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November 29, 2017

Waste-Free, Grinch Free Christmas Guide

Cover photo thanks to Toa Heftiba.

I love Christmas. The buzz of holidays, family under one roof, the crackle of barbecues, clink of glasses, sticky icing and orange gingerbread and the chatter of voices well into the long, summer nights. 

And there's a big shift too. People are tiring quickly of the 'buy more' attitude to Christmas or even boxing day. We want more family, more food with love, more conversation and a lot less 'stuff'.  

You don't want to be the Christmas Grinch and you do want to give something that makes people laugh-out-loud happy and full-to-the-brim with down-to-earth joy. So what can you do?

In a world of excess stuff, giving time and care are more precious than ever before. So from honing your skills in a waste free Christmas dinner, to finding incredible gifts that help friends learn or do new things they've always wanted to do, to helping refugee businesses we've got you covered.

Here are some great tips for the holiday season: 


There is no greater way to say 'I love you' than food. In, your, belly.

So get your Agrarian Kitchen or Riverford Cottage cookbooks out because there is no need for food waste this Christmas. My number one tip is to always get your stock pot out before you prep any meal. Almost everything goes in. Garlic skin? In. Carrot ends? In. Beans on their last legs? In. Scrapings at the end of the meal? In. Then boil it up and you have a little detox for tomorrow.

But it can be tricky - trying to get it right! A great meal that supports ethical, sustainable food sources and fair prices for farmers, that doesn't waste food or come wrapped in endless plastic.

It is much easier than you think when you turn to the farmers markets or good local, organic deliveries. I swear these are the secret to life... So head down to the local weekend market or Google a local organic local grocery delivery service. Request they send all food (other than meat or dairy, most likely) without any plastic packaging, then just set up a day they are delivering to your local area and order away. No Christmas rush for you and you pretty much get to learn the names of the chickens who provide your eggs.  

Check out Sustainatable for loads of extra tips and Low Tox Life has some great ideas and delicious recipes too. They know it all. 

Also for some great sustainable cookbooks, I love Agrarian Kitchen or Riverford Cottage, Simplicious and The Beauty Chef. As well as old school, like the Greedy Italians. 


I know. Who gives loo paper for Christmas? Well, have you seen how big the box is that they come in? That is the best looking present ever under the Christmas tree. It gives back (tick) it is sustainable (tick) it is guaranteed to elicit some good laughs (double tick) and no-one can ever tell me they don't need it (tick). Wrap that baby up in brown paper, stick a fat ribbon or piece of string around it (yes, dig through that collection of re-used ribbons) and have the biggest present under the Christmas tree.


A few months ago, I ran into the most vibrant, amazing woman Yarrie Bangura, the founder of Aunty's Ginger Tonic. She makes a ginger drink that is the best for any hangover, late night, detox - in fact, I still dream about it today. It is incredible. She led me to discovering Global Sisters, a group that helps refugees, single mums, women in need in general run incredible businesses. Real businesses. And there is something about Global Sisters that I think we all need to support. 

As Ms Bangura said to me, (paraphrasing), 'I wanted to feel I could give back to the country that has given me so much. Now I have my business, I feel I can do that'. I can highly recommend supporting the Global Sisters Market. Not all their products come from local refugees, but all support people around the world doing good and you are supporting their program across Australia. And if you want to track down Yarrie, head to her facebook page and see where you can get hold of her ginger tonic!


One of the biggest gifts we can give is to simply, find the time. In a world where we have so many 'things', precious, uncluttered, uninterrupted, focused time and conversation are one of the very best and increasingly rare things we can give.

Give someone the gift of a big Sunday roast, a quiet picnic trip, a hike along the beautiful Australian coastline for a day. Time to do something real.

And yes, of course you can wrap up a box! They can open it and find a little hand-written note inside of just how precious you believe spending time with them is. Never underestimate the importance of this for family, friends and kids alike. 

Cook for someone. Babysit for someone. Play a game of catch with someone. Or just head out for a walk. 


No misgivings - just books plus givings. What does that even mean?

In a world where we are trying to calm the chaos of wasteful Christmas, the underlying premise is that we live in a world where we have enough to waste. That's a pretty lucky place to be.It is a wonderful gift to let someone know they are helping someone to. 

