After an unsettling 2020, many of us will be looking forward to Christmas – even though it’s still hard to imagine exactly what this one will look like. However, while the festive season can be the most wonderful time of the year for us, it is the opposite for the environment.
A new study shows that an extra 30 per cent of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the two-week Christmas period when compared with the rest of the year. This adds up to around three million tonnes each year, according to figures from packaging company GWP Group, and is made up of:
- 54 million platefuls of food
- 500 tonnes of Christmas lights
- 8 million Christmas trees
- £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents
- 100 million black bags full of packaging from toys and gifts
The good news is that there ARE steps we can all take to help make Christmas a little kinder on the environment – and supermarkets and other retailers are beginning to do their part too. Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis have all pledged to ban glitter (which can take hundreds of years to biodegrade) from their own-brand Christmas products this year. Morrisons is also removing 50 tonnes of plastic from its shelves.
If you need some inspiration on how you can help make this Christmas more eco-friendly, here are our top 10 tips:
1. Choose an eco-friendly Christmas tree
Around eight million Christmas trees are bought every December in the UK alone. More than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases are produced by rotting trees after the festive period every year. While fake trees do last for years, they take massive amounts of energy to manufacture and will all eventually end up in the rubbish dump.
But, whichever option you go for, there ARE ways to make it ‘greener’.
According to Carbon Trust, real Christmas trees have far lower carbon footprints than artificial trees. But when buying one, check it comes with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification, as this will mean it has been sustainably sourced. If you’d like it to be organic too, check for Soil Association approval.
You can reduce your tree’s carbon footprint by buying local. And once Christmas is over, take your tree to your local recycling centre where it can be shredded into chippings for woodland areas or animal bedding.
Alternatively, you could look to rent one through sites such as Love A Christmas Tree, Rental Christmas Tree and London Christmas Tree Rental. These will deliver a tree to your door (or you can collect it) and, once Christmas is over, it goes back to the rental company who looks after it until next year. You can even choose to stick with the same Christmas tree every year.
If you would prefer an artificial tree, the Carbon Trust says you’d need to re-use if for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree. So if you buy one, make sure it’s one you’ll keep, or even better get one second-hand.
2. Use LED Christmas lights
According to energy switching service Flipper, using incandescent light bulbs on your Christmas tree and around the home can cost up to 90 times more to power than LED bulbs as around 90 per cent of the energy they produce is wasted as heat.
So if you want a really easy and effective way to reduce your energy bills and help the environment, make sure you switch all of your lights over to LEDs in the run up to the big day.
3. Buy sustainable gifts – and give LESS
It can be easy to get carried away buying presents at Christmas (especially with how easy it is now to buy online) but take the time to consider how ethical the gifts are and how long-lasting they are likely to be. After all, what’s the point in buying them if they’re likely to end up at the dump or a charity shop sometime soon?
Many gifts available in mainstream shops and online come from halfway around the world. The impact of transportation contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Local craft fairs and markets are a great source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation and packaging.
If you’re particularly creative, you could consider making your own gifts, such as jams and chutneys, beeswax food wraps or knitted hats. Or buy gift experiences instead.
Global giving platform Patchwork offers ‘The Give List’, which enables children to ask for things like ‘bake a cake with Nan’, ‘swimming lessons’ or even ‘help me write and produce a play’ – as well as new and second-hand gifts too.
Kinn Living makes award-winning vegan and eco-friendly cleaning products and certified organic body care, made in the UK.
4. Choose eco-friendly wrapping paper
The amount of paper waste generated over the Christmas period is equivalent to between five and 12 million litres of biofuel. That’s enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times.
This year try swapping the tinsel for natural or DIY decorations. Why not recycle or make your own Christmas decorations? Pine cones, holly, mistletoe and ivy all look beautiful (and are fun to forage for with the kids), and smell very festive too.
Alternatively, use paper or fabric bags that you can use year after year.
5. Don’t send cards
Around 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away each year in the UK alone.That’s a whole lot of waste. You could get your message across while also cutting your carbon footprint, saving trees (and money!) by sending e-cards instead.
If you would still like to send real cards to family and friends, make sure they have the FSC mark and are recyclable – that means no glitter.
You could even choose ‘plantable’ cards (try Etsy and Not on the High Street), which are embedded with seeds. The recipient can then plant the biodegradable paper in a pot of soil and the seeds will grow, while the paper will eventually decompose.
After Christmas, make sure you recycle any cards (providing they don’t have glitter on them) or cut off the front of the card and reuse it as a gift tag next year.
6. Use sustainable decorations
You may have already built up a good collection of Christmas decorations which you reuse year after year. But if you haven’t or you’re looking to extend your collection, have a look for second-hand items in charity shops or eco-friendly options such as those on sites like Protect the Planet, nkuku and Eco Branded.
Alternatively, why not have a go at making your own Christmas wreath with foliage from your garden, berries and pine cones, or paper or saltdough decorations for the tree?
7. Shop locally
One of the simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to use the shops local to you. Many smaller, independent businesses offer a range of gifts that are locally sourced, which is likely to make them more exclusive, too.
8. Cut food waste
Choose foods that are light on packaging, or buy loose items. If you do end up cooking too much, don’t bin what’s left. Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. You could challenge your family to suggest recipes with whatever you’ve got in the fridge.
If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze, or donate some to an elderly neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen. Compost any other waste.
9. Buy recyclable crackers
Crackers are often full of plastic, so look for recyclable or reuseable options, many of which are made from fabric and you can fill yourself. Again, online retailers such as Etsy and Not on the High Street offer various options.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling brave, have a go at making your own. Hobbycraft has useful tips on how to do this.
10. Avoid single-use glasses and cutlery
As yet, we don’t know whether more than six people will be permitted to gather at Christmas. But even if larger family groups are allowed to mingle, it’s unlikely to mean squeezing too many people round the dinner table – current speculation is that the very maximum could be 12.
Even so, if it turns out visitors are permitted and you’re worried you don’t have enough Champagne glasses or knives and forks, resist the temptation to buy disposable ones. Instead, ask guests if they could bring their own.
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