Carina Turner

As Christmas fast approaches, a lot of waste challenges await. Namely, how to celebrate Christmas with loved ones without engaging in the excesses of hyper consumption, single use items and food waste? Carina Turner is a Zero Waste advocate and environmentalist based in Metung, East Gippsland who is providing inspirational talks on various areas of Zero Waste and sustainability. At our recent Zero Waste festival, Carina spoke on Zero Waste celebrations and travel ideas using research by Gary Chapman on the five love languages as a framework for showing your love to loved ones without necessarily buying a gift. The five love languages are theorised to be in no particular order; gift giving, acts of service, physical touch, verbal affirmations and quality time.

I spoke to Carina about celebrating Christmas as Zero Waste as possible.

What is your advice on giving at Christmas?

I think it’s always good to start with the purpose of giving; is it to make you feel good or the recipient feel good? If you decide that you want to give to show how much someone means to you, then the best way to do that is to give them something they connect with and appreciate. That’s where the love languages come in, knowing what makes me feel loved and appreciated will be different to what makes you feel loved and appreciated. We often will choose something that we think is cool and we’d love it with an assumption that the recipient will think it’s cool.

Even in your immediate family that you may know so well, you can be wrong about how they like to be appreciated. Like you might say “But I make you tea all of the time” they might say “Well that’s great that you make me a cup of tea, but you never rub my back when I need it” or “you never tell me I’m beautiful”. You need to find out what matters to the other person. By taking the five love languages quiz you find out what your primary love language is and if you get family and friends to take it you can find out what kind of love language is most used or preferred by them (

When you know what matters to the other person you can make a clear choice. In Western society we use Christmas time as a time for gift giving.

So, if I go to the effort of giving a gift, I want that gift to show my appreciation of that person. Knowing what they would like, is a great place to start. For instance, you may want to give your kids Lego, but it may have more impact to go on an adventure.  You can give experiences and they may be more valuable.

If your top love language is receiving gifts they don’t have to be expensive. A work colleague scored highly on receiving gifts and I would sometimes bring him an apple and he would feel very appreciated by that. Gifts can be simple and inexpensive. You could buy a $1000 piece of jewellery or you could make them something.

What are your thoughts on Santa and what advice would you give parents who are trying to have a more sustainable Christmas?

I feel that Christmas in Australia is really modelled on the American idea of Christmas. Christmas in other parts of the world such as Europe is more like Thanksgiving where it’s more about coming together and sharing traditional food and spending time as a family. Not necessarily about getting the latest toy. Our Santa has always bought what we think our kids would like so, my kids have gone on some great adventures. We helped our kids to do the love languages quiz many years ago and both had receiving gifts as their primary love language.

In our family we have the tradition of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. On the first day the kids would sit and sing the 12 days of Christmas song and get out a partridge from these little handmade bags and so on. We would always put up the Christmas tree together. On one of the 12 days we would drive around and see the Christmas lights, we might make gingerbread, we might do our Christmas lists another day. Our family does Kris Kringle to minimise the number of gifts we buy.  We’d also see a Christmas movie together at home on another day. So, we would do those traditions and it’s always fun to see the kids sing the 12 days of Christmas, even now when they are in their 20s.

I made these little scrolls about the symbols of each day of Christmas that explain the meaning behind those. We’re not religious but it’s always nice to know where these traditions come from.

I believe it’s the role of uncles and aunties to provide another perspective of the world, like exposure to another culture and so you might give something different to what the kids may want which can be risky.

Yes, it’s a risk because they may not engage with that gift but sometimes it’s giving what you know they need like money for school books. Rather than just doing what the parent wants as well, it takes a village.

What about once you have the gift whether it’s bought or made etc. how is it best to present that gift?

Well for our family, we have present bags that are kept in the cupboard to be reused again and again. My kids also had stockings a red and green one and every year there was a fight over who owned which stocking! The red one is always the most sought after.

How about encouraging others to be more sustainable?

A gift of service- cleaning the bathroom

The thing is, we all must be more sustainable.  So, it could be that you give a gift that encourages that person to be more sustainable. Like you might give a gift of service where you give a recipe on using vinegar and Bi-carb for cleaning and you might clean their bathroom or kitchen as a gift. I might make a little eco kit to get someone started.

Another idea for gift giving could be going somewhere to appreciate nature or understanding the life cycles of certain insects or animals. Having educational activities at school is important. Our kids became environmental captains at their school, and they would bring things from nature like leaves, rocks or branches from the surrounding area and place them on display at school.

