Christmas has always had an element of decadent waste to it that makes me uncomfortable. Growing up my family was very poor. We lived on a council estate and a lot of local people including the family of my friends, were alcoholics, drug addicts and unemployed. My own mother struggled to raise me whilst working nights in a bar, my father failing to even contribute to child support let alone anything else. Christmas was a tough time for the families I knew and so these days, seeing a throwaway culture and massive amounts of waste at Christmas can be quite upsetting. The thing is, most people don’t even realize they’re doing it.
At Christmas time you want the best for your loved ones. You want good food, you want to give gifts that look amazing and hit the spot, you want to have loads of fun. But it’s easy to go overboard, to be wooed by retailers and adverts, to simply run out of time and grab whatever’s on the shelf, to want to take short cuts that are easier for you, but not good for the environment. I think that’s all very normal. I’m not supermum, I’m no green angel, I take short cuts too – there’s a balance to be found.
In my research I have found that there are some simple ways that you could be more green this Christmas, without sacrificing the happiness of you and yours. Here are 11 ways you could make a difference.
Plastic Free Food Shopping
I don’t know why but Christmas seems to bring even more plastic to the supermarket shelves. You can try to avoid as much plastic as possible by buying fresh fruit and vegetables loose, either from the supermarket, from local food markets or vegetable stalls. This also means you can buy specifically by weight, reducing food waste as you can get exactly what you need without having to buy a bag of extra. This even helps you be healthy over the festive period as we tend to massively overeat at Christmas, often for the simple fact that there’s more food on the table than we need.
Christmas Food Waste
On Christmas week about 150,000 tonnes of food in the UK goes in the bin. That is insane, absolutely mind boggling – especially when you consider how absolutely delicious turkey sandwiches are! We are a nation of chronic over-cookers. Our eyes (mine too!) are bigger than our bellies. We want to indulge and everything looks so good, and let’s face it, no one wants to end up not cooking enough and have disappointed mouths on Christmas day. But we’ve got to look at what we do with our waste. By all means, cook too much if you want to – I know I will – but save it. Heat it up the next day. Eat it in sandwiches for a week. Freeze it. Do not bin it!
Don’t panic buy. Don’t double up on anything “just in case”, the shops are open almost every day. Always check the dates of food, be vigilant about the contents of the fridge and move leftovers or unused nearly out of date food over the freezer. Just have a proper think about it and see if you can save anything from the bin this year. Not only will you save food waste – you’re going to save loads of money too, as throwing away food is chucking cash in the bin.
We’ve got to turn this around, because in the UK 7 million tonnes of food a year are being scraped into household waste, not even used for composting.
Buy Organic Meat
When you’re food shopping try to look for organic and free-range meat, especially if you’re buying something like a large turkey for Christmas Dinner. It might be more expensive, but it’s much better quality, and it is far more environmentally friendly to support small-scale farming than intensive farming.
Of course if you can ditch the meat altogether and go for a vegetarian or vegan Christmas then that is definitely an excellent green option, but not one that’s suitable for everyone, so starting with Organic meat is something that’s more obtainable.
Apparently 99% of us – and no, that’s not hyperbole, that’s a statistic from a Business Waste Survey – throw out the contents of their Christmas cracker. So why do we keep buying crackers filled with plastic tat we’re never going to use? Because it’s traditional. It’s time to break that tradition. You can make your own crackers, or you can buy pre-made crackers and fill them yourself such as these ones.
Another idea that balances plastic and convenience is to shop for crackers that have something that’s actually useful inside. You might pay more for them, but will hopefully get something useful out of it. For example these Robin Reed Nutcracker Crackers have 6 adorable Christmas ornaments in them that you can hang on the tree and use year after year after year.
The Christmas Tree
Think carefully about your Christmas Tree options.
Buying a cut tree – Up to 8 million Christmas trees are bought every December in the UK. That’s crazy! That’s intensive production and a lot of waste as these trees are dead by January and need to be disposed of. You can make this more environmentally friendly by making sure your Christmas tree is certified organic and pesticide free (look for the Soil Association label) and by making sure your tree is recycled.
Using a plastic tree – Ditching plastic and finding alternatives is an important part of the environmental message, but in some situations using a plastic tree can be environmentally friendly. If you already have an artificial tree, then it’s important to get as much use out of it as possible! It’s already been manufactured, so using it every year now is environmentally friendly, as is buying a second hand artificial tree if you decide to get one.
Buying or growing a potted Christmas tree – This allows you to use a tree year after year and is very environmentally friendly, but does come with the hassle of you needing to care for this tree year round and they will need to be carefully repotted into very large pots as they grow bigger to allow the root system to thrive.
