Want to reduce your impact on the planet this festive season?
Here are 9 ways to have a greener Christmas this year.
Did you know, an extra 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period, in the UK, when compared with the rest of the year?
In 2017, a poll of 2,000 adults suggested 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”.
Food waste also increases at this time of year. We Brits throw away 74 million mince pies and the equivalent of 2 million turkeys each Christmas.
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 in October 2018, warned we only have 12 years (now 11) to act in order to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. Beyond that, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Living more sustainably doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate Christmas – or any other religious holiday for that matter. It just means taking a different approach – in many ways, going back to how we used to do things.
With just a little bit of forethought and by making some simple changes, we can have both a magical AND greener Christmas.
1. Start with Advent
Choose a reusable Advent calendar. Buy or make a fabric Advent calendar with pockets that you can fill with chocolates or other small treats (they don’t have to be food). I bought one second-hand last year and can’t wait to get it out again. Apart form being better for the environment, it looks so much nicer than the disposable ones.
Finding loose foil-wrapped chocolates can be a bit of a challenge – a local chocolate shop is probably your best bet. Small individually-wrapped vegan chocolates are even harder to come by but you could buy a larger bar and break it into pieces. Alternatively, try making your own (vegan or not) and wrap them in cotton or paper with a twine tie.
2. Choose your tree wisely
Buy a potted tree. This is the most sustainable option (if you don’t already own an artificial tree), assuming you have a garden to put the tree once Christmas is over. You’ll be able to move the tree indoors at Christmas for years to come and, when it gets too big, you can plant it in your garden to enjoy well into the future.
Rent a tree. Have a look to see if there’s a tree farm in your area that hires out Christmas trees and collects them to be replanted ready for next year.
Buy from a sustainable supplier. Look for a local tree farm or supplier of UK-grown trees (assuming you’re in the UK). Choose one that will take the tree back for recycling or burning, both of which are better for the environment than putting the tree into landfill (see this).
Don’t buy a new artificial tree. The carbon footprint of an artificial tree is more than twice that of a real tree that ends up in landfill and more than 10 times that of real trees that are burnt (see this). If you want an artificial tree, buy one second-hand. Look in charity shops, Facebook local buy and sell groups and on eBay.
Reuse your existing artificial tree. You’d need to use an artificial tree for at least 10 Christmases to make it a more eco-friendly option. So, if you already have one, use it for as many years as you can. If you need to get rid of it (e.g. you need a smaller tree) then sell or donate it, and then opt for a sustainably sourced real tree.
Want to do something different? Here are some ideas for an alternative Christmas tree (some are more eco-friendly than others).
3. Consider your Christmas cards
Send fewer cards. Sending no cards at all, for many of us, just doesn’t feel right. However, reducing the number of cards we send is perhaps more feasible. For instance, I will be giving cards to my immediate family and very close friends but that’s all. If you’re still sending cards to people who you’ve not seen or spoken to in ten years, it might be worth asking yourself why. Even if you are in touch with everyone on your Christmas card list, it’s likely they’d understand if you choose not to send physical cards for environmental reasons. Some of them might be considering doing the same and you might just give them the nudge they need to choose the planet over tradition.
Send e-cards. While emails do have a carbon footprint, the impact on the environment is significantly smaller than physical cards (think of the resources that go into making the cards and packaging, and then the emissions caused by posting them). E-mails can feel impersonal but they actually have the power to be more personal than a traditional card. You could, for example, record a unique video message for each person.
Send sustainably made cards. If you can’t bring yourself not to send physical cards, look for cards made from recycled card with no glitter or other plastic decoration. Alternatively, make your own cards using recycled materials. You could even use the fronts of Christmas cards you received last year.
Whatever you decide to do about sending cards, make sure you recycle the cards you receive or keep them for making cards or gift tags next Christmas.
4. Give ethical gifts
Give the gift of time. Instead of giving someone a physical thing, give them the gift of time spent doing something they enjoy and creating fond memories. Experience gifts are becoming more and more popular, and the possibilities are almost endless. If you’re on a small budget, look for deals on sites like Groupon and Wowcher. Alternatively, you could gift your time to help others by doing things such as babysitting or gardening.
Buy second hand. You can find giftable 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).
Support local, independent businesses. If you need to buy new things, one of the best things you can do for the planet and your community is shop locally. Be it a deli selling locally-made jams, chutneys and other goodies or a collective of local artists and makers, you’re more likely to find something that someone will treasure. If you’re unsure about the eco credentials of a shop or individual product – just ask!
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 to people if you put time and effort in to making something yourself. Just try to make sure that the materials/ingredients are as eco-friendly/ethical as possible.
