5 simple ways to reduce your environmental impact over the silly season

Alright crew, let’s limber up. Look alive.

Christmas is coming.

The most enthusiastic overconsumption event of the year is almost upon us.

And oi, don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than eating my body weight in that inexplicably marvellous collision of seafood and traditional English winter pudding. But! Beyond the edible bounties sure to laden our tables are a plethora of opportunities to reduce your family’s silly season footprint.

Did you know, for example, that we use about 50000 trees’ worth of wrapping paper in Australia alone? Or that our total plastic packaging waste amounts to about 1.25 million kilograms? All from that one crazy day of generosity, so perturbed by the 21st century!

So, Christmas being the unspoken eco-nightmare that it is, let’s dive into five simple ideas that we can all keep in the back of our minds as we prepare to bid 2020 adios through mouthfuls of roast sweet potato. These are basic things, things that we can not only implement for ourselves, but will also help reduce the impact for those we’ll be sharing it with too.

1. Get serious about gift-wrapping

Gahhh it’s almost suffocating just thinking about! Christmas packaging is freaking chrazy.

Aside from the tags, the boxes, the moulded casings, just imagine the sheer volume of glossy rolls of printed paper, themselves wrapped in soft plastic that goes all fuzzy when it’s opened. Covered in garish cartoons of baubles, antlers, elves – slaves? – and the endlessly patriarchal dynamic of Santa and “Mrs.” Claus… the life cycle of all those rolls of paper. Manufactured, boxed up, transported, bought. Sliced, folded, ripped, squashed up, binned. The life cycle of the fifty thousand trees contained within, grown just to amplify a few fleeting seconds of consumption anticipation.

All of it is so weird when you think about it beyond the age of 8 (ok….. maybe age 12 #guilty). Our totems, our rituals, our rubbish. Giftwrapping is just ultimate concealment metaphor for our purchase-obsessed culture, hey?

Anyway, I’m getting lost in the weeds here, because I ain’t saying this out of pure scroogeness; I’m a human too, and I do get it. I’ve experienced the excitement of wondering what that obscurely shaped object is underneath all that origami, and I’ve experienced the subsequent delight of discovering someone has actually given me something really thoughtful, that they know I’ll like and use, and that I’ll treasure dearly for the rest of my life. So I understand.

But here’s some rapid fire alternative giftwrap ideas. Ready? Baking parchment. Old shoe boxes that you’ve covered with texta. Newspaper (your local caff will have some if you don’t). Tote bags are a cheap way to bulk up an offering to “omg-super-generous” status, and might save a few plastic bags, and they do the concealment thing real nice. Paper bags for teeny little wee beb gifts. Using string or twine instead of sticky tape. Etc.

Also, if you’ve got young kids running about, challenge them to make a game of who can collect the most packaging, and then have an official judging, with prizes and victory speeches. Kids froth on that. Then all the rubbish is in one place and thoroughly (effortlessly!) sorted out for relevant disposal, and all onlookers will also have had a wonderful example set for them of “damn, now that’s how you parent sustainably”.

2. MYO

Stands for Make Yo Own. Yeah? Such a better op than pulling out your wallet. Everyone knows it’s wayyyyy more thoughtful to give someone something that you’ve constructed with your own hands and time, and also, as such, a lot cheaper than whatever you would have had to buy to achieve the same level of gratitude. And you know why? Because so few people do it!

It’s such an accessibly meaningful gesture, and yet most of us are so time-poor that we’d rather just spend the money. I heard Kanye say something recently that blew my mind – he goes, “Love is just the amount of time we spend thinking about something, therefore, love is time.” And I was like, damn. He really is a genius. Because he’s right! The time and love it takes for you to make something, cook something, paint something, is impossible to quantify but infinitely visible in present-giving.

And for those of you reading going, oh, but Rols, you know I can’t make stuff, you know I’m no good at any of that, well I say to you in my overcooked Borat impersonation WAAAAAWAWEEWA you lucky thing! All the more reason to have a crack! Because now you know that your efforts are going to be appreciated well beyond what they would be if you were a seasoned craftsperson! A batch of cookies from a professional baker doesn’t mean much, but a batch of cookies from a full-time lawyer who eats out seven nights a week, now there’s a thoughtful gift. Right? Homemade presents can also be packaged however you want… hello, tabloid-wrapped driftwood carving. Get creative.

3. Freeze your leftovers

Oh man, this action is a serious game changer if you’ve not encountered it before. Exorbitant leftovers are as traditional as any other part of December 25. I remember ages and ages ago when I was young, my mum (being the enormously generous soul that she is) invited a few last-minute extras to our Christmas lunch one year because she found out they were going to be alone on the day otherwise. By the 27th we were already out of leftovers, and I was devastated.

