The most wonderful time of year.
I love Christmas. The lights. The atmosphere. The thought of snow (although I hate the cold...). December is a month of excited (and stressed...) anticipation. It is a month that seems to countdown and build up all at the same time. We spend so much time planning; planning what to cook, what to buy for our loved ones, what Christmas parties to go to, who you're spending Christmas day with, and possibly how you will get there. All of this planning and preparation leads to one day. One great day of family, friendship, food, nativity, celebration, gifts...
Despite the joy that Christmas brings, and the message of hope it sends to the world, it is also the most wasteful time of year. In anticipation of this one day, we accumulate to throw away. Considering that Christmas is marketed as the most wonderful time of year, it seems crazy that it is also the season that we are most wasteful. Christmas should be full of joy, celebration, and connection. Not excess waste.
The most wonderful time of year?
...the most wasteful time of year.
(This is the part where I state the facts. If that doesn't float your boat then skip ahead to my suggestions for a less wasteful, more wonderful, Christmas.)
According to WRAP, we use around 289,171 tonnes of card packaging at Christmas time, this is enough to cover Big Ben nearly 260,000 times! Plus, at least 300 million plastic straws and cups will be used, and thrown away, at Christmas parties this year. The Guardian estimates that each Christmas we use enough wrapping paper to go round the equator nine times, as well as 4,500 tonnes of tin foil and 13,350 tonnes of glass.
Popular Christmas items that can't be recycled include glitter, tinsel, plastic cups and straws, shiny/metallic wrapping paper and cards. However, it's not just about picking items that are recyclable, it's also important to simply reduce the amount of waste we make at this time of year (recyclable or not!).
I truly believe that if we make a conscious decision to honour the earth during the Christmas season, then we will be able to enjoy it so much more. But don't think that I'm suggesting we forgo presents, wrapping paper, trees, or Christmas parties. Check out my suggestions on how to make this season's celebrations a bit more sustainable. You might even find that they are achievable!
Five suggestions for a more sustainable Christmas
1. A tree that makes a difference
Firstly, buy a real tree (if you already have a fake Christmas tree then keep using that bad boy, there's no point throwing out a perfectly good tree!). However, the truth is that fake trees go to landfill, and don't decompose. Real trees can be recycled (score!).
If you do decide to buy a real tree then buy one that makes a difference! King’s Christmas Trees are amazing. Buying a Kings Christmas Tree helps put hot food on the tables at The Feast, and supports rough sleepers and vulnerable people through the work of the Jericho Road Project (buy quickly they're almost sold out!).
Once Christmas is over don't forget to recycle your tree! It makes great compost apparently...
2. Think about how you wrap
I'm all about a beautifully wrapped present. It makes me excited to give my gift and shows the person I'm giving it to that I care. But that doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind. When buying wrapping paper make sure it's one that can be recycled (clue: if its glittery or shiny it probably can't). I love brown wrapping paper, tie it with a ribbon and you've got yourself a beautiful gift.
Once the unwrapping of presents is over, make sure it ends up in the recycling bin, and (shamelessly) reclaim those beautiful ribbons...
FYI, the same goes for cards. If you are a Christmas card giver then stay away from cards covered in glitter or suspicious shiny surfaces. Choose cards that you know will be recyclable, or better yet make some yourself!
This year I've teamed up with a friend and we've made a range of cards, gift tags, and wrapping paper sheets that are recyclable and plastic free. So if you'd like to shop local then check out my items on my Instagram page (yes, I am shamelessly flogging my wares).
Most major stores (think Sainsbury's, Tesco, Paperchase etc.) should have glitter/shiny free options for paper and cards (clue: anything that has the word 'Kraft' in is a good bet, like this paper from Sainsbury's).
3. Party without plastic
If you are hosting a Christmas party this year then think about whether those plastic cups and straws are really necessary. If disposable is key (is it ever...) then go down the paper route. However, if possible do avoid disposable items. A little bit of washing up is worth it knowing that your party won't be contributing to the mountain of plastic that is thrown out at this time of year.
4. Shop locally
Christmas markets are a thing. So are stores.
In the era of online shopping it's easy to see the plastic packaging pile up. This year I'm making a conscious effort (for the first time ever) not to buy gifts that are made with plastic, and to head to real stores when I can instead of only buying online (Waterstones here I come, sorry Amazon...).
Why not head to a Christmas market and pick up some gifts there? Most likely they wont be packaged in plastic, and many will be made from recyclable materials. Plus you get to give a gift that has that *special touch*...
5. Buy good gifts
Obvious right. But every year we buy gifts for those closest to us that are not meant to be kept, only to bring amusement for a few moments before being forgotten. But those gifts have a cost, usually a very small financial cost, but a big cost to the earth. Maybe this year you could leave joke presents in the past and focus on those gifts that actually matter.
A good gift is not one that necessarily benefits the environment, however if you can double whammy it then why not! For example, a reusable take-away coffee cup is great, or a metal water bottle (I love Sho bottles), or a Fair Trade, eco-friendly journal.
I hope that my suggestions might help you to consider the earthly impact you make this Christmas, and maybe even make a sustainable swap where you can. But most importantly, just remember that "'tis the season to be jolly".
A parting comment: I am not a sustainability expert. I am simply someone who loves the earth, and have spent some time thinking and researching ways to reduce my impact on it. Furthermore, I don't think that I can tell you what to do, and I never plan to, this blog is simply a space where I want to share some of my research and thoughts on how we could all make lifestyle choices that will lessen the impact we leave on this earth. Its a journey, a slow and thoughtful one.