Mindless Christmas consumerism may feel merry with a mulled wine in hand, but our planet is paying the price. Here's how to celebrate in sustainable style, and go green without ditching the tinsel
The holiday season is upon us, which means mulled wine by a roaring fire, Mariah Carey’s Christmas hits on repeat and, erm, three million tonnes of waste. Yes, that’s right, experts reckon that during the festive season alone, we produce an extra 30 per cent of rubbish – that’s around three million tonnes consumed and discarded. Our mass consumption, thanks to everything from excessive food to gifting, is linked to environmental damage of epic proportions – hardly great when we know the state the planet’s in already. Want to do better this year? Here’s how to have a jolly good sustainable Christmas…
Already own a plastic tree? Don’t chuck it, whatever you do. According to the Carbon Trust, plastic trees need a minimum of 10 Christmases to be less environmentally harmful than real ones, so if you already have one, aim to take seriously good care of it. If you’re in the market for a real tree, check out recommendations from Forestry Commission – trees are sourced from sustainable forests and have a shorter transportation line. Once Christmas is over, recycle it through your council’s recycling scheme or take it to a local recycling facility. If it was potted with its roots intact, you could always replant it in your garden until next next year (you’ll need to replant it once the weather is warmer though, so keep it in a garden shed or garage until springtime). You can rent a tree, too – it’s better for the environment and around 30 per cent cheaper than purchasing. Sites like Rental Claus or Love A Christmas Tree have options to borrow over the festive period.
Cards and wrapping paper
Still deliberating over whether to send cards? Maybe this will help make up your mind: an eye-watering 1.5 billion cards are discarded each year. Instead of wasting paper (and worrying whether they’ll actually arrive) why not send e-cards? Websites like Green Envelope and Paperless Post have great options that you can personalise. If only real cards will do, go sustainable. Look out for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark, which means the paper was produced sustainably. Or try plastic-free 1 Tree Cards who plant trees for every card purchased, and use 100 per cent recycled cards and envelopes, plus vegan inks. Oh, and always avoid glitter – it can’t be recycled. The same goes for wrapping paper – the shiny, glittery stuff is a no-go. Instead, go retro and wrap gifts using old newspapers and recyclable brown paper, tied up with string.
Like it or not, it’s time to get crafty. Instead of reaching for tinsel (which can’t be recycled) try making the most of what nature gave us. Dried-fruit peels, pine cones, holly sprigs and foliage from the garden can all be turned into rustic-looking decorations in just a few minutes – and, even better, returned to the garden once done. DIY paper-chains, snowflakes and home-made wreaths will keep kids entertained for hours, and if you have plastic decorations, take care of them (protect them with old newspaper or tissue when packing them away) so that they can be reused again and again. The same goes for fairy lights – instead of throwing them out as soon as one bulb goes, replace individual bulbs (visit YouTube for tutorials) and buy LED once they’re gone for good (they’re much more energy-efficient and cheaper to run). Setting a timer for lights mean electricity won’t be wasted, either.
Stats say we pull around 154 million crackers each year in the UK – which all head straight to landfill. Instead of buying the first (or cheapest) pack you see, look for recyclable options printed on FSC paper, and plastic-free gifts. House of Crackers and Love Tiki have some great options. Or make your own – Keep This Cracker send reusable crackers to your door, without any single-use plastic. Fill them yourself with thoughtful gifts or jokes and reuse them each year, guilt-free. Or, kill two birds with one stone and get the kids to make their own Little Crafty Bugs versions.
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – but how many of us buy way too much food at Christmas? Food waste is serious business: we throw away the equivalent of two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies each year. When it comes to your turkey dinner, the good news is that poultry is less environmentally impactful than say, beef or lamb, but it’s still worth thinking about where it’s sourced. Buying local and organic tends to mean less carbon emissions, but size is key, too – do just two of you really need a whole turkey? If going vegan is a step too far, you could aim to buy fruit and veg loose, without the plastic packaging (be sure to take your own bags to the supermarket, too). Freeze leftovers and give away what you don’t need using food-sharing app Olio – it allows locals in your area to use up what you won’t. Now might be a good time to start using that mysterious composting caddy your council left in your garden, too….