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Waste-Free Celebrations

Homemade Christmas decorations. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Celebrations often carry their own set of rituals and expectations. Many of these rituals can be unsustainable in terms of the increase in consumption and waste which is often inherent to them. Here are some tips to help you rethink your celebrations in order to reduce waste without reducing joy.


Food purchases go up by approximately 80% over the Christmas period. The sad thing is that not all of this food is actually consumed and much of it ends up in landfill. While everyone enjoys having delicious and ‘sometimes’ special food during celebrations, try to think about how much you actually need, and also where this food is coming from.


Remember that the further your food travels, the more packaged it’s likely to be (not to mention transportation, associated pollution and waste of fuel).

Buy as much food as you can from local sources, in bulk if possible, so you can bring your own packaging. If you eat meat, buy directly from the farmer if possible. And best of all, plan ahead and grow your own.


At Christmas time, many of us have associations which come from European traditions—roast dinners, fruit mince pies and pudding. In an Australian context, these are often not actually the best options in terms of locality—also who wants to cook a roast in an Australian summer?

How about planning your Christmas lunch around the foods that are available at that time from your local farmers’ market? Think summer pudding made with local berries! Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is often good for sharing and will make you see vegies in a whole new light.


If you do have food which goes uneaten, as always, avoid putting it into landfill. Apart from the complete waste of resources, food in landfill will often release toxic gases and leachate. Make a ritual of a day-after leftover party. And as always, chooks and worms will be ever so grateful for your scraps.


Most celebrations come with an expectation that some kind of gift will be given, to acknowledge the event or to show love to the recipient. But often these gifts come with a lot of waste in the form of packaging or wrapping. It may even be a throwaway item which ends up in landfill before too long.

Think carefully about your gifts. In many cases, a handmade or second-hand gift will be perfect. If you’re not crafty and don’t want to make gifts, plants and trees make for beautiful presents. If they’re perennial and/or edible, they will provide many years of beauty and potential food to the recipient. Some plants, like avocados, salvias and geraniums, are easy to cultivate at home and make fantastic gifts for people of all ages. If you wrap the roots in hessian, they are also a completely waste-free gift.

Sauces and jams make beautiful, love-filled gifts and can be made throughout the year using seasonal produce and reused jars.

Birthday bunting. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt


Think beyond the physical and gift an experience or a timebased gift. Cook someone dinner or take them for a special picnic. Buy them a voucher for an activity they like, perhaps for an art class or woodworking lesson.


Don’t use paper to wrap your gifts. Scarves from the op-shop or pieces of cloth or cloth bags made especially for gift-giving will live on and on, and potentially never end up in landfill. See below for instructions on how to make your own gift wrapping cloths.


It’s always fun to decorate for celebrations, but these needn’t be one-season or single-use affairs. When our kids turned one, I made special bunting with their names on, which we use year after year. It’s part of the celebration, stringing their bunting, and is something they look forward to every year. I made reclaimed doily bunting for a friend’s wedding more than a decade ago, and since then the bunting has been passed from friend to friend, wedding to wedding, and has travelled all over the world, well outside my own friendship circles as it has taken on a life of its own.

Similarly, other celebrations which happen annually can have their own decorations which form part of the celebration itself, so year after year nothing needs to be bought, and nothing is thrown away.


Flower garlands are easy to make from any kinds of flowers you have access to, including weeds. With some secateurs and twine you can get creative with the foliage, flowers and branches you find in your garden or neighbourhood. Garlands can be made a few days ahead and kept watered till the day of your celebration.


If you celebrate Christmas and want a tree, have a living tree,

which can be planted in the garden once Christmas is done. Each year we make a family decision about the kind of fruit tree we will have as a table decoration/Christmas tree, then we all go to the nursery to buy the tree, decorate it with handmade felt decorations which are used each year, then after Christmas we all plant it together. This is a nice ritual to cultivate as it is waste-free and also relatively inexpensive. It will also be a gift for many years to come in the form of the fruits that come from the tree year after year.


Gift cards using second hand books. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

These gift cards are very easy to make, requiring only very basic sewing skills, and are a good way to use beautiful illustrations and cardboard boxes from things like cereal. You could even make a set of cards and give them as a gift!

You will need:

  • A sewing machine
  • Illustrations cut from children’s books or other illustrated books – nature magazines are also great. The op shop is the perfect place to source some beautiful books and magazines for cards.
  • Boxes from things like cereal (my nana saves her cereal boxes for me), crackers or pasta

How to:

  1. Choose the illustrations you would like and cut them to size.
  2. Flatten out your boxes and cut the cardboard to the same size as your picture.
  3. Cover the printing on the box with your illustration and stitch around the edges using straight stitch, about 5 mm from the edge. Trim if needed.

I make lots of different cards of different sizes, including small cards to use as gift tags.


Gift wrapping cloths with card. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Even with almost no sewing skills, you can make some of these wrap cloths for your gifts.

You will need:

  • Squares of fabric in various sizes (you can use any kind of fabric scrap you may have, or get napkins, scarves and even hankies from the op shop)
  • Ribbon pieces, approximately 80 cm long
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread

How to:

  1. If you’re using fabric scraps, hem all sides neatly (if you’re using things like scarves which are already hemmed, you can skip this step!).
  2. Sew one end of a piece of ribbon to one corner of your square.
  3. You’re now ready to wrap!

You can find more of Genevieve’s foodiness @eggplantia, and Annie’s craftiness @autumnfarmhouse on Instagram. Annie would love to make bunting for your family, so please send her a message.



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