Dreaming of a Green Christmas?

Nobody wants to be the Grinch, especially after the tough year we’ve just come through. But we can have an eco-friendly and sustainable holiday season without sacrificing fun and friendship – or our planet.

So here’s our guide to stepping up to a lower-waste festive season while you have just as much fun. (Actually, make that more fun!) 

2020 has redefined priorities for many of us, and our promises to ourselves to take action to care for our environment seem more urgent. We want to to share time with family and friends and celebrate a green Christmas with delicious meals, meaningful gifts and fun times, without it costing the Earth.

Before you rush of on a big shopping spree (as attractive as hitting the shops again seems), stop and think: do you really need fresh decorations and a new plastic tree? Are you actually going to eat all those prawns, as well as a turkey and a leg of ham? Wouldn’t a jug of icy water taste just as good as some from a plastic bottle? And did you know that most shiny wrapping paper is coated with plastic and is non-recyclable? And that tinsel and glitter are both made from plastic and will end up in landfill- or worse, in our oceans?

Plan for a green Christmas

With just a little bit of planning and effort, you can have the holiday fun you deserve at the end of 2020 without adding to the junk – we use more than 150,000 km of wrapping paper each Christmas, to name just one problem, and throw out 25% more food than usual.

The holiday season is tough on our finances too. In 2018, Australians spent $400 million on unwanted gifts, an ING survey revealed. The gifts that people were least enthralled by were novelty items, candles, pamper products, pyjamas and slippers, and underwear and socks. So if those are on your gifting list, rethink them!

Avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, dispose

Use the Avoid – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Dispose hierarchy when you make your buying decisions. Don’t buy products with excessive packaging or single-use plastics. Buy only as much food as you’ll realistically consume. Keep your decorations and wrapping paper for next year. Dispose of your rubbish in the correct bin or in the compost pile.

So here’s our guide to stepping up to a lower-waste festive season while you have just as much fun. (Actually, make that more fun!)

Instead of… Decorating with a plastic tree or one that has been chopped down.

Why not try… A tree in a pot that will last year after year, or make one from wood offcuts or branches.

Instead of… Choosing novelty gifts and heavily packaged products, such as pamper packs and food hampers. 

Why not try… Giving vouchers for experiences, like a movie pass or a trip to a family attraction. A subscription to The Big Issue, a great read that supports the Women’s Subscription Enterprise, helps vulnerable women to earn an income.

Instead of… Buying socks and undies for Granddad and Uncle Alan, pyjamas for Grandma and slippers for Aunt Shirley.

Why not try… Donations to charitiesOxfam Unwrapped and The Smith Family are good places to start. They even send a greeting card to let your person know you’ve donated on their behalf. And they’d appreciate it even more this year with many fundraising events having been cancelled.   

Instead of… Wrapping piles of gifts in metallic gift wrap.

Why not try… Buying a roll of butcher’s paper or recycled Kraft paper and decorating it with paint or crayons (get the kids involved), or leave as is and finish it off with a jolly fabric, raffia or jute bow.

Instead of… Hanging traditional Christmas lights.

Why not try… Good quality LED lights that will last year after year, and use at least 80% less energy!

Instead of… Buying separate gifts for everybody.

Why not try… Having a Kris Kringle gift exchange instead, where everybody gives and receives one thoughtful gift. You can set a spending limit, and there’s even an app for that.

Instead of… Chucking all your post-Christmas waste in the bin without sorting it.

Why not try… Setting up a three-bin recycling system in your home and asking your guests to sort their waste following the new Australasian Recycling Label to get it right.

Instead of… Putting your food leftovers in the bin.

Why not try… Calculating quantities carefully to avoid waste in the first place, storing leftovers for the next day in the fridge, and composting the rest. If you don’t have a composting facility, check out ShareWaste to see if there’s a neighbour who’d like it.

Instead of… Buying the kids cheap plastic toys that won’t last.

Why not try… Buying Recycled – browse here or choose environmentally conscious books, wooden toys, and check out these cute toys made from recycled plastic milk bottles.

Instead of… Decorating the tree with plastic or polystyrene decorations.

Why not try… Using natural materials that can be recycled or composted. Scour your local markets and shops, or better still, have a crafty afternoon and make your own – there are plenty of ideas online. Then keep them for next year, and the year after so that you can recycle your happy memories.

