Have a Happy Sustainable Xmas

Hi, Council’s Sustainability Officer Melanie Bainbridge sent a guide for a sustainable Christmas out to staff.  I though it was such good advice I have copied it here, you can also read EarthCare from 2012 on the same subject.

Happy Xmas.

Have yourself a sustainable little Christmas.

At this time of year we come together, enjoy family and friends and celebrate the holiday season in our own special way. But one thing that is common, no matter how we choose to celebrate, is that Christmas is a time for MORE – for eating more, travelling more, drinking more and buying more than at any other time of the year.

This also means that the Christmas period has a pretty high impact on the environment, and it also starkly highlights the economic inequality across the global community. But there are many ways that we can celebrate the ‘silly season’ without making silly or unsustainable choices.

Your friendly Sustainability elves have put together this guide to a sustainable Christmas, which gives you some great tips on how you can have a fabulous, fulfilling Christmas while saving money, reducing emissions and waste and having a positive impact on your community.

In the following pages you’ll find information on re-using, reducing and recycling, giving ‘green’ or ethical gifts, reducing your environmental impact, making your own and thinking of others. We’ve popped in a few great websites to help you on your sustainability journey!

Shop Green

 While some gifts simply must be brought new (no-one wants to receive up-cycled socks and jocks in their Christmas Stocking), most Christmas gifts are really gifts of thoughtfulness – so the more creative, thoughtful and tailored the gifts are – the more appreciated they will be!

Be Prepared

We can reduce waste simply by knowing exactly what we need before we embark on the ‘Christmas Shopping Expedition’. Make a list, check it twice, and only buy what’s on the list. Financially and environmentally it’s better to buy more later if you need it, than to waste what you have too much of.

Choose gifts that aren’t over-packaged and look out for terrific ‘green gifts’ websites and cut down on your car travel – there a few good ones to peruse on Page 9!

Remember your ‘green bags’ – pop them in the car now and try not to bring any excess plastic home this Christmas – the planet will thank you for it!

Buy Locally Made
Many gifts in today’s marketplace are manufactured overseas, and the impact of transportation contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and climate change. Local craft fairs and artisan stores are a treasure trove of locally made gifts which support local business too.

Buy Recycled Materials

Many small businesses have created wonderful gifts using recycled materials. Supporting these businesses helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of making best use of available materials.

Buy Fair Trade

If you do make purchases from overseas sellers, make sure your purchase contributes to a healthy global economy by choosing Fair Trade Products. The City of Fremantle is a ‘Fair Trade City’ – we support our local fair trade industries and in doing so we encourage fair and supportive markets for industry in some of the poorest countries and communities across the globe. Every purchase you make from a Fair Trade business is a gift to a community.

Go Battery Free
Around 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Discarded batteries are an environmental hazard. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually. Don’t forget to dispose of your batteries safely – there are battery recycling bins (and mobile muster points) in most local governments – including Fremantle.

Say Yes to ‘Re-Gifting’
There’s much discussion about the etiquette behind the ‘re-gifting’ trend, that is, to pass on a gift you received but don’t need. From an environmental perspective – re-gifting makes perfect sense. If you receive something you really don’t need, look for ways you can reuse this gift by passing it on to someone who can use it. Of course, re-gifting needs to be done with care so as not to offend the original giver, but keeping (or discarding) a gift you don’t need is wasteful.

Food Fair and Fine

 Your food choices can have a significant impact on the environment

Cut down on red meat. Because so many resources, including land, fertiliser and water, goes into its production, red meat has a major environmental impact. It takes, for example, about 50,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef.

Avoid overfished fish as these species face extinction. For more information on sustainable seafood please visit MarineConservation.org.au 

Buy organic, free-range, locally produced food and/or native produce to reduce the amount of chemicals, water and energy needed to produce and transport your food to your table.

And food waste has an impact too!

Keep food waste to a minimum! The turkey sandwich was invented on Boxing Day, and Christmas pudding tastes just as good re-heated.

When food has to be disposed of, put it in a compost bin, bokashi bucket or worm farm to reduce harmful methane emissions that are generated when food scraps decompose in landfill.

 The Gift of Time

 Gifts of time and service require few natural resources, and are personal and memorable. The gift of YOU – your time, energy or expertise is as ‘giftworthy’ as anything you can put in a box.

If you have some mad skills yourself, think about the friends and family who would love it if you offered your time. So often we spend more time at work giving our skills to an employer, than we do offering them to our loved ones!

