026 per year on wasted food and the festive season waves a big red flag for over-buying, overeating and over-spilling your bin. Here’s six tips to save food waste and money:

  1. Plan your meals, make a shopping list and stick to it

  2. Count how many mouths you have to feed and portion control accordingly

  3. Plan meals for leftovers, store them correctly and use what will perish first

  4. Freeze fruit, sauces and veggie scraps for smoothies, stocks and other meals

  5. Buy seasonal and buy local – reducing food miles and greenhouse gas emissions

  6. A worm farm, compost bin or bokashi bucket make great gifts!

Reuse and recycle

Once the food has been eaten and the gifts are unwrapped, how do you know what goes in your waste bin, recycling bin or if there are other options for reuse and recycling? Here’s another six tips to keep landfill to a minimum and resources in use:

  1. Check it before you chuck it! Look for the Australasian Recycling Label on packaging to get the right thing in the right bin.

  2. If you received a mobile or laptop for Christmas, consider passing on your old one to a friend or family member or selling if it’s still in working condition. Broken or old electronics do not belong in the household waste or recycling bin. Search for a recycling option on RecyclingNearYou – most services are free!

  3. Aluminium foil that is clean and dry can be scrunched into a (golf sized) ball and recycled. Beer bottle tops can be put in a steel can with the top pinched closed and recycled.

  4. Avoid single-use paper napkins, crockery and cutlery. Buy reusables that can by washed and used again and again!

  5. Save wrapping paper, gift bags and ribbons for next year. Paper gift wrap and Christmas cards can go in the recycling bin.

  6. For leftovers from lunch or dinner, buy a compost bin or worm farm, or check to see if your neighbour will take your food scraps for composting at ShareWaste.

More information:

Claire Bell
Claire has been working at Planet Ark since 2011. Raising a young family heightened Claire's awareness of environmental issues and making sustainable lifestyle choices. Claire worked for a number of years on our National Tree Day campaign and our recycling programs. In 2021, Claire's skills as an organiser and leader moved her into the role of Head of Operations.