Instead of… Using disposable plates and cutlery.

Why not try… Choosing washable crockery and cutlery and cloth napkins. If you don’t have enough, pop into your local op shop (you can re-donate them afterwards). Quirky plates alternating with neutral classics can make for a fun table setting.

Instead of… Shopping at the last minute and stuffing your trolley with more than you need, spending more than you have.

Why not try… Planning your festive meals. Make a list, and check your pantry for what you already have. Who needs duplicates of marzipan and mixed peel? Love food, hate waste.

Instead of… Cracking open mass-produced Christmas crackers/bonbons filled with useless plastic toys and lame jokes

Why not try… Buying eco-friendly bonbons (search online) or make your own. Use toilet or paper towel inners or rolled-up card, wrap them in fabric offcuts or recyclable paper and tie the ends with coloured string or fabric. Fill them with your own lame jokes, paper hats and treats like stainless steel straws, packets of seeds or bamboo pens or pencils.

If 2020 has taught us just one thing, it’s that we can live with less stuff and more kindness – to each other and to the planet. The decisions we make can change the world. Let’s make our small changes the biggest gift this Christmas.

To win a medal at the 2020 Paralympics, just train like crazy and then try your heart out. Oh, and make sure no pandemics shatter your plans

I interviewed Ella Jones, Paralympic contender, in 2019. Now the games are postponed to 2021.

Ella Jones’s selection to represent Australia at the World Para-swimming Championships after only three years as a swimmer is evidence of her extraordinary persistence.

The 18-year-old has never let conforming – or her disability – get in the way of success.

Three short years ago, Ella Jones would not have picked herself as representing her country in an international swimming competition. In April she got the news that she’d made the Australian Dolphins team.

The teenager is heading for the World Para-swimming Championships in London in September, one of nine new members of the 34-strong squad.

A good showing in London will see her in line for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. The achievement is all the more extraordinary as Ella, who has cerebral palsy, only began swimming at age 15.

“The most exercise I’d done before I started swimming was running after the ice-cream truck,” she said.

“If you’d told me as a chubby 15-year-old I’d make the world para championships, I’d go yeah, righto.”

Ella’s mum, Sharon, persuaded her to try swimming because she needed something to do.

“I was being a right 15-year-old ratbag, every parent’s worst nightmare,” Jones said.

“I’d tried other sports but nothing really clicked.”

She’d had a go at swimming at 14, in a class with six-year-olds near her home in western Sydney. After a few lessons, the instructor told Sharon that she was never going to be a very good swimmer.

Sharon was having none of it and took her to the pool at Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Nick Robinson, who specialises in coaching kids with disabilities, spotted her potential. He arranged with Sharon to train her.

“From the first session I knew she had the ability to go all the way,” he said.

She’s lost 23 kilograms since then. Sitting at the side of the pool in her gym training gear, her blonde hair piled on top of her head, she looks every bit the athlete.

As well as swimming, losing the weight meant cutting out daily trips to the fish and chip shop with her school friends.

“I was so unfit,” she recalls.

“When I got to the end of 25 metres I would hang over the edge, absolutely dying.”

She can now swim five or six-kilometre sets for hours each day and fits in several gym sessions a week. Since her selection for the Dolphins, she has added weekly strength and conditioning sessions with a trainer with who specialises in training athletes with cerebral palsy. She’s had to sacrifice a lot to get there.

For one thing, conventional school had to go by the wayside. She signed up with the TAFE Pathways last year but has had to let that go too.

“I was really struggling to get it all done; struggling to get help. When you train by yourself and you’re doing all your schoolwork by yourself, you want a bit of human interaction,” she said.

She’s now completing a bridging course to study midwifery at university.

Her biggest sacrifices, however, have been social. The bubbly and gregarious teenager finds missing out on birthday parties and the like can be isolating but it’s the everyday interactions she misses most.

“It’s the little things, teenage normalcy stuff like going to the pub for the first time,” she said.

Because of her heavy training schedule and swim meets, Ella didn’t have her ritual first night in the pub until three months after her birthday.

It’s given her wisdom beyond her 18 years.

