How to minimise waste at Christmas

15th December 2022 | Heaven Leigh

Looking to do more to reduce your impact on the environment over the Christmas period? Try these simple tips from Heaven Leigh, the plant-based entrepreneur and restaurateur behind Australia’s longest-running vegan restaurant, Bodhi Restaurant Bar. They’ll help you minimise waste this Christmas so you can enjoy a more planet-friendly festive season.

Australians are responsible for a lot of waste. According to the National Waste Report, we produce 74 million tonnes of waste each year. And this gets even worse around the festive season. According to Australian Ethical, the amount of waste we produce increases by 30 percent over the Christmas period. Roy Morgan research also shows that Australians use around 8000 tonnes of wrapping paper at Christmas – the equivalent of 50,000 trees.

With a little more care and forward planning, each of us can all do our bit to help minimise waste at Christmas. From food and presents to all the trimmings, here are my waste-reducing solutions for a cleaner, more conscious Christmas period.

Minimise waste with the 6 Rs
Follow the six Rs and you’ll slash the amount of waste you produce.

Minimise waste with the 6 Rs

You may have heard of the zero-waste movement. A growing number of people around the world are embracing a zero-waste, minimalist lifestyle, reducing the amount of trash they produce to save resources, money and the planet. The basis of the zero-waste lifestyle begins with putting the six pillars of waste management into play in your everyday:

1. Refuse what you don’t need and think before accepting things into your home.

2. Reduce what you do need.

3. Reuse by using what you already have.

4. Recycle what you can.

5. Repair broken items to keep them out of the waste stream.

6. Rot the rest by composting food scraps.

With just a few adjustments to your lifestyle this Christmas, by using these six Rs of waste management as a guide, you’ll quickly find that living in a more eco-conscious way is not only achievable; it will also benefit both the environment and your bank account.

Suzy Spoon vegan roast
Vegan roasts like this one from Suzy Spoon will make a spectacular main for your Christmas table.

Shop smart and plan ahead

I’m all about embracing a Christmas vegan feast or incorporating more plant-based festive foods into Christmas meals. This goes a long way towards giving back to the environment and your health. The benefits of a plant-based diet are countless. Plant-based foods require less water and land to produce, create less pollution, slow deforestation and help to reduce degradation of topsoil. They’re also great for your gut, heart and brain.

A good starting point is to make sure you confirm the number of people who’ll be coming to your Christmas celebrations and what you’ll be cooking. Plan your menu and the quantities of ingredients you’ll need. This will ensure you have enough but you’re not drowning in leftovers. You can also ask your guests to bring a container to take home any leftovers.

Also, incorporate local, seasonal produce where you can. Local food has a smaller carbon footprint as it doesn’t need to travel long distances. It’s also less likely to require refrigeration and is less likely to be wrapped in plastic.

It’s also worth thoroughly checking your fridge and pantry to see what you already have on hand. That way you only buy what you need. For any bigger gatherings where you might not have enough crockery or cutlery to cover the entire guest list, be sure to use choose eco-friendly tableware, such as plates and cutlery made from bamboo or hemp.

Resparkle's all-natural powder-based concentrates turn tap water into cleaning products
Resparkle’s all-natural powder-based concentrates turn tap water into cleaning products.

Clean up with zero waste

Every year, thousands of plastic cleaning bottles end up in landfill. This includes the refill bottles for your handwash and surface spray. Eliminate plastic cleaning bottles from your life by investing in environmentally friendly, reusable bottles.

You can go also one step further and make your own range of chemical-free cleaning products. It’s super simple to do, using a range of products you likely already have at home. Two of my favourite brands that will help you with this are Resparkle and Seed & Sprout.

Minimise waste this Christmas: don't buy unwanted gifts
“You shouldn’t have. Really.”

Make your gift count

When you know what someone wants, gift-giving is a piece of cake. However, when you’re not sure, gifts can just end up being a waste. Recent research by ING found that Australians spend around $400 million on unwanted Christmas gifts each year. So one of the best ways to minimise waste this Christmas is to stop buying presents that no one really wants. Think scented candles, bath soaps, novelty T-shirts, self-help books and socks.

If you’re unsure what to buy someone, think useful. Choose sustainable gifts or buy a voucher or experience. It’s also worth exploring second-hand or homemade gifts, as these can often be much more meaningful. Asking your friends and family what they might like can also be an option to ensure you’re giving them something they will actually use.

When purchasing presents, go for the best quality, longest-lasting products. That way you’re not gifting something that will only last for the short term. People also naturally take better care of high-quality products, which also helps with longevity.

It’s also important to consider reducing waste when it comes to gift wrapping. Get creative by using old wrapping paper or newspaper or magazine cut-outs. Fabric offcuts or tea towels can also work well, and act as a bonus gift as part of the package.

SUSTOMi beeswax wraps
Reusable beeswax wraps, like these from SUSTOMi, mean you can let go of cling wrap for good.

Love your leftovers

The best part of a Christmas feast is often the Boxing Day leftovers. So make sure you have plenty of high-quality, reusable containers to keep your leftovers fresh.

The average household goes through 25 rolls of plastic wrap every year. And ultimately, it all goes to landfill. An easy way to avoid this is to replace all plastic cling wrap with reusable food wraps. They’re perfect for wrapping cheese, storing vegetables and covering food bowls in the fridge. I love these cute bee-print vegan food wraps from Flora & Fauna.

You can also invest in a collection of reusable silicone bags from Stasher. These are a personal favourite of mine. They’re non-toxic and super easy to clean.

Composting your food scraps saves them from landfill
Composting your food scraps saves them from landfill, where they release methane.

Get into composting

Huge amounts of food scraps are binned across the country every day, and this is even more inevitable during the festive season. How can you help combat this issue? You can set up your own household composting system. Composting speeds up the decomposition of organic materials in a controlled environment. The end result can also be used at home as fertiliser for potted plants, trees, shrubs or in your herb and vegetable garden.

I recommend starting off with the hassle-free, all-inclusive Urban Composter Starter Kit. Easy done, and a great, useful gift for the eco-warrior in your life.

Heaven Leigh is one of the most experienced plant-based business owners in Australia, running Bodhi Restaurant Bar for more than 20 years. Outside the restaurant, she’s also a plant-based entrepreneur, business owner, mentor, content producer and mum of two.