But how do you 'give' that so it feels like a gift? Cards don't always cut it. Here's the answer:

Buy a book then donate to a charity that is relevant to the book. Say the book is Aquabumps, then donate to a group that helps clean out the oceans. Or perhaps, 'That's not my duck'. Donate to an animal welfare charity or clean water program. Ducks need clean water too.

Write a little note in the book telling the person who their gift has helped or what the charity does. Great for kids, adults and the most difficult of giftees.

I can highly suggest using a service like Givewell or Changepath to figure out charities that really pack a punch. I'm a big advocate for donating to charities that have a huge impact but don't as big an air-time budget and Givewell or Changepath can help you find them. Like... donating to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. What's that you say? Go have a look. It's as important as providing clean water to saving lives... 


We know first-hand at Elkie & Ark that truly fair, ethical, sustainable businesses aren't in it to make money. We don't make much - if anything - for ourselves in order to deliver a great product at a great price, we put in a huge amount of work into solving problems in the supply chains or coming up with alternatives to stop waste or harm to people and planet. At the end of the day, we want to give you the choice to buy the best, essential goodies that put people and planet first. It's a huge challenge to figure out how to do business in a very different way. And we love it. 

So whether it comes to skincare products, perfumes, bed linen, food - try to find an ethical, sustainable business that is doing what they can to give back or fight waste or stop so much harm. Whether it is overseas or right here in Australia. Some of my favourites are Flora and Fauna, Simple as That, One Seed perfumes, Cloth & Co. The list goes on!

If you want to buy second hand, then do check out our Wedding Gift guidewith all kinds of suggestions about where to find luxury that has lasted generations. Remember to hit up the Auction Houses (like Lawson's in Sydney) or excellent vintage shops have some brilliant pieces too that shouldn't be overlooked. Watches, spirits, books. All kinds of things.


In an age where we've had enough clutter and minimalism is a breeze of fresh air, 'doing' gifts are entirely OK. 

Find something they've always said they want to learn - horseriding, wine tasting, a permaculture course, Mandarin, ballet, singing lessons. Get lessons, not stuff they can't wait to re-gift.

Even better, sometimes it isn't just about the giving of the experience, it is about helping them find the time or motivation to do it. You ca offer to look after the kids while they do it, or take them there, motivate them, help them do the things they wanted to but never quite get around to in day-to-day. I promise it will be the most memorable present yet and there is nothing better than knowing your loved ones support the things in life you want to learn and do.  


While we're talking about Vinnies or Salvos, a huge number of people want to help out making or serving food to the homeless around Christmas. So much so, often the kitchens start to turn volunteers away. So if you feel the urge, why don't you find someone who isn't getting quite so much attention - someone who lives alone or needs a chat. Give your chosen group a call and ask when is the best time for you to come in. Perhaps your Christmas gift can be coming in to help in the middle of July, when someone really needs a chat and a warm soup to lift them up. Say you will, then stick to it. 


I'm a big fan of 'presents' they good and feel oh so loving. But as you can see, even gifts of time or doing can be wrapped up in a box with a card too. They'll feel even better.

Oh, and the wrapping paper waste thing?

If you are buying goods, ask them to please wrap it sustainably and choose businesses that wrap things plastic free. Buy from groups producing essential products, reducing waste in their supply chains, on their farms and in their packaging. It's tough to do (we speak from experience) but it can work. 

If you have kids or you feel creative, just let loose with the paints and old newspapers or brown paper. 

The next option - you know it - is Furoshiki style. You've seen the cool videos, but have you tried it? It looks awesome... then it feels a bit too hard. 

I'll admit, it doesn't always look as good as the videos when you do it at home but it is a very easy and simple thing to do, even if you want to get good looking fabric the first year, then use it time and again. If you have the time, take a trip down to your local Vinnies or Salvos (yep, double giving then too!) and stock up on some beautiful scarves that you can use year after year, then pack up with the Christmas decorations for next year. 

Here's you guide:

Happy holidays!! May your nights be long and your sleep-ins even longer. (Sighs every parent in the world...)

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