“You definitely lose friends, she says, ‘but the ones that you lose are the ones you don’t mind losing. I realise now that they weren’t friends anyway. You have to grow up really quickly, but it’s totally worth it.”

Her drive is extraordinary.

Her coach Nick said, “Of every swimmer I’ve had, there’s none that wants to give more time and effort than Ella. I’ve seen her lie on the edge of the pool, shaking like a leaf, not able to move.”

Ella is one of triplets with Daniel and Georgia, and also has an older brother, Joshua. The family is sporty. Mum Sharon and Dad Chris were keen netball and soccer players, and her siblings have followed in their footsteps. They’re close-knit and like to get together with their extended family.

“We don‘t have to do anything big, as long as we’re together,” she said.

“We’re all a little bit crazy and so it’s a lot of fun.”

Her family never treated her differently because of her cerebral palsy, for which she is hugely grateful.

“They’ll have a joke about it, and that’s really helped me to be okay with it and take the piss out of myself.”

Early childhood was tough at times. Her mum would stretch Ella’s legs each morning so that she could manage to get out of bed and get ready for school. Teachers aids would help her move around, but this didn’t stop her being shoved down the stairs on one occasion. Girls didn’t want to play with her because they thought her cerebral palsy was contagious.

“I didn’t have my own understanding of how CP affected my body, so how could I explain that to another kid? I thought you can’t catch CP. If that was the case my brother and sister would have it right now. I was obviously different and got picked on a bit.”

Ever wise and resilient, she adds, “But hey, I think maybe everybody’s got a story like that. I don’t think it was specifically because of my CP.”

Ella’s classification for the para-swimming is S8, for swimmers with full use of their arms and trunk and some leg movement because of how CP affects her, she swims freestyle and backstroke and finds breaststroke too painful on her legs.

Freestyle is her strongest stroke, as she’s predominantly arms-based.

“I lack spatial awareness below my waist,” she said.

“When I ‘m in the water, if I’m not looking at my legs I have no idea where they are.”

Her starts and turns are the same as for an able-bodied swimmer, but she doesn’t get the same distance and thrust from them. Although cerebral palsy affects everybody differently, one of the characteristics of swimmers with CP is that they fatigue easily. Tiredness increases clonus, a neurologically induced muscle spasm that causes shaking.

In London, Ella will swim against only those in the S8 class for the first time.

In Australia there are not enough para-swimmers to hold separate events in each category, so places are determined by times swum. The closer a swimmer gets to the world record in their classification, the more points they win. She’s the only competitive S8 swimmer in Australia and the only female S8 on the team.

For the first time, Ella will swim a race where the winner is she who hits the wall first.

“After a race, I physically can’t hold myself up,” Jones said.

She has a wheelchair waiting for her at the end of the pool, which she uses to get herself over to the warm-down pool.

“I’ll shake for a little bit, and then I just put on my fins, plop into the pool and do my warm-down. And then I’m pretty much good again.”

That’s a good summation of Ella’s approach to life. Train like crazy and then try your heart out. Have the help you need close to hand, fall down in a shaking heap when you need to, and then get up and just keep on going until you win.

A love letter to my gym

Dear Gym,

I have to get this off my chest.

I didn’t appreciate you until you weren’t there, and for that I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me. I admit I took you for granted, acted like you’ll always be there for me. Until you weren’t. Even though it was circumstances that drove us apart, I missed you. At first the longing was vague and occasional – a glimpse of exercise gear in my drawer, my gym bag in the back of the car. These things made me remember you and smile. Then the longing became intense, and I ached for you.

Sure, there were other ways to exercise. Online classes and walking the dog filled the void for a while. At times I thought Zoom classes were right for me. But when the novelty wore off, Gym, all I wanted was to have you back.

And so to be with you again now is a joy. I’ve missed your smooth carpeted floors, the clunk of your weights in their rack, the embrace of cool water in your 25 metre pool.

I know we have to take it slowly for now, not get to close, meet only by appointment. That’s okay with me. You deserve my full effort – I know that now. I’ll never treat you with indifference again.

You may not look like much from the outside, but inside you’re truly wonderful. With you, I’m  strong. I can take on the weight of the world. You keep me afloat. You make me more flexible. I never want to be without you again.

I love you, Gym.