Christmas has become such a consumer-driven time of year, with tons of waste produced as a result. Here are 7 ways that you can make your Christmas more sustainable.
According to this article in the Independent, us Brits “throw away 74 million mince pies each year [at Christmas]. The equivalent of 2 million turkeys go in the bin despite most of us knowing, when the order goes in, that even the least fussy of relatives finds turkey a bit dry.”
Last Christmas, a poll of 2,000 adults showed the nation would get through “more than 40 million rolls of sticky tape and bin almost 100 million black bags full of packaging from toys and gifts”.
In the light of growing evidence that we need to act fast to limit the damage we are causing to the planet, we simply cannot keep on like this. The landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday 8th October 2018 warns there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
We still have time to prevent this. Here’s what you can do to make a difference in your day to day life.
Back to Christmas… here are just a few ideas for you to be a bit kinder to the environment this festive season.
1. Give ethical gifts
This can mean a number of things. For example…
Buy second hand. You can find items in fantastic condition online and in charity shops – it can take a little bit more time to find what you’re looking for (if you have something specific in mind) but it will be cheaper for you and better for the environment. Encourage people to give you second hand gifts too!
Buy eco-friendly products. Choose items that are made from natural or recycled ingredients/materials, don’t come packaged in unnecessary plastic and are made/sold by ethical brands (who uphold this ethos throughout their entire product range, not just for the odd one or two).
Make your own gifts. Knit a scarf, bake a cake, paint a picture, make bath oil or sloe gin – there are so many things that you could do. It can mean a lot more to people if you put the time and effort in to making something yourself than just buying it from a shop. Just try to make sure that whatever materials you need to make it are as eco-friendly as possible.
Give your time, instead of giving someone a thing – potentially something they don’t really need. You could give your parents a voucher entitling them to a whole day of you helping out in the garden or book a weekend away for your partner and you (keep it local to make it as eco-friendly as possible).
Need some inspiration? Check out these 21 eco-friendly gifts to give this year (it’s an American article so not everything is relevant but it’s worth a look).
2. Wrap your presents well
Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags from gifts you received last year. If you buy new, buy recycled.
Dare to be different and use what you already have lying around – brown parcel paper, newspaper, bags, cloth – with a bit of styling things you wouldn’t have considered using can look great.
If you want to add a ribbon or bow, use ones made out of paper or raffia – anything but plastic!
Need some inspiration? Check out these 15 eco-friendly gift wrap ideas (it’s written by an American blogger, so not every detail is relevant but it’s a great post).
3. Reuse your decorations
There can be a bit of competition at Christmas to have the most pretty, stylish or unique decorations. Fuelled by advertising, we often feel that we should have a new colour scheme each year, with a bigger tree and sparklier baubles.
It also seems that there has been a bit of a backlash against this mentality in recent years. More and more people are making their own decorations. If you have kids, it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time with them and get creative. Even if you don’t, it can be a fantastic creative outlet and a way to unwind after a stressful day.
Whether your decorations are store-bought or homemade, keep them and reuse them year after year. If you do want to get rid of some decorations, e.g. if you downsize your tree, then give them to a friend or donate them to charity. There is nothing fashionable about waste.
Fancy making your own? Check out these 35 beautiful homemade Christmas decorations to make and treasure.
4. Have a vegan or vegetarian Christmas dinner
This is going to be a sticking point for a lot of people but the fact is that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is one of the most positive changes you can make for the planet (not to mention your own health).
If you have cut down on the amount of meat you consume on a weekly basis but aren’t prepared to cut it out altogether, I imagine the one time you definitely do want to have it is on Christmas Day. All I can say is that there are so many exciting and tasty vegetarian and vegan options out there. I love a good nut roast for my Christmas dinner but I have also had an amazing mushroom wellington, a goat’s cheese and beetroot parcel that was to die for and various other scrumptious vegetarian dishes.
Be adventurous and try something new this Christmas.
Check out 27 of the best vegetarian Christmas recipes (some are vegan or could easily be made vegan).
5. Party in style
By that I mean keep up with the growing trend of people reducing their single-use plastic consumption.
If you must use disposable tableware and cutlery, make sure it’s truly biodegradable. Choose paper or bamboo plates and cups over plastic (even ‘bio-plastics’ don’t break down in landfill, don’t be fooled) and wooden or bamboo cutlery from sustainable sources.
Think about the food you serve too. Ready-made party food tends to come with a lot of plastic packaging. With a little bit of forward planning, you can reduce the amount of waste you create and save money by making your own party food. Even better if you can use the leftovers from Christmas dinner.
Need some inspiration? Check out these vegetarian party recipes.
6. Stay at home
Do you normally spend the Christmas period driving around trying to see as many family and friends as possible? Perhaps you usually spend it with your parents but they live over the other side of the country. Why not spend this Christmas at home? This means less air pollution and more money in your bank account (or to spend on gifts/food/activities). For this to be an eco-friendly option, it also means that whomever you would have visited shouldn’t drive to see you either.
Again, this is going to be a sticking point for some. Christmas is all about family and friends for most. It is for us. However, this year we have decided to spend our Christmas day on our own as a family, just the three of us (that’s my husband, our daughter, who will be 18 months at Christmas, and me). We have never done this before, so I don’t know what to expect but I’m excited about it.
If you really have to travel, consider using public transport. Going by train can sometimes be quicker than driving (just think of those queues on the motorway) and it’s much better for the environment too.
7. Choose your tree wisely
We know that plastic is a huge issue – it takes thousands of years for it to decompose and it is devastating our oceans. So buying a plastic Christmas tree seems pretty irresponsible. Then again, isn’t chopping down trees just to use them for a few weeks even less ethical?
According to this BBC article, a “2m artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill – and more than 10 times that of real trees that are burnt. So if you have an artificial tree at home you would need to reuse it for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree.”
Real tree it is then – but what if you already have an artificial tree? Keep it and use it for as many years as you possibly can. We have a tiny artificial tree that we bought a few years ago (my family always had an artificial tree, so that’s what I did – a pretty rubbish reason). I hope it will last my lifetime and maybe by then we’ll have figured out what to do with all our existing plastic, who knows.
If you don’t have a tree yet, consider buying a real tree from a sustainable supplier and burn it (safely) rather than sending it to landfill (see this article). Of course, there are other factors to consider – cost, allergies, fire safety, etc.
Alternatively, why not go without a tree or make your own? Here are some ideas for an alternative Christmas tree (some are more eco-friendly than others).
There are many other ways you could make your Christmas more ethical. Let me know what you’re doing this year in the comments below.