When I met the Other Half, he barely even knew what recycling was. He was the epitome of materialism and he certainly never turned the lights off when he left a room. Meanwhile, I was brought up to not even pick flowers when out for a walk -“leave nature as you find it” – so I basically became an environmental Nazi once we moved in together.
But over the past three years, the OH has in fact surpassed me with regards to environmental awareness and now actually calls me out on not putting things in the right bin, not buying food from sustainable sources whenever possible and spending too long in the shower!
This Christmas is our first in our own home. And as such, we’re getting really excited at the idea of starting to put some of our own family traditions in place.
We’ll be buying our first proper Christmas tree, decorating the house properly for the first time and buying and making our own Christmas lunch.
With this in mind, we’ve been looking at how we can celebrate Christmas in a less wasteful manner, both financially and environmentally. Some of the things we’ve come up with are pretty obvious, but some of the research we’ve unearthed might come as a bit of a surprise to some…
1. It’s what’s inside that counts…
In 2006, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that the UK used 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper over the Christmas period. That’s enough to wrap the island of Guernsey. That’s insane. So what can we do?
- Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. If the UK recycled even half of its wrapping paper each Christmas (4,000 tonnes), we’d save 25,000 trees.
- Avoid foil or glossy wrapping papers as these are harder to recycle. Opt for matt papers or even better, wrapping paper made from recycled goods. Re-wrapped.co.uk, has lots of options available, as does Not On The High Street.
- Options such as brown paper on a roll are more cost effective and can be dressed up with pretty ribbon or even print your own festive design onto it. Paperchase sells 5m rolls of recycled brown kraft wrapping paper for just £3.50.
- Re-use old paper. I realise to many this will sound really sad in some ways (it’s something we laughed at my Grandma for doing when I was younger) but actually, it is a really environmentally friendly way to wrap gifts each Christmas. If you use tape sparingly as well, you can reuse paper more easily.
- Finally, be sparing. Do you need to wrap it? Can you use less paper somehow? Can you wrap gifts together? For example, we’re doing a Book Advent this December, but rather than wrapping 24 books, we’re buying one nice gift bag, which we’ll place the book in each day.
2. Christmas Cards – no one reads them anyone (right?)
Apparently we harvest 300,000 trees per year just for Christmas cards – and that’s just in the US alone! That’s a shit ton of trees. So, what can we do?
- Send less cards. Ask yourself – are they really necessary? They all end up in the bin anyway. Could you send a digital card? Record and email a personalised festive video for close family members or send everyone a festive letter printed/written on recycled paper instead.
- If you have children at nursery, put all their ‘drawings’ and ‘paintings’ [edit: smeared melange of colours] to good use. Simply save them up throughout the year, then, come December, fold them in half and write a message inside. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and god parents will love the personal touch, and you’re re-using paper that would other wise have ended up in the bin. (Just be sure it’s recycled after!)
- Which is a great segway into… Obviously you can’t stop others sending you cards, so make sure you recycle any cards you do receive. Either pop them in a biodegradable bin bag for bin day. Alternatively, save them for next Christmas and let the kids cut them up and stick them together in different ways to create new cards next year. (Something else my Grandmother did every year…) Finally, The Woodland Trust has also partnered with numerous retailers across the UK, offering card recycle drop off points. For example, both M&S and Sainsbury’s have drop off points in store and in previous years, Tesco.com customer could simply hand their Christmas cards to their delivery driver and they’ll recycle them for you! Easy peasy.
- Finally, if the homemade route isn’t for you, just make sure you purchase Christmas cards from sustainable and/or recycled sources, like these from Plantable Seed Papers – simply plant the card when you’re done and give something back to the earth in the form of a little seedling!
3. Twinkle, twinkle…
Did you know that leaving your fairy lights on for ten hours per day over twelve days (of Christmas perhaps?) produces enough CO2 to inflate twelve balloons. In 2004, EAUK estimated that 90% of Brits put up Christmas trees. That’s 54 million trees. That’s 648 million CO2 balloons – not including all the shops, restaurants, train stations and town squares with twinkly lights this Christmas
- Turn them off! If you’re not home, or are going to bed, switch off your fairy lights. Pretty obvious one.
- Switch to LED fairy lights. LED lights use 95% less energy than standard lights. (That goes for any outdoor displays you might be planning too.)
4. Go loco for local
Every year, around 4,000 tonnes of products arrive from China. Not only does this mean we’re not supporting local businesses and manufacturing, but it also means we’re pumping a hell of a lot of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, just to get that supposedly perfect (imported) gift.
Meanwhile, the average family Christmas dinner travels a grand total 49, 000 miles including everything from the pigs in blankets to the plonk. (Can I get a side of air miles with that, please?)
- Source as much of your Christmas feast from local, sustainable sources as possible. Google your nearest farm shop (The flavour of eggs and other produce from a little farm shop really is three times that of a pack from any major supermarket!), head to your local market or check out the butchers, bakery and green grocer’s in town. It might be slightly more per kg, but it’s completely worth it in flavour and quality – and you’re supporting your local economy.
- And don’t forget to buy less too. There’s a trend to buy way more than we need at Christmas, but really, we probably each only need eight roasties, rather than preparing ten per person (and that is coming from a complete roast potato addict).
- While you’re in town, check out what the little local gift stores have to offer. You might be surprised what unusual finds they may have to offer for stocking fillers.
- If you’re shopping on Etsy or similar sites, be sure to tick ‘UK sellers’. Not only will you be supporting homegrown talent, but you’ll save money on the postage and packaging and use a little bit less CO2 getting your package delivered.
5. Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…
Ok, this is the biggy. With 54 million of us in the UK having (at least) one Christmas tree each December, surely there’s some way we can help the planet with this much loved tradition? You might be surprised…
- The obvious option is to go fake. Buy it once, use it for years and years to come. My family have had a fake Christmas tree since we moved to Malaysia in 1998 and couldn’t find anything else. My mom still uses the same fake tree nearly twenty years later because we bought a good quality one in the first place and looked after it well. But don’t forget, fake trees use a lot of plastic and are likely to be imported (not to mention, who made that tree?). So if you aren’t buying it as a long term investment, you might actually be doing the planet more harm than good because…
- If you purchase a real tree from a sustainable and reliable Christmas tree source (check the British Christmas Tree Grower’s Association website to find your local sustainable festive source), the trees actually help rid the world of CO2 as they grow. And for every tree sold, another is planted – it’s the great circle of life (or trees, as the case may be).
- Likewise, consider a Live Tree – another long term investment tree. This is a potted Christmas tree, with roots, not chopped down just for you to decorate and throw away. After Christmas, it lives (in its pot) in your garden, patiently growing and waiting for its moment in the limelight next December. Check out Christmas Tree Land UK (yes, really) for more info.
- If all else fails, at the very least make sure you recycle your tree. Lots of UK councils offer Christmas tree collection services. Just give it a Google.
What does your family do each Christmas to save a little? Do you have any other tips to share?