How to have a more sustainable Christmas
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Christmas is a huge time of year for many of us, it's no longer about one day, it's a whole season in itself. December is usually filled with markets and fairs, parties and gatherings, family get togethers and copious amounts of food and drink. But along with all of this comes a lot of waste, food, wrapping, trees, decorations, packaging, most of which go into land fill as it cannot be recycled.
This year will be different in a lot of ways for most of us, so why not use this year to make a change? I have put together ideas for each of the main components of Christmas on how you can choose more sustainable options, what you can do to avoid the plastic waste and unrecyclable packaging and strive to be zero waste this Christmas.
There are many ways to be more sustainable with your Christmas gifts. Making sure you shop local and support small businesses, there are some amazing handcrafted gifts available from makers everywhere. And the good thing about this type of gift is their uniqueness, it's very unlikely that someone else will have given the same thing. Buying vintage is always a good bet too, whether it's an antique, collectable or vintage fashion piece there are some great gifts to be had if you're willing to look around and rummage through the local antique centre. These gifts can also be very personal as you have taken the time to search for them and choose them specifically. Another great way of gifting sustainably is to handmake your gifts. If you're crafty, or a baker or have learnt a new skill during lockdown then why not have a craft day and make some gifts. The receiver will appreciate the time and effort you have put in and handmade gifts always feel extra special.
The majority of us will reuse decorations from year to year simply from a cost point of view, and this is already a sustainable thing to do. But if you do feel like a change, especially this year, then why not make some of your own decorations? Whether it's knitting, crocheting, macramé or good old fashioned paper, glue and glitter (eco friendly glitter of course!) There is so much fun to be had sitting in the warm on a cold and rainy December afternoon with a Christmas movie on the TV and a hot chocolate in hand making Christmas decorations! Popcorn and cranberry garlands, felt Santa tree decorations, a Christmas door wreath, the list goes on. Of course, it's not Christmas without lights, so make sure you choose LED, if you're buying battery powered ones then be sure to use rechargeable batteries, and don't leave the lights on when you're not in the house or when you go to bed as this just wastes power and no-one is there to enjoy them!
We all have our traditions with festive fayre and for many of us it just wouldn't be Christmas without these, but there are still ways you can make your Christmas lunch more sustainable. Using local produce is a must, visit your local butcher and farm shop, not only are they usually close by, there is no unnecessary packaging, you're supporting local businesses and the taste is so much better than mass produced pre-packaged produce. If you're not so hung up on tradition you could always go meat free, or at least reduce the amount of meat on the menu. So many of the fruit and veggies we associate with Christmas are seasonal to this time of year, so these are the most sustainable options to choose and the most tasty!
Finally we need to mention food waste, we waste so much at Christmas. I read somewhere that on average, one UK families carbon footprint for the 3 days over Christmas equates to one flight to LA! Plan your meals and don't buy more than you need, Christmas is not like it used to be, the shops are open pretty much everyday now if you were desperate for something. Make sure you use your left overs, you only have to Google 'Christmas leftover recipes' and there are hundreds of ideas right there.
The age old debate real vs fake rumbles on. I love a real tree, the smell, the look, every year it's slightly different, however with a puppy that loves to eat anything organic, for the past couple of years this has not been an option. I do believe that if you invest in a well made fake tree that will last you 10 or more years that this is relatively sustainable. In terms of real trees, make sure that your tree is FSC certified which means it's responsibly sourced. Or, you can now hire real trees which you take back and they are replanted each year, so they can be used again and again.
In Britain we use so much wrapping each year, so much in fact that it's said that it would wrap around the world! But it's not just the paper, it's also the ribbons, bows, glitter and other embellishments we use, which look very festive and pretty but are primarily made of plastic and are non recyclable. There are however more sustainable options that look just as festive, if not more so, depending on your style.
I have used recycled brown Kraft paper for years to wrap my gifts as I love the look and feel it gives, especially when teamed with twine, orange pieces, bits of foliage and cinnamon sticks amongst other things. Make sure you're wrapping paper is recycled and use biodegradable paper tape, other ideas include pages of old books, old magazines and fabric. For tying around your gifts use twine, ribbons made from natural fibres or strips of old fabrics. For gift tags, you could make reusable ones that form part of the gift, out of clay for example, or simply use last years old Christmas cards.
Christmas jumpers have increased 10 fold in popularity over the last few years and we all probably have more than one in our wardrobe. A lot of us will buy a new one each year too, for the office party or National Christmas Jumper day. But the majority of these festive beauties are full of plastic in the form of glitter, tinsel, snowman or Santa eyes and all kinds of other adornments. So maybe this year reuse a jumper you already have or why not swap with a friend so you're still wearing something different?
This also applies to our festive evening wear, we all like something new for the Christmas party, Christmas lunch or New Years Eve, but why not pull something from the back of your wardrobe and give it a new lease of life? Wear it with different shoes or jewellery. Or buy something vintage and make it your own? There are many ways to change an outfit without buying something completely new!
Over a billion Christmas cards are sent every year in the UK. When you think the majority of these probably get thrown away and many of them can't be recycled as they have a film on them or glitter for example, that is a lot of unnecessary waste. Personally I like to send cards, but only to people I don't see so often, my closer friends I would much prefer to take them for a festive coffee or hot chocolate and a gossip somewhere. The cards I do send are always made from recycled card and are recyclable.
A great option now is to send cards made from plantable seed card, embedded with seeds that when it is buried in soil will grow and bloom and the card itself will decompose. This is also a great way to combine a small gift and a card as the receiver will be able to enjoy the card long after Christmas.
Another alternative to physical cards is to send e-cards, you can either choose pre designed ones or if your feeling creative then design your own, this way there is no print, no transport and no waste!
As a nation we all love our crackers with our Christmas lunch, seeing Dad and Grandad in their paper hats, trying to explain the jokes to Great Aunt Helen and spending the rest of the meal trying to figure out the puzzles. But the majority of this will all get get thrown away at the end of the day, and is not recyclable. However you can now buy plastic free as well as recyclable crackers or you can make your own from recycled card and paper and eco friendly ribbons, maybe with a homemade truffle or cookie inside. However you could steer away from Crackers altogether and give personalised thought out little gifts to your guests, that you know they will want to take home and keep. You could place them in small recycled gift boxes or wrap them in old book pages wrapped with twine and a sprig of Rosemary.
We all love our family Christmas traditions, but they all start somewhere and this year Christmas is going to be anything but traditional for many of us. So why not use this year to start some of your own? Because, let's face it, a more Sustainable Christmas is a tradition we could all do with adopting!
Don't put pressure on yourselves to have a 'normal' Christmas this year, enjoy it in whatever way you can, stay safe, look after each other and let's all hope for a better 2021! Merry Christmas!