It’s easy for Christmas to turn into a frenzied flurry of wasteful consumerism, and to find ourselves knee-deep in ripped-up wrapping paper that we discard in a hurry before Christmas lunch. But before you fill black bin bags with gift tags and empty jars of cranberry sauce, pause for a second to think about how you could help the environment this festive period.
According to a report compiled by the World Bank in 2016, South Africa produced 54,425 tonnes of rubbish every day, which was the 15th highest rate in the world. And each household produced two kilogrammes every day, placing South Africa at number 38 in the global waste rankings on a per capita basis. As you can imagine, this amount increases significantly over the silly season, when most citizens tend to purchase (and throw away) even more than usual.
The amount of municipal solid waste is growing fast and, alarmingly, the World Bank’s data showed that only 1% of all waste in the world gets recycled — with the bulk (59%) ending up in landfills or being dumped (33%). With these statistics in mind, try to enjoy a Christmas of consciousness, rather than consumerism. It’s easy to minimise waste and cut costs this holiday if you just follow these five simple steps for starters.
Cut down on waste by buying less and recycling more. Can you imagine how much of Kruger would be covered if everyone in South Africa laid out all the used wrapping paper on the ground? Luckily, it's very easy to recycle, as is cardboard from packets of stuffing and empty toy boxes.
Take empty glass jars of mincemeat, pickles and cranberry sauce to the bottle bank, and recycle empty tins of biscuits and sweets. Even the foil from mince pies is recyclable, and don't forget those empty plastic bottles of cleaning products once you’ve wiped up the gravy!
If you have bought a real Christmas tree, be sure to recycle it, so that it can be shredded and used as compost, which will help next year’s trees to grow. It can even be used as chipping to cover pathways.
Christmas cards don't have to be thrown away after the holidays. Instead, you can cut them up and make new cards or gift tags out of them. This will make you extra prepared for next Christmas and save a few Rand, as well as the environment!
And instead of wrapping presents, consider giving them in pretty gift bags. That way you can reuse them again next year and save on paper!
Some relatives are renowned for giving presents that you will never use in a million years. If this is the case, or if you’re given something that doesn’t fit, just smile sweetly and pass it on to someone in need who will appreciate it. There are lots of charities in South Africa that will distribute unwanted goods to those less fortunate, and one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
It's estimated that, as a global community, we throw out over 7 million tonnes of food every year. So, if you can’t get creative with the leftover turkey, or once you’ve had your fill of roast veg, throw all the tidbits and peelings in a compost bin. If you don’t have one in your garden, then there are plenty of small holdings that would be grateful for the extra compost ingredients.
5. Plant a tree
Instead of decorating a plastic tree or cutting down a real one, consider buying a living “Christmas tree” with roots. This doesn’t have to be a traditional fir, as plenty of trees or plants make for a great substitute that can be decorated with as many baubles and as much tinsel as you please. The best part is that it will continue to grow year after year, so that you’ll derive a lifetime of pleasure from it, instead of simply discarding it after a few weeks.