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Festive limits: Too much of a good thing

Too much recycling Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints original-001_260 x 350

Overflowing recycling bins are a common sight during the festive season. Indeed, the bin pictured is mine from a few Christmases ago.

It is easy to look at this recycled bounty and congratulate ourselves for being great recyclers. However, this mountain of packaging is a sign that something is wrong.

When it comes to recycling, we can have too much of a good thing. We should be trying to put less into those recycling bins, not more.

The common saying "reduce, reuse, recycle" is a hierarchy expressing the order of importance of these ideas.

Given the focus on recycling in environmental education, it is easy to forget that the "reduce" is more important than the "reuse" and "recycle". Recycling is the last step in the hierarchy.

Only if we really need to buy something, and reuse if possible, should we then recycle it.

Christmas celebrations and a house full of guests test my ability to reduce consumption. Thankfully I've improved since the year my recycling bin overflowed. For example, I buy less, reuse last year's Christmas cards by upcycling them into gift tags, and reuse my daughter's artwork and old maps as wrapping paper. We also buy fewer gifts and eat less packaged food. I reduce the amount of packaged food we buy by favouring fresh and seasonal produce and by purchasing wholefoods in bulk.

Much to my husband's frustration I target a good proportion of my angst against packaged food at packaged cereal. Avoiding packaged cereal is one of my favourite ways to minimise waste and save money. Rather than going through boxes of expensive cereal this Christmas, I'll be serving guests homemade porridge, eggs on toast, or homemade yoghurt and fruit.

This year I'm particularly keen to reduce the amount of bottles left over after festivities by cranking up the old Soda Stream and making ginger beer. I also recently discovered that tonic water can be home-made. How cool is that? So if I can find a source of cinchona bark I might try making tonic water too.

Wishing you all a simple, safe and meaningful festive season.

[Published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 22 December 2012]