How many parents would love a gift of tutoring for their child? How many busy pet owners would love a gift of dog walking? And it can even be an opportunity to bring generations together – what about younger relatives giving their time to older relatives to teach them the mysteries of social media to keep in touch with family? A home-made coupon book for household chores, gardening, hugs or just visits could be as valuable to older family members as a physical gift.

The list of services is only limited by your imagination – or, to make it really simple – why not just ask people what you can do for them!

The Gift of Experience

 Giving the gift of an experience can bring fun, learning and memories that hold value for years – and best thing about them is – they can be shared! For example, tickets to a show or concert can offer lasting value with minimal impact on resources. Sports events, local attractions, gift certificates for rock-climbing, ice-rink memberships, horseback riding, jazz club, music venue and museum / gallery memberships are some other great examples.

Experiences can also be other than ‘entertainment’. For example, a membership to a car-sharing or bike-sharing club in your city will be valued by a city dweller on a tight budget. Or you could sign a friend up for a garden plot in a local community garden, and provide a few seed packets to get them started.

Think laterally and lovingly and your gift will no doubt be well received!

 Antiques and Collectables

Just because it’s new and shiny doesn’t necessarily make it valuable… and the reverse also applies! Antiques and collectibles have time-earned intrinsic value as well as the added appeal of history and sentimental value. And because they are ‘re-used’, there’s very little impact on the environment.

Imagine a vintage fashion lover’s delight at a lovely vintage outfit, or an antique toolkit for an older DIY aficionado!

Lead with Love and Ethics

 Giving Kids a sense of what Christmas is really about

Christmas is a time for giving, and a time for family. What a great opportunity to start a family tradition of giving back to the earth and community and instilling the values of sustainable living in children, friends and community. Understanding poverty and need can support a wonderful legacy of giving and selflessness in children. Call it Christmas spirit or social sustainability – it’s positive for people and planet.

A great way to teach children about the spirit of during the holidays is to ask them to pick a toy that they don’t play with very much, and donate it to a homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter or charity, or to help choose a gift for a child in need, or even help fundraise for groups supporting children’s charities.

Giving to Charity

Purchasing the gift of clean water, livestock, school supplies or even funding teachers or aid work in developing countries can give both giver and receiver a warm glow at Christmas time. So can purchasing carbon offsets for a friend’s car travel or even donating to an environmental or social charity on behalf of a friend or family member.

Say YES to DIY this Christmas

 In Australia, so many of us have what we need in terms of material goods. Your time and energy, and culinary creativity, are just as valuable as that store-bought gift so few of us truly need. And in truth – time spent in the kitchen is probably no more than the time spent gift-hunting online or in crowded shopping precincts. And the gift of food is personal, easy on the environment, and not likely to go to waste.

Jams, marmalade and lemon butter are classic holiday gifts, and baked goods, sweets and truffles are always appreciated. Homemade chutney, pickles or sauces make tasty gifts, and if you have access to a dehydrator, dried fruits, preservative-free fruit leathers or ‘sun dried’ tomatoes can be popped in cellophane and tagged with love.


Up-cycled vintage clothing makes a lovely gift if you have sewing skills, as does furniture which is ‘old made new again’. Dismantle up-cycle new bikes out of old – and they’re here in Fremantle! Do It Yourself – it’s so much more rewarding.

If you can Recycle it, do Recycle it!

 We use so much ‘stuff’ at Christmas time that making a positive commitment to ‘reducing, reusing and recycling’ can help to reduce our environmental footprint significantly.

Reuse or recycle gift packing materials
Bubble wrap can be stored for reuse, or recycled. Cardboard boxes should be opened flat and set out for recycling. Storing and reusing these boxes is even better as no additional energy is used in remanufacturing.

Save any special gift wrap, ribbons and bows
When unwrapping large gifts, save the paper for reuse. Creased wrapping can be ironed flat. Ribbons and bows are easy to save and reuse. But if you can’t reuse your paper wrapping, put it in your recycling bin, not your general waste bin. Planet Ark will recycle cards – so make sure that when you’ve finished enjoying your cards, you recycle them also.
Recycle old electronics
New flat-screen computer monitors, laptops, cameras, mobile phones, MP3 players and other electronic items are common holiday gifts. Older models which are being replaced, whether or not they are in working order, should never be discarded to a landfill. There is likely to be an e-waste recycling facility near you so make sure you drop off your unwanted electrical equipment and never put it in your bin or on your verge. City of Fremantle has an e-waste recycling scheme – just ask us!

