Christmas is around the corner – and there is no getting away from Christmas presents. While your gift-giving anxieties are flaring up, do you turn into Santa Claus’ assistant or do you live in fear of December’s festivities?
No matter where you are in the spectrum, we know one topic that will make you sweat – how to be more sustainable during Christmas. It’s a happy time, everyone wants to be merry and leave behind all problems, just for a day. However, worrying news about climate change, protests such as Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future and growing reports by the media or through documentaries (remember BBC’s War on Plastic?) are pushing many of us to question their Christmas habits.
How can we change Christmas habits though?
There will always be that cute little one in the family who we need to buy a present for but unsure if they will ever use it, or that dinner party we really can’t get out from. And have you thought of the various Christmas cards we end up sending to our near & dear ones and the waste that it creates? According to a report from the Greeting Cards Association, over one billion cards are sold in the UK alone for Christmas every year.
The wrapping paper, bows & ribbons, that come with Christmas presents all add up to the excessive packaging waste, little of which is recycled. According to a study, people in the UK create 30% more waste than usual over Christmas and are also less careful about recycling correctly.
But on the positive side, small adjustments to your Christmas planning can make a massive difference, here are our top 5 tips to help you celebrate a greener, sustainable and more meaningful Christmas this year.
1) Re-evaluate your gift-giving habits
Let’s face it, we live in the world of consumerism. We buy more than we really need. We can now afford to buy “goods” that we find “useful” and don’t necessarily need a special occasion to receive one. So why not avoid going overboard with presents the other person may not need and buy something more personal, that tells her you’re thinking about her. Repeating the same things year after year can make the festivity feel mundane, so the unexpected excitement, a surprise is what most of us will probably appreciate, and there are many ways to make this year’s Christmas more special:
- Choose an experience instead of a material gift: such as a ticket to a favourite festival, a museum membership, a short weekend trip.
- If you believe gifts should be objects, something you can wrap – you may want to consider home-made gifts such as candles, soap bars, cookies, homemade dinners or knitted accessories.
- You could also consider buying presents that give back to the community or donate to a charity.
And speaking of wrapping, it’s a great time to ditch the wrapping paper. Old newspapers or second-hand materials work as excellent alternatives. Not only will this avoid pointless plastic waste (which is often non-recyclable) but will also give your gifts a unique look.
2) Be careful about how (& when) you shop
Our lives have become so busy and frenetic. Months fly by, it’s suddenly ‘that’ time of the year, and you still haven’t thought about Christmas presents.
If buying presents for Christmas is a sore spot, try to plan ahead and leave Christmas time to actually enjoy the festivities.
Pay attention to your loved ones’ wishes throughout the year and keep a list of their likes & preferences in your phone/ diary or in any form of ‘make a note’ tool. This will avoid you being caught unprepared when it’s time to go present-shopping. When you feel the time is nigh, try and buy gifts all in one go, whether you’ll buy in high streets or online. Making a lot of trips to the store or buying online making multiple orders will put more vehicles on the streets. This will cause more congestion on the roads, and more carbon emissions – bad for our health and for the environment.
The lure of online shopping is particularly significant at Christmas when shops are packed with people. Today shoppers are obsessed with next day delivery and often end up shopping right before Christmas day. As convenient as this feels, there are significant sustainability challenges linked to shopping online – mainly related to carbon emissions due to transportation. To avoid provoking unnecessary added emissions, make sure to:
- Be home for delivery – if this is not always possible, opt for click & collect options and take a nice stroll to the designated place.
- Try to buy in bulk or consolidate deliveries – this will reduce the journeys to your chosen collection point, thus lowering the emissions of delivery vans.
- Avoid fast delivery options – they are simply bad for the environment. Items are often flown (more carbon-intensive) to reach customers the next day, while standard deliveries allow for more time and therefore are done by road.
Avoid the try & return temptation
Don’t buy 5 different things online knowing that you will decide on the 24th which present to give and then return everything in the next week. Returns have a significant environmental impact. First of all there’s the added carbon emissions generated by transport. Secondly, there’s the issue of what will happen to your returned item. If it’s damaged or if you take too long to return and the item is not on sale anymore, there’s a chance it might be sent to landfill. Read: more unjustified waste.
3) Too much Turkey during Christmas?
Christmas food is great – mince pies, roast turkey & vegetables, pudding and lots of cake – is there a way to make Christmas dinners more sustainable without compromising?
Of course there is:
- First of all, if you decide to have meat, aim for organic and free-range from the UK. Shop in local markets or shops and steer clear of packaged meat – which is common in regular supermarket. Most of the food packaging is single-use plastic which is hard to recycle – only in the UK, we use roughly 2.2 million tonnes of plastic every year. Remember to bring your reusable shopping bag with you.
- According to a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the average household loses £470 a year due to food waste, while families with children lose £700. We encourage you to be especially mindful of leftovers: arm yourself with Tupperware and be prepared to eat Christmas food even after Christmas has passed. If you feel there’s just so much roast turkey you can tolerate, you could take it to work and share it with colleagues, or with people in need.
- Avoid disposable tableware. Waste is such a big issue in developed economies, let’s avoid adding more pressure on the recycling industry. Moreover, Christmas is a great occasion to make use of otherwise-too-precious-to-use tableware –make the most of it.
4) Creating the right atmosphere
What’s Christmas without lights. A great way to be sustainable this year is to switch to led lights. LEDs lights are great to create the right atmosphere for Christmas and they also have a reduced impact on the environment. In a month LED’s generate 140 times less carbon emissions than incandescent lights – it’s great on the bills too.
And what about decorations?
- Avoid plastic decorations and opt for eco-friendly options like glass and wood
- Reuse them every year instead of throwing them all away once festivities end.
5) All things must come to an end…
A lot of food, cards and presents inevitably bring about quite some rubbish. Step up your recycling game for Christmas and make sure to follow the recycling guidelines provided by your local authority. As a general rule:
- Make sure to put only food waste and compostable tableware in the organic bin.
- If you’re planning on using single-use crockery, make sure to recycle everything correctly.
- Wrapping paper that is laminated, that has additives such as glitter, plastics and silver/gold coloured shapes and is dyed, is often non-recyclable. If tape is attached to it, that makes wrapping paper very difficult to recycle. Ribbon and bows almost always go into general waste.
- Presents usually come with a lot of packaging, especially toys and electronic devices. Pay extra care in separating packaging’s components such as cardboard, plastic and polyester and recycle them correctly.
We hope you’ll find these tips useful and wish you happy festivities