It’s been a year when Australians have become more aware of the environmental cost of using plastic and how damaging mindless consumption can be.
But at Christmas time it’s difficult to stick to your resolutions about using less plastic or making ethical choices. It’s even more depressing when you consider about 75 per cent of Australians acknowledge they don’t always use a gift they receive, according to a YouGov Galaxy survey of 1039 people commissioned by ING.
The research estimated Australians spent $8.2 billion on gifts and $512 million on wrapping paper every year. We all spend so much at this time of the year, it’s good to ensure at least some of your hard-earned money is going towards good causes. Isn’t that what the Christmas spirit is all about?
Here is our guide to help you navigate Christmas as ethically as possible.
FOR THAT PERFECT DRESS
Whether you are shopping for that perfect dress to wear to a Christmas or New Year event or looking to treat someone special, there are many businesses around that offer ethical alternatives.
Women’s clothing sites like Fame and Partners offer made-to-order clothes and have an almost zero-waste sustainable manufacturing platform. Reformation makes their clothes from sustainable materials, rescued deadstock fabrics and repurposed vintage clothing. Outland Denim make sure their garment makers receive a living wage, produce jeans to order and use plant-based dyes.
There are many other brands that produce clothes using ethical manufacturing principles including Nobody denim, Akira, Feit footwear, Ginger & Smart, Maggie Marilyn, Jordan Askill, Bassike and Bianca Spender. Well Made Clothes is an online shopping site for brands that meet environmental and labour requirements.
You can also check a label’s ethical credentials by downloading the app Good On You.
The other option is to buy second-hand, it’s environmentally friendly and good for your hip pocket. Sites like Vestiaire Collective offer designer clothes and accessories so you’ll also look stylish.
BUY SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
The Australian Marine Conservation Society suggests buying line caught fish where possible. Here are some basic tips from them:
• Australian salmon (due to pollution, fish kills, seal harassment)
• Balmain bugs and Qld prawns (due to impacts on critically endangered marine life like sawfish, no independent observer coverage)
• Snapper (overfished)
Better Choice alternatives:
• When it comes to farmed Australian seafood, choose oysters, blue mussels, Australian prawns, Murray cod and Australian Barramundi
• For wild caught Australian seafood, choose Spencer Gulf king prawns, Victorian snapper, Dusky flathead from NSW or Victoria, King George whiting, Eastern School whiting, Stout whiting, Eastern Rock lobster, Western Rock lobster and Australian sardines (get them on the barbecue!)
You can also download the society’s Sustainable Seafood app that assesses the sustainability of about 90 seafood species including Australian and imported fish species.
You should also keep your eye out for the Marine Stewardship Council certification. The label is only applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been independently assessed on impacts to wild fish populations and ecosystems.
A MSC spokeswoman told news.com.au that 70 per cent of wild Australian prawns were from certified fisheries. Certified prawns are available at Coles and Woolworths as well as other speciality retailers.
These include Raptis prawns and Skull Island tiger prawns.
GO ZERO WASTE
Christmas is a notorious time for trying out recipes you don’t usually cook and so many of the spices or other ingredients sit in the cupboard all year before expiring and being thrown out. Avoid this by going to a bulk food shop like Naked Foodswhere you just buy what you need. When you are doing shopping, remember to bring your reusable bags and you can also get lightweight bags to buy loose fruit and vegetables.
If you are having people over, try to avoid using disposable items like plates, cutlery or cups. It’s not always going to be possible but making an effort to use cloth napkins and just washing plates, cutlery and cups can make a difference. While your glass beer bottle can be recycled, many bottle shops are now offering refillable beer or wine bottles if you want to up the ante.
And don’t forget to separate your recyclables properly.
When buying gifts try to chose products that aren’t plastic and have plastic-free packaging. Many bulk food shops have goodies like chocolate coated nuts, many are organic or locally produced products and make great gifts.
You could also buy zero waste products like a reusable coffee cup, package-free soaps or beeswax wraps as gifts. The Clean Collective has zero waste and toxin free products.
Keeping waste at the front of your mind can help you make better environmental choices and possibly even save you money.
THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX
Take it from Megumi Inouye, one of the world’s best gift wrappers, you don’t have to splash out on expensive paper and bows to make a gift look beautifully wrapped. She suggests using everyday items such as scrap fabrics, cloth napkins, buttons and bottle caps to decorate. She also re-purposes old ribbon instead of throwing it away after using it once. Inouye also suggests using gift wrap made out of recycled paper and shredding old wrapping paper, magazines and newspaper to use as packaging material.
“A little bit of thought put behind a gift and how you wrap it can make all the difference,” she said.
“Try and find a way to make wrapping the gift extra special, such as making a card out of an old photo or reusing the same card each year for each other and dating it, to avoid this unnecessary waste.”
It’s also good to remember that not all wrapping paper is recyclable. Foil or glitter-decorated paper has to go in the general waste bin. It’s better to buy simple paper wrap.
GIFTS THAT CHANGE LIVES
What do buy that person who has everything? Usually the suggestion is to strive for a present that’s even more novel, quirky or ridiculously excessive. But maybe that money could be put towards something good instead. Not everyone is happy to receive a charity donation as a Christmas gift but apparently about half of all Australians would be okay with it.
An Essential Poll commissioned by ChildFund found half of those surveyed would be “pleased” or “very pleased” for a donation to be made on their behalf. Women in particular were open to this type of gift. Only 9 per cent said they would be “displeased”. If you’re not convinced your loved ones would be happy with this, a safer tactic is for you to ask others to make a donation on your behalf. That way you won’t get gifts you don’t want or need and you can help others.
ChildFund has a Gifts for Good online catalogue where you can buy scholarships, mosquito nets to prevent malaria, a bike for a child to help them travel to school, fruit trees, farm animals and warm jackets. You will get a card to share with your family and loved ones but you need to allow 10 days for delivery.
“For less than $50, you can buy two pairs of sports shoes for children in countries like Laos and Vietnam,” Wallaroos player Emily Chancellor said.
CARE Australia has a CAREgifts Christmas initiative, which will go towards training teachers in Papua New Guinea. A $10 donation will help buy school books, $75 can help send a girl to school and $330 will help train a teacher.
Other options include the Salvation Army’s Wishes program, where you can make an online donation for things like a hamper, family day out, vegetable box, or Christmas lunch. A gift of the same type that you’ve selected will be delivered. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s not-for-profit The Good Foundation also collects donations to deliver Jamie’s Ministry of Food programs. A $15 donations will fund a Learn Your Fruit and Veg class in school for one child.
For every $500, an adult gets a five-week course on how to cook from scratch on a budget. Volunteers are also needed to work at a Christmas Charity lunch.
If you would like to check how well a charity measures against factors such as cost effectiveness and transparency, check out GiveWell.
CROWD-FUNDING FOR GOOD CAUSES
If you like the idea of helping someone get a good idea off the ground, you can check out chuffed.org. It is a crowd-funding site for social causes.
You’ll find fundraising for Wayside Chapel’s Christmas Day lunch, legal action to protect old growth forest and plans for an animal rehabilitation sanctuary in Victoria.
In the past it has raised $15,000 for a refugee garden as well as money for a kids’ climbing dome and to save a cinema in the NSW town of Sawtell.
GIFTS MADE OF RECYCLED MATERIALS
There are many artists and other creatives making things like wallets, jewellery, toys and handbags out of recycled materials. Oxfam is a great place to check out for these types of products as well as unique, handmade pieces made by ethical artisans and farmers.
You can also try online sites like Ethical Gifts.