Christmas is a joyful time filled with giving, festive meals and spending time with loved ones. Unfortunately, it can also generate a lot more waste and excess than normal.
For resourceful eco-warriors, however, the holiday presents opportunities to be creative and start new traditions.
“When choosing gifts, people should consider more eco-friendly options or get gifts from local artisans who use local materials,” says Julian Tan, a youth sustainability advocate, who points out that imported gifts likely have a higher carbon footprint than locally made alternatives.
Sourcing suitable items have become easier in Kuala Lumpur, with eco-friendly brands being stocked in popular malls and stores dedicated to living a sustainable lifestyle, such as LINC KL’s Frangipani Bulk, offering many attractive gift options.
Recycling gifts or reusing secondhand items are also excellent choices.
Jasmine Tuan, who volunteers with Zero Waste Malaysia, highly recommends regifting.
“We have internalized taboos about regifting to the point that it’s seen as not appreciating the gifts others thoughtfully selected for us,” she says.
“But one person’s trash could be someone else’s treasure,” she argues. “Passing on something you don’t need or no longer use, is also an act of giving.”
Last year, Jasmine put all the little gifts she hadn’t used into a bag and offered them to her friends.
“That way my friends got to choose what they want, and I didn’t even have to do any gift wrapping!” she exclaims.
KLites can also find reusable gifts at bundle sales, charity shops and festive secondhand markets, such as the Christmas edition of Kabut in the Park at KLPAC, known for unique and vintage items perfect for the eco-conscious, yet fashionable, bargain hunter.
“I could create a place for Konmari warriors to let go of their stuff in an eco-friendly manner and give things a second life, whilst generating money to be channeled entirely to KLPAC to help the financially-struggling arts centre,” Evangeline Lim, founder of the car boot sale, said to the Malay Mail.
Finally, the best option would be to rethink exactly how much gifting is even necessary.
Jacqueline Buri has started a family tradition of sharing lists of the things each family member needs in their group chat on the 1st of December every year.
“This way, we know we are giving something that everyone will really appreciate and it cuts down the wasteful practice of unwanted presents,” the mother of four and grandmother of two says.
Julian also suggests giving cash or time instead of presents. This can include incorporating the angpow-giving custom into Christmas or fashioning a handmade coupon book which offers useful and personalised experiences like babysitting sessions, DIY home spa date, and homemade treats.
Kathleen Largo, who works for a charitable foundation, applies the reusing principle to Christmas wrapping, by choosing newspapers and recycled wrapping paper.
This also presents a great opportunity to be artistic: draw, collage, reuse various bits and bobs, like old cards and leftover ribbons, to create that personal touch.
Kathleen finds this activity nostalgic and rewarding: “Doing handicrafts is something I used to do when I was younger.
“Now, my hands are busy with my phone half the day. I’d rather go back and enjoy these moments when I could get my hands dirty and come up with something beautiful.”
Legal assistant, Nia Raj, grew up with a mother who was ahead of the curve when it came to environmental awareness.
First, her mother got the whole family involved in saving the wrapping paper from their gifts to be reused the next year.
“Then, my mom started recycling gift boxes or repurposing other containers. If the gift was something small, like a watch, she would use a toothpaste box, but if it was a larger gift which she did not have a suitable box for, she would just use a Tupperware,” Nia says.
“All that packaging is, after all, just a container for the gift that is inside,” she concludes.
Nia also creatively repurposes items from her daily life for her Christmas tree. She uses bookmarks, cut-out pictures, birthday cards, event wristbands, small dolls and keychains to create a cheery effect that brings back fond memories.
Jasmine, who also curates Blackmarket Preloved Store, has gone a step further in her quest for a truly zero-waste lifestyle.
“I used to draw and make cards with leftover papers from crafts. However, recently I’ve gone completely digital and send e-cards which I customise incorporating my friend’s faces,” she describes.
For food-loving Malaysians, tackling festive food waste might be the toughest challenge of all. In 2018, 44.5 percent of the 38,000 tonnes of waste generated daily in Malaysia was food.
Julian recommends innovating Christmas meals by using more local ingredients, and reducing meat or replacing it altogether with vegetarian alternatives, while Kathleen suggests pledging to donate some to the poor and homeless to avoid throwing away uneaten food.
“When buying food for gatherings or parties, plan ahead by preparing reusable containers or using biodegradable wraps like banana leaves,” Kathleen adds.
Food waste can even be repurposed into handmade gifts, Jasmine suggests.
“For instance, I’ve run a workshop with Dignity for Children where we made luscious scrub from used coffee grounds and a multi-purpose cleaning solution from citrus peels,” she says.