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How to Have a Sustainable Holiday Season

Image of zero waste christmas gift wrapping scene. Female hands pack gift wrapped in burlap. Eco friendly products laid out on table

The end of year holiday season has the potential to be one of the most unsustainable periods of the year for households. Guest blogger Karen Murphy shares some of her best ideas for ensuring you can reduce food waste and have your most sustainable holiday season yet.  

In our household we celebrate Christmas and we love to fill the holiday season with thoughtful, sustainably sourced & ethical gifts, delicious food and memory making. We make it a point to say no to all of the plastic and landfill waste that fills many bins at this time of year.

Here are my TOP 22 ideas for having a sustainable holiday season

  1. I love the giving of experiences and there’s something around town for everyone: beauty treatments for mums; theatre tickets; virtual reality session at Untethered VR; Tree Climb; or a Luxury/Gold Class cinema experience. The list of possible experiences if you take the time to brainstorm.
  2. When it comes to physical gifts, head to a Christmas market or look on-line to find local shopping options (in South Australia check out the Shopping in SA page on the website) and support a local producer with your purchases.
  3. Ecolateral Stores (click for locations) have a wide range of zero waste and fair trade gifts like coffee cups for on the go, stylish drink bottles, lunch wraps or grab some reusable silicone straws and recycled paper pencils for kid’s stockings.
  4. If you don’t have time to head out to the shops then consider giving an electronic gift voucher. Most stores now have that option. You can find Ecolateral’s gift vouchers here, with the added bonus that vouchers can either be emailed electronically or printed on recycled paper. image of three gifts wrapped in linen cloth in the style of furoshiki
  5. Look for gifts with minimal packaging and add rechargeable batteries and charger if batteries are required.
  6. Get creative when wrapping, using things like a tea towel, scarf, pillowcase, reusable bags, Furoshiki wrap, or MYO (Make Your Own) fabric bags. You could even MYO tshirt bags like this YouTuber did (just use a recycled tshirt rather than buying a new one!)
  7. MYO treats or purchase from bulk food stores and reuse a jar. You’ll find heaps of decorating ideas on Pinterest. Alternatively you could gift your treats in a reusable stainless steel tumbler with a bow rather than cellophane.
  8. Want something different for the table this year? Fall in love with Op shopping or organise a swap meet with friends.
  9. In my family, rather than buy gifts for the adults we play a Kris Kringle game. This year the purchase has to come from an Op Shop, so I think this should generate some interesting steal opportunities and plenty of laughs!
  10. Shop bought Bon Bons would have to be one of the most wasteful Christmas purchases, with their excessive packaging and cheap plastic contents that almost always end up in landfill. This year to decorate our table I have made fabric Bon Bons and Reindeer Jars filled with bulk food treats. If you can’t sew, create a craft activity for the kids and make some covered in their artwork, the grandparents will love them. Alternatively save the paper wrappers and rolls from your Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. The Gift Edition provides bright holiday season covers and they make for easy to assemble bon bons. 
  11. Don’t let your extra food scraps go to waste, feed them to your FOGO (Food & Garden Organics) bin. Using a kitchen caddy is the easiest way and you can collect one at no cost from some Local Council office (in participating council areas).  Diverting food waste from landfill is not only the best solution for the environment but also helps with increasing landfill costs.  It is double the cost to send a bag of food waste to landfill verses the FOGO (Food Organics Garden Organics) bin.
  12. When you’re out and about during the holidays, plan your trips to minimise waste and overloading public bins. Take water and snacks, pack re-usable coffee cups, cutlery and straws and if there are no recycling or organic bins where you are, take them home to your bins so they don’t end up in landfill.

    You can also plan ahead during this period to make positive changes in the new year
  13. Pick three food items that you currently purchase packaged in plastic and switch to buying using BYO containers, fabric/paper bags.  Ecolateral has many options including Bulk Food Bags with clear windows so you can see what is in them, a Eco Shopping Starter Kit, and produce bags made from recycled drink bottles. As you get the hang of it, add to the list each month.  We now have over 25 pantry items, nuts, dried fruit, grains, seeds and more, that are purchased in this way and stored in repurposed jarrs.  You will be amazed at how many things can be purchased in this way and how easy it is.
  14. Switch to ‘refilling’ your cleaning and personal care products. Dishwashing liquid, laundry liquid/powder, bathroom and toilet cleaners, disinfectant, hand and body wash are just some of the wide range of products you can purchase re-using your own bottles and containers.  I love to fill up at Ecolateral Magill, but there are other shops around that offer refill services, you just need to seek them out.image showing racks of bulk refill products in the background and dry body brushes hanging in the foreground
  15. Avoid plastic when purchasing fruit and vegetables. Start using reusable produce bags or compostable bags for all your fruit and vegetable purchases and avoid pre-packaged items (especially those in polystyrene).
  16. Make meat shopping zero waste. Start shopping at your local butcher and ask for your purchases in compostable bags (you may need to provide your own roll) or BYO containers.  Avoiding pre-packed supermarket meat will make a big difference to your plastic and landfill waste.  A compostable bag goes straight into your kitchen caddy and can also be used to contain any bones or trimmings.
  17. Give your recycling a health check. Go online to East Waste’s and read their Recycling Tips, also taking note of the things that are not accepted.  You could add to your recycling efforts and collect something you haven’t previously, valuable aluminium and other metals for example.
  18. Start recycling something that is not collected kerbside. For example, soft plastics can be taken to some local supermarkets for recycling through RedCycle. Dental products, writing instruments and beauty products packaging can be dropped off at Ecolateral Stores for recycling through Terracycle (visit for full details on accepted recycling streams).
  19. Take the ‘Less to Landfill Challenge’ by putting  your landfill bin out for collection only when it is either full or smelly.  See how long your household can go and see if you can extend the period each time.
  20. Spread the word. Chat with neighbours about redirecting food waste via the FOGO bin and share the other changes your household has done to reduce landfill and recycling waste. 
  21. Don’t forget to follow East Waste on social media or My Local Services app for more Christmas, New Year and holiday waste saving ideas. And be sure to follow Ecolateral and Reduce Reuse Recycle Radelaide on Facebook. 
Guest blogger Karen Murphy writes about living more sustainably and reducing waste in the homeKaren Murphy is committed to winning the war on waste. She is a moderator of Adelaide’s own Facebook group Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Radelaide and regularly writes about reducing waste in the home and how to live more sustainably. She has generously shared her knowledge here as a guest writer.