Red and white might be the colours synonymous with Christmas but this year, green should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Christmas has a huge eco-footprint. A 2017 study found that in Britain alone, we binned over 100 million black bags full of packaging from toys and gifts in just one festive period. Then on top of that, there’s the wrapping paper, sticky tape and food waste to consider.
With everything that comes during the run-up and the aftermath of Christmas, there are many contributing factors to the waste that occurs and we can all do our bit to reduce our impact. But even though Scrooge may have a greener Christmas footprint than Mr. Claus, there is a balance you can find.
Simply slow down, think about your own personal contribution and enjoy Christmas in a more eco-friendly way.
December means, in many locations, the colder nights have well and truly made their frosty mark. Rather than ramp up your heating, try and put your festive jumper to good use and layer up before you flick the switch.
December 1st also usually signifies the start of Christmas decorations.
If you already have a collection built up from over the years, try not to buy any more. You could revamp older decorations with paint or make some from natural materials such as pine cones.
Cut down on tinsel as it is largely made from plastic and switch to LED lights as they are much more energy efficient. Many lights come with a timer to reduce usage and you could always use candles as another option to create a more festive atmosphere for your home. Opt for soy-based candles that are paraffin-free as it means they don’t emit nasty chemicals into the air.
If you already have a plastic Christmas tree and it’s still in good condition, carry on using it. Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Although it isn’t recyclable, using a plastic tree for many years is quite a sustainable choice. If you do want to get rid of it, advertise it online first and see if anyone wants it.
If you are looking for a new tree, choose a real one but make sure it is homegrown and, if you’re buying from the UK, registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers Association. Also look for the FSC Forest Stewardship Council certificate.
One of the most sustainable options is to buy a smaller potted tree. Use it this Christmas and then put it in your garden afterwards to grow until next year.
If you are getting rid of your tree after Christmas, make sure you recycle it properly. When trees are sent to landfill it has a carbon footprint of around 16kg so ensure it goes for composting or shredding.
When you’re wrapping, use plastic free wrapping paper so that it can be recycled, or use one that is already made from recycled material. Also use tape sparingly. You could use fabric gift wrap or even reusable bags as part of the gift to really cut down on your waste.
Christmas cards create a huge amount of unnecessary rubbish. Consider sending ecards instead or if you want to send a physical one, choose cards made from recycled materials.
You can’t always be in control of what you receive, but you can dispose of them properly and recycle whenever possible. Check with your local council about what can be recycled.
Whenever you’re travelling over Christmas, whether it’s for shopping or going home for the big day, try and share lifts or use public transport. Also choose to hand deliver your cards and presents, and offer to take others’ too. It not only saves different people making the same journey, but you also get the chance to catch up with the recipient.
Consuming is thrust upon us, particularly over Christmas. Try and reduce how much you buy by thinking smart. You could do a secret Santa to quickly reduce your present count. It’s great for work, family and friends as you can put more thought into the one present you will be getting.
If you are buying for everyone, try and set a price within the group to cut down on wasteful items.
For the gifts themselves, use it as an opportunity to promote eco-friendly habits to those around you. Give a useful reusable item such as a water bottle, coffee cup and packed lunch box. If you are purchasing items that need batteries, also give rechargeable batteries as the gift. For clothing, choose ones made from ethical and sustainable fabrics such as recycled plastic or bamboo, organic cotton and hemp.
If you’re creative, consider handmade gifts to reduce your waste, again using sustainable materials.
A huge way you can reduce your transport miles is by buying local. It’s better for the environment and it supports local businesses.
All in all, buy less. Choose meaningful gifts rather than fillers. You could choose an ‘experience’ gift rather than something physical. It means you spend more time together and try something new. Or give the gift of charity to give something back as your present. And remember, there’s no shame in regifting!
On the day
Often people reside in one house for the day to spend time with loved ones. With this, comes a heavier use of many different appliances. Speakers, TV and games consoles are all used a lot more on Christmas Day.
Try and have some time switching off. Play board games, go for a walk after your big meal and turn off appliances when you’re not using them.
Again, shop local. It reduces your food miles and you’re getting fresher food. Make sure you bring your reusable bags with you and try to reduce the amount of plastic packaging you buy. Opt for loose fruit and vegetables and reduce the amount of frozen food you purchase as this usually comes in plastic packaging.
Make your own food where you can, it’s a great time to get the family together to cook rather than buying something premade and in packaging.
The single biggest thing you can do as an individual to reduce your environmental footprint is to eat less meat and dairy. Try swapping out some of your food for vegan and vegetarian alternatives. There are so many options now, particularly around Christmas time with special ranges debuting on supermarket shelves.
Don’t overdo your food shop either. So much food goes to waste over Christmas so try to only buy what you need and don’t go overboard. If you do have waste, compost it or for uncooked or unused food, see if you can donate it to local shelters.
For serving, don’t buy extra plates and cutlery. Instead, ask guests to bring more round or borrow from someone else, and avoid buying single-use plates and cutlery.
Before you throw anything out think about whether it is recyclable. Compost food waste, go to the recycling centre with the extra rubbish you’ll have and where you can, donate old clothes and toys rather than throw them away.
Though there has been a huge shift when thinking about greener everyday habits, there is still a problem with attitudes towards waste at Christmas. Many people think of it is as just one day a year and so the environmental impacts won’t be significant, but with all the issues highlighted, the impacts certainly last more than a day. By considering your own personal contribution, you can have a successfully greener Christmas and in turn, a more meaningful one.