So, leftovers are obviously amazing for post-25th grazing, but do you know how much of a freaking pleasure it is to eat defrosted Christmas food in February? When the excitement of summer holidays has long since waned, and you’ve bid farewell to family who you might not see again for a long time, and you’re already back to work… and then BOOOOOOOM!!! Your otherwise plain old Thursday evening is suddenly turbocharged when you remember all that stuffing and pud you cunningly stashed in the freezer, every awaiting mouthful a gleeful reminder of how merry and fulfilling that gluttonous day truly was.

The other reason freezing is an essential consideration is that food waste is one of the most grave symptoms of our roided-up celebration culture. Get this – 90% of Australians throw out over 25% of their food during the festive period. Isn’t that just the most insane thing to think about? While the developing world literally starves through famine during the exact same period of time?! Food in landfill also translates to methane, a critical global warming agent that’s 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Yikes. So. Freezing food so it’s not wasted is the easiest, most direct contribution we can make to reducing our Christmas footprint, and brightening up our first few months of gastronomy in 2021.

4. Hug a tree

This is me thinking laterally about the fake vs real Christmas tree debate. Because the idea of a plastic tree kindof revolts me, but so does the idea of insecticide’d plantations of non-native real trees, grown only to be cut down and promptly left to bake in the sun on our hot January kerbside verges. So what’s the go?

Imagine this for a new tradition – buying a tree that’s alive, in a pot. Enjoying that living being in your house for a short period, then relocating it (either in the ground or left in it’s pot) to keep growing, keep filtering the air in your garden, keep beaming botanical energy throughout your surrounds, all the way up to next Christmas, where Tree gets once again brought inside for the family to gather around. I don’t have kids myself, but I remember being one pretty well, and I can imagine the relationship a kid would build up with the same plant every year, and how much hype that would help build every Christmas time. Not to mention what a superbly subliminal message of conservation it would instil.

Am I way off base in suggesting this? Maybe! But I’m a bit hopelessly romantic with this kind of thinking. I just can’t reconcile the fake vs real thing… but maybe it doesn’t even have to be a fir?

We are in Australia, after all. How about a frangipani that spouts glorious flowers during holiday season. Or even a native of some description. Oooooo how about an edible native, so you can eventually perform some sort of annual family Christmas harvest? Ooft. I think I’m onto something with that actually.

5. Have a meaningful chat with somebody about the environment

I’ve been thinking lots about this one. There’s not really any other time where we gather our communities together solely for the sake of maximising love, sympathy, and generosity, by simultaneously minimising our tolerance of ignorance and selfishness. Religious or not, there’s no denying it’s a bloody beautiful collective energy to behold once every lap around the sun, and I think nature should stand as a beneficiary of it.

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort not to mince words about the relationship between the environment and my mental health. And you know what? Doing that has actually made potentially difficult, politically-charged conversations about climate change instantly less hostile, by acknowledging the secular nature of how sustainability crises inflame my – and many others’ – anxiety. Plain and simple. It has nothing to do with who I vote for, and everything to do with the sense of peace I feel if I’m connected to my environment and the footprint I’m leaving on it.

Framing the conservation conversation in these terms has given me more confidence in having measured, calm discussions of our climatic future, because it seems to promote a level of sensitivity and trust on both sides not to approach the issue in an intentionally combative manner.

Look, Christmas (afternoon, broadly speaking) is essentially the perfect opportunity to have deep and meaningfuls with the ones we love and who love us back. So this year, if there’s a chance to encourage one of your friends or family to think closely about sustainability because of how it makes you feel, I say go for it. Even crazy right wing Uncle Terry will be at his most receptive to you nudging up a chat about why it’s worth caring about climate change, because it’s important to you, and the positive ripple effect of that amiability will be infinite.

So, that’s it friends. Go forth and greenify your Christmas! Take charge of your footprint, soak up your community, and savour every moment of your good fortune in being able to celebrate 2020 Year of the Crazy.

Sources:

https://weareearthcollective.com/6-facts-about-christmas-waste-amp-what-you-can-do-to-help- show-the-planet-some-kindness-this-christmas/
https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/12/19/dont-want-end-pile-leftovers-tossed-bin-read https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/methane/

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Roland Davies

Roland Davies (a.k.a. "Lucky Roland") is the voice and author behind the Lucky Roland blog and podcast, a curation of eco stories and inspiration that digests the ABC's Environment News in a listenable way to encourage us humans to green up our lives. Roland is also the founder of Emu Parade, a beach clean movement that's working to remove tonnes of rubbish from Australia's most remote beach systems.

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