5. Wrap your presents well
Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags. Hopefully, you’ll have kept some from gifts you received last year. If not, make this something you do differently this time. You can also cut up old Christmas cards to make gift tags. If you need to buy new, choose plastic-free gift wrap/bags/tags made from recycled paper.
Use what you already have. Brown parcel paper, newspaper, magazines – with a bit of styling, many things you wouldn’t have considered using can look great. Also, if you have any unused wrapping paper that isn’t recyclable (e.g. it has glitter on it or it fails the scrunch test), then use it! It’s more wasteful not to use it.
Go Japanese. Furoshiki is a traditional gift wrapping technique from Japan. It typically uses fabric squares to wrap boxes with a bow or handle created on the top. You can buy purpose made Furoshiki wraps but any square of material will do, such as a silk scarf. If you don’t already have some material you could use, look in charity shops or in the offcuts bin at an upholstery store. Watch this video to see a couple of Furoshiki methods for wrapping boxed gifts.
Get creative. Want to decorate your gifts to add a flourish of festive cheer? Forget plastic ribbons and bows. Opt for raffia, lace, silk ribbons, colourful paper tape and even a few sprigs of Christmas spruce (it looks AND smells amazing). Again, if you already have plastic gift decor, use it!
Need some inspiration? Check out these 15 eco-friendly gift wrap ideas.
6. Deck the halls
Buy second-hand decorations. I’ve seen plenty of good quality decorations for sale in charity shops on the run up to Christmas over the years. You can also find decorations for sale on Facebook, eBay and elsewhere online.
Make your own. Apart from being a fun thing to do, making your own decorations means they’ll be unique and (most likely) have a much smaller carbon footprint than shop-bought ones. If you can, use materials you already have or would otherwise throw away – I just love garlands of dried citrus peel stars! Alternatively, source natural/recycled/second-hand materials. 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.
Reuse, reuse, reuse. Whether your decorations are store-bought, second-hand or homemade, keep them and reuse them year after year, for as long as possible. 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.
Fancy making your own? Check out these 35 beautiful homemade Christmas decorations to make and treasure.
7. Reduce meat and dairy
Not just for Christmas. This is one of the most positive changes you can make for the planet (not to mention your own health). If you’re not quite ready to quit meat and dairy altogether, you could start by reducing the amount you consume. One way you can do this is by having a set number of meat/dairy-free days each week. Alternatively, you could eliminate one type of food at a time (beef has the highest carbon footprint of all livestock produce, so if you give up one thing, make it that).
Have a vegan or vegetarian Christmas dinner. 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’ve also had an amazing mushroom wellington, a goat’s cheese and beetroot parcel that was to die for and various other scrumptious dishes. Why not be adventurous and try something new this Christmas?
Looking for recipe ideas? Check out 27 of the best vegetarian Christmas recipes (some are vegan or could easily be made vegan).
8. Party in sustainable style
Avoid single use items. Anything designed to be used once and thrown in the bin is bad news for the environment, whether it’s made from plastic, paper or wood. Use your own plates, cups and cutlery if you can. If you don’t have enough for the number of guests, consider borrowing from friends or renting what you need. You might even be able to find what you need in charity shops (if you don’t want to keep them, donate them back to the shop).
Choose compostable. If you must use disposable tableware, cups or cutlery, make sure they’re truly biodegradable/compostable and put them in the compost bin after the party. If you don’t have a compost bin, ask someone who does if they’d take them. Be aware, many ‘bio-plastics’ don’t actually break down properly in home compost, so do your research. Ideally, choose paper, wooden or bamboo items from sustainable sources. Wash and reuse what you can. Compost what you can’t.
Avoid plastic packaging. Think about the food you serve too. Ready-made party food often comes with a lot of plastic packaging. Look for party food packed only in a card box. 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.
9. Drive less
Use public transport. Millions of Britons hit the road each December to spend Christmas with friends and family. If you’re planning on travelling this Christmas, consider using alternative modes of transport. For those who live close to family, is it possible to get the bus or walk? If you’ve got further to travel, going by train can be quicker than driving (just think of those queues on the motorway) and it’s much better for the environment too. Buy your tickets far enough in advance and you can make significant savings. Also have a look on splityourticket.co.uk to see you can save money by spreading your rail journey across multiple tickets. Getting the coach is often a cheaper option and, while it’s not as green as the train, a coach journey has a lower carbon footprint (per person) than a car journey.
Car share. If travelling on public transport isn’t possible, perhaps you can car share with family or friends? This means less air pollution, less money spent on petrol and more time spent with loved ones. It’s a win-win-win!
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.