I have been appreciating wildlife and nature since I was a child, especially growing up in Metung, East Gippsland and travelling between the country to the city. I believe that people can take more environmental actions when they build a connection to nature.

Could you give something that a person may love but is a more sustainable alternative?

It’s all about, how do you encourage change? You can always trace learning back to having a conversation on a topic that sparks an action.  It’s having those conversations and showing people living sustainably can be easy and cheap. Like cleaning with bi-carb and vinegar it only costs like a dollar.

When you start lowering your waste and trying simpler alternatives you begin to realise that the same things in shops can be cheaper without packaging. What are your thoughts on that?  

A Christmas store display

Something looks beautiful in its packaging until you open it. What do you do with the packaging? How much energy has gone into creating it? Often the reason something looks nice is to encourage us to buy it so the company makes a profit. I’ve always been a magazine flipper and I love looking on Instagram at beautiful products. The only reason there are beautiful store windows and layouts is to get people in to buy the products and when you understand that you can ask, “Do I really want or need that?”

So, it’s about stopping and reflecting on constant selling and consumption?

Yes, when you go shopping you get the dopamine hit but you feel low and guilty later it’s called buyer’s remorse. When you’re conscious of this effect, it can be easier to resist.

You can ask yourself, could you spend time with a friend? Would it be more valuable to give your time to someone or something else? We get marketed to about buying things at Christmas or being told it’s important to boost the economy. We are encouraged to be consumers, but there’s other ways of being, that like going to eat out at a restaurant or going to the theatre and seeing a play.

It could be about buying other services too?

Yes!  If you know someone that loves a massage and they love physical touch as a love language, then that would be really appreciated by them. However, it might not be appropriate to give a massage yourself to someone like your boss, even if you know they like physical touch. That’s where giving a gift voucher can be good or it can be using a voucher to book time to spend together. You could make an event of that experience.

With gift vouchers people often have to remember to book in those experiences and then it becomes like “oh I didn’t use that gift voucher?” and that can be a waste of money too.

The element of surprise can make it more exciting and special. One time we told our kids we had bought tickets to an exhibition in Melbourne, but we had actually booked a holiday. We started driving and as we got closer to the airport my daughter Ella was like “wait a minute this isn’t the way to the gallery?” So, we do adventures like that or say we’re going for a picnic but go to see the Christmas lights. It’s about making it an adventure without buying something and wrapping it.

What about decorations that are more zero waste and sustainable?

Well we’ve got decorations that we’ve had for years and it’s part of the tradition of putting up the tree together like we have a handprint from my daughter Ella from grade 1 and we might talk about that memory. Some are handmade or from the op shop. I’ve got the 12 days of Christmas for the tree.

As my kids get older there’s less focus on the decorations and more on spending quality time together. I’ve gone with my kids to the bush to collect materials to make a Christmas wreath.

It’s the quality time that you remember later isn’t it? In my family we make a Christmas drink called Cola de Mono – Monkey’s tail and we only drink it at Christmas and get together to talk.

Christmas feasts can create a lot of food waste

Food is a great way to get people together and build traditions that only happen at Christmas. Often at Christmas there’s also a lot of excess food. I have three sisters and we share hosting Christmas and over the years we have made a conscious decision to buy less and make less food at Christmas, so we don’t have that waste. It’s the same food we’ll always be eaten but reducing the amount in the first place is best.

My partner Simon and I have gone vegan so there’s a lot of salads and vegetables. Again, it’s that conscious decision about getting together and being aware of our environmental footprint and doing what we can to reduce it.

How did you start reducing your waste?

My zero waste journey began with recycling. I thought I was a good recycler and one day at a council event on recycling, a lady complained about having to pay for her bins when she didn’t put them out at all. It made me think “Wow!” I hadn’t thought that was an option and I decided that I wanted to do that, and it grew from there. Simon and I went Zero Waste 2 years ago.  I gave up buying some things that I couldn’t get without packaging and we couldn’t get meat without waste at the time and now it’s more about environmental impact.

Carina Turner presents on Zero waste and sustainability topics around Victoria and Australia to educate others on environmental issues. Carina believes in the power of 10; if you help 10 people learn more about reducing waste and sustainability and share your actions, then those 10 people can pass it on. She continues presenting to influence more people to reduce their environmental impact. Carina will be presenting at the East Gippsland land care group this weekend contact Carina via Facebook for more details. Check out the love languages quiz.

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