Renting a Christmas tree – This is the least common option but perhaps the most environmentally friendly. Places are now starting to offer Christmas tree rental – where you can rent a Christmas tree of the appropriate size each year and have it collected after Christmas. That tree continues growing and you don’t have to worry about what to do with your tree that has outgrown the pot.
I personally use an artificial tree. I’ve owned it for six years and intend to keep using it for a long time. With four cats, a dog and a toddler, I didn’t feel that a real tree was appropriate for our household. I’m really excited about the prospect of renting a tree in the future though!
This is something I’m terribly guilty off – tat in stocking fillers. It’s hard, because as a mum you want your kids to open their stocking and be excited. It also slows them down a little, and lord knows we all need a little more time at 5am on Christmas morning before the rampaging hordes wake you. And you want to save money. I’d love to put loads of traditional wooden gifts in the stocking, but damn have you seen the price of some of them? I’m on a strict budget. So what am I guilty of? Heading to the supermarket or bargain shops and filling the stocking with things that cost 50p – £2. Things that will be played with for 10 minutes and thrown in the bin in the next clear out.
So the solution here is to think carefully about what you give in a stocking filler and aim for things that can be either consumed or will last a long time. Practical gifts are also quite green because you were going to buy and use them anyway.
Here are some ideas for green stocking ideas:
- Small wooden toys
- Small ethical, locally made gifts
- Natural-made candles
- Home-made gifts
- Seed packets
- Re-usable water bottle / flask
- Bamboo Plate and cutlery
Consumables like favourite sweets and treats that they’re not usually allowed also make good stocking fillers, especially if you can buy them plastic-free:
- Favourite Fruit
- Mini cereal boxes
- Pop tarts (well it was my favourite stocking filler as a child!)
Finally, practical gifts make alternative green stocking fillers as well, including:
- Socks and underwear
- Toiletries such as shampoo and soap
- Stationary and school items
- New toothbrush
Another idea is buying stocking fillers from charity shops – if you’re buying something second hand then you’re already being more green than buying it new!
Giving Green Gifts
Thinking carefully about the environmental impact of the gifts you’re buying is important. There are still plenty of choices to be green and give gifts, from adopting an animal or donating to charity, to gifting seeds suitable to start a wild garden in the Spring. It doesn’t need to be that extreme, almost everything has a green alternative if you’re willing to spend some time on researching it!
The shipping and transportation of goods from abroad is bad for the environment, and I’m pretty sure if I look at most of the toys I buy my son, there’s a made in China stamp on them. I’ve been surprised by this – even when I buy from what I believe is a British firm, it often turns out the product was manufactured elsewhere. By buying local, and supporting small business as well, we can not only cut out the middleman, we can support the economy in our own communities which improves the lives of local people and cut down on the environmental impact of importation. Plus what a great reason to get out to a local Christmas fair!
Re-use Wrapping Paper, Gift Bags and Boxes
The vast majority of Christmas wrapping paper contains plastic. It’s what makes it so shiny and amazing to look at. If you’re going hardcore waste free then maybe you’re thinking about wrapping your gifts this year in brown wrapping paper, but I’m an advocate for finding something that helps without sacrificing the things you want. If you want to use beautiful wrapping paper, why not ask the recipients to save it? Why not save all the wrapping paper from the gifts you get? Instead of tearing, open presents carefully, fold the paper (and it can be ironed to get creases out) and save it for next year. The same goes for gift bags and gift boxes – by reusing them time and time and time again it’s far more better than using them once and sending them to the landfill, and it’s a good opportunity to teach the whole family about reusing items.
Apparently 78% of people surveyed said their Christmas wrapping paper goes straight into the household waste with no attempt to recycle or reuse!
The overarching theme here is to be aware of what you’re buying, to think about whether there’s a better alternative and just to try to find a balance and do the best you can.
Give Gifts that don’t require Wrapping at all
You could give gifts that don’t require any gift wrap at all. Here’s some ideas for gifts you don’t need to wrap at all!
Re-use Christmas Cards or Go Digital
The only people who profit with cards are the card companies. There’s no need to buy loads of Christmas cards, which are often covered in shiny paper and glitter. Looks great, but terrible for the environment. Consider re-using cards year after year or even ditching the cards and sending a digital e-card to friends and family. What matters is the message, not the delivery system.
I really hope that these 11 ways to be more green this Christmas have helped you think about some aspects of the festive season that you can be more environmentally friendly. Little changes help, and I’d love to know what small things you and your family are doing this Christmas to make a difference!