Decorating with Creativity and Conscience

 Reduce the size of outdoor lighting displays
A smaller display of lights can still be attractive and more appropriate in the ‘season of giving’. Saving electricity is also a way of giving, since conserving resources benefits everyone.
Use LED lights for Christmas tree and outdoor lighting
LED (Light Emitting Diode) holiday lights use up to 95% less energy than larger, traditional holiday bulbs and can last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. Using LEDs not only saves energy – it will also save you money on your festive display. As an added bonus, if one of the LED lights burns out the rest of the strand will stay lit unlike traditional ‘fairy’ lights. And for outdoors you can even buy solar LEDs!

Turn tree lights and outdoor house decorative lighting at bedtime
It’s simply a waste of energy to leave your festive lights on at night after everyone’s gone to sleep. Make sure they’re switched off.

Living versus Plastic Trees
Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees, in general, are the more sustainable choice. Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping.

While artificial trees theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content means they degrade very slowly, releasing methane for many hundreds of years and contributing to climate change.

Live trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource grown on tree farms. There is water and land-use in the farming methods of course – but they contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent are recycled into mulch. Live trees are also often locally grown and sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution.

When buying a live tree, consider:

Live potted trees can be used for years
If you buy a small tree in a large pot, you may be able to reuse the tree for 2- 3 years without having to plant or re-pot the tree.

Re-pot the tree for longer use
You can replant it in a larger pot for several years’ extended use.

If you’ve chosen a ‘native’ species, replant the tree when it becomes too large
If you have the space, replanting the tree outdoors is an option. Be sure to anticipate the full-grown size of the tree, and avoid planting near foundations or underground services. Alternatively – give it to a relative or friend with a farm or property as a gift!

Chip / mulch the tree
If you’re going to discard your tree, make sure it doesn’t go to landfill but is incorporated into your green-waste verge pick-up or ‘chip’ it and use it as mulch on your own garden.

The Card Conundrum

Homemade cards may not be as professional, but they are more personal and just as appreciated. Making the cards is also a fun activity for the family during the weeks before Christmas.

Recycling last year’s cards or calendars is a good place to start when making homemade cards, since the images are large, colourful and printed on heavy paper or card stock. Cut out sections of pictures and glue them to folded card or paper (recycled of course).
Children’s art work is another good source for Christmas card pictures. Even the ‘scribblings’ of the wee-ones are interesting, fun and especially appropriate for the season. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles will probably appreciate a ‘child’s art’ card even more than a store bought card. Simply cut out sections of the artwork which look best, and glue it to a card of the required size.

Making your own cards is easy if you have the material to work with. Try to get in the habit of saving pieces of heavy paper (good one side) to use as the backing for your glued-on pictures. “Card stock” is the ideal weight, and even small pieces are worth saving.

And of course, recycle your cards when you’re finished with them – Planet Ark provides a great service, or use your kerbside recycling bin.

 That’s a Wrap

Wrapping paper is a huge part of Christmas, and we all love to receive gifts that look beautiful – but there are definitely ways to do that without costing the earth!

 Use environmentally friendly wrapping paper
Choose wrapping paper made using fibres such as hemp or paper using recycled content. If you’re really keen you can even make your own recycled paper using a paper making kit.
Avoid buying glossy foil or metallic wrapping paper
 This kind of ‘paper’ is difficult to recycle and can’t be composted. It also breaks down very slowly in landfill creating dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Foil gift wrap is also harder to reuse, as it creases and tears easily when the gift is being unwrapped.

Reuse gift wrap where possible
If you open large gift packages with care, the paper can be set aside for re-use for other gift-giving occasions. Fancy ribbons and bows, of course, can be stored in a box until next year when you’ll appreciate having them around and not having to buy new ones.
Use tape sparingly, or not at all
If you’re going to use ribbon to finish off your wrapping, you may not need to use tape. By not using tape, more of the wrapping paper can be reclaimed, and it’s easier for the recipient to save the wrapping for reuse.

Choose alternatives to commercial gift wrap
There are many options which are cost-free, attractive solutions. Gift bags can be made using fabric scraps, or wrapping can be made using comic strips from the paper, old calendars, maps, posters and more. Be creative – it often costs you less and means more to your gift recipient.

Happy Holidays from the City of Fremantle!

There are many more creative and fun ways to make your Christmas a happy, healthy and sustainable one. We’ve provided a few great web resources below, but a good web search can yield all kinds of helpful information. There are a huge number of ethical businesses out there that you can support by thinking green this Christmas season.

Here’s a list of incredible ethical businesses who can support your sustainability journey this Christmas season.

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One Response to Have a Happy Sustainable Xmas

  1. Zo Zhou says:

    Hi, just a quick note – Planet Ark is no longer running the Christmas Card campaign as cards can be recycled at kerbside now. Great post though!

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