The festive season is upon us once again, and with it brings an abundance of presents and food. However, have you ever stopped to think about the waste that comes with Christmas celebrations from such entities as unwanted gifts and excess food? Well, rest assured, there is a solution.

On 30 November Vic Super, in conjunction with The Sustainable Living Calendar, hosted ‘How to Have a Green Festive Season’ in the Melbourne CBD.

The session was lead by Cate Lawrence from Green Renters, a sustainable living organisation designed to give advice to those living in rental properties.

The seminar began with reasons for people to think about their habits when it comes to preparing for Christmas. With regards to food and gift waste, ‘$7.6 billion is spent on food at Christmas time,’ 20 per cent of which goes to waste. An excerpt from Choice Magazine showed that ‘thirty per cent of unwanted presents simply get thrown out.’

Confronting statistics aside, solutions were offered to some of these problems, beginning with invitations. Email is the most viable way to go — managing RSVPs to reduce food waste. The website lovefoodhatewaste.com includes ‘a planning program where you can put in how many guests you are having and what you are serving and it will give you an idea of how many portions you need of each product,’ said Ms Lawrence.

A resourceful host should also encourage guests to take leftovers home if they are at risk of going uneaten, with many great recipes available that can combine this leftover food.

Sourcing local and seasonal produce where possible, giving information about public transport or encouraging guests to carpool are several ways to reduce the carbon footprint of a Christmas gathering. Ms Lawrence suggested that people who like to cook a lot should grow their own herbs and vegetables, so that these items are always on hand when needed and aren’t at risk of going off if unused.

Having a ‘washing station’, where people can wash up and reuse their dining implements is a good idea, as is using cloth napkins instead of paper. People should try to reduce their consumption of plastic wrapped commodities and in any case have a recycle bin on hand.

The humble keg was advocated as a cheaper and more sustainable option than buying many bottles of beer. A question was raised as to whether bottle tops can be recycled. ‘You can,’ said Ms Lawrence, ‘but they can get stuck in the compactor. The best way is to put them in a tin can and then put them in the recycle bin.’

Glasses or reusable plastic cups can reduce waste and the labour intensive nature of the clean up process. For storage purposes, an ice bucket is more energy efficient than a beer fridge, which ‘can cost up to $200 dollars a year to run if you have them on all year.’

Sourcing local beer and wine can also really help the local economy. Conversely, brewing your own beer can cost ‘40 cents a bottle.’

Make your own decorations, or buy ones that will last in favour of tacky, ‘$2 Shop’ pieces which ‘can be easily broken and may have lead or something fairly toxic in it.’ Solar Christmas lights were the preferred option, boasting equivalent brightness for a lower cost.

When wrapping presents the use of more environmentally friendly coverings for gifts such as fabric, and e-cards or videos in place of Christmas cards is the best way to go.

Place a value on what is given instead of buying lots of gifts. Tips to help are: setting a budget, trying to give locally made gifts and alternatively thinking of creative gifts such as vouchers for services, like ‘helping someone move house’ or washing the dishes for them.

Making your own food-related or handcrafted gifts is a good option, as is donating to a charity on someone’s behalf. Popular charities include Oxfam – which provides communities in need with different products through their Oxfam Unwrapped initiative.

Furthermore, if after the celebrations you find yourself with an unwanted gift, the re-gifting of an unopened or unused gift is a feasible alternative.

Most fake Christmas trees are non-biodegradable and can be toxic, however, if you do have a good quality one it can be a great keepsake to pass down through the generations. Creative alternatives are an existing regional plant.

Finally, when all is said and done and New Years comes around, ‘the best way to have a sustainable New Year is to… well, stay home!’ joked Ms Lawrence. You could also have a gathering locally with friends. ‘All the extras that come with New Years, all the party poppers and glow in the dark objects, although fun, really aren’t sustainable and when you think about it: do you really need them?’

You can find out more about Green Renters and view some of their sustainable tutorials by visiting their site.

Madeleine McCarty is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Media Studies at La Trobe University. She will be joining the upstart editorial team for 2012. She also blogs. This is her first piece for upstart.

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