Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Christmas, as a rule, tends to be a very wasteful time of year. However, with the 10 tips below, we can all help reduce waste this year and for years going forwards. Every change helps to make a big difference, and I think a lot of these swaps are actually better alternatives to the traditional options! I'd love to know your thoughts too!
1. Real or Fake Tree?
Every year, I get asked whether a real or a fake Christmas tree is more eco friendly, and the truth is, they both have their pros and cons.
With a fake tree, they are usually made from plastic which won't biodegrade. Plus they emit CO2 in the manufacturing process. However, if you buy a good quality one, you can make a fake tree last decades so in the long term, this could be the more sustainable option.
Real trees on the other hand take up land to grow and although they absorb CO2 whilst they grow, this is emitted if they decompose in landfill after use.
To put the figures into perspective, an article in The Guardian states that a fake tree has a carbon footprint equivalent of about 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions which is nearly 10 times more than that of a real tree depending on how it is disposed of. This is a win for the 'real' team.
When buying a real tree, Friends of the Earth advise to look for one that is locally produced, or at least grown in the UK with a FSC certification to avoid CO2 emissions from transporting and importing. There are also recycling options available for real trees which is worth looking into to save the tree going to landfill at the end of the holidays. There are numerous organisations, such as JustHelping who raise money for charity by collecting and recycling unwanted Christmas Trees.
Another option for the real tree lovers out there is to rent a Christmas tree, which is becoming more and more popular. Essentially, you take the tree home with you, and then at the end of the holidays, you take it back to the tree farm where they replant it and it can continue to grow and absorb CO2, to be reused next year. For more information on this option, I found this article to be quite informative but it's worth giving it a Google (or Ecosia if you're feeling extra eco) and seeing if there is anything local to you.
If you're looking for something completely different, you can get wooden trees that you reuse each year and add your decorations to. I think these look incredible and are definitely worth a look! Check them out on Etsy!
2. Send E-Cards or Plantable Christmas Cards
A huge number of Christmas cards are sent and received every year, which amounts to approximately 1 billion cards ending up in landfill. Unfortunately, due to the glitter on a large number of Christmas cards, they are unable to be recycled, although there are glitter free options available out there which are recyclable.
For a more planet friendly alternative this year, why not send plantable Christmas cards? These are cards printed onto paper which contain seeds, so once the card is ready for the bin, instead of throwing it away it can be planted in the recipients garden to grow into a beautiful patch of flowers.
Alternatively, skip the card altogether and be completely zero-waste by sending E-cards!
Take a look at our tree-planting business partner, "Just One Tree" who are offering a gorgeous selection of E-cards. Not only does it save a tree, but a tree is also planted for every card sold.
For any Christmas cards that you receive that can't be recycled, you can cut out the front pages of the cards into gift tags to reuse next year on your gifts. You can then recycle the other side.
3. Choose Decorations Wisely
First things first, reuse what you already have. It seems to be the norm these days that people (myself included until recently) feel the need to expand or change up their Christmas decorations every year. Try to reuse baubles for the tree and other decorations before buying more.
If you're looking for a bit of a change or need something else to expand your decorations, you could have a bit of fun and try to make your own. Here are a few ideas that I found online, but there are lots of different websites with guides on how to make them.
A new trend which I have come across this year which I think looks beautiful is dried orange slices. You can then use the slices as decoration for your gift wrap instead of a bow, to make a festive bunting, or as a tree decoration. This list is endless what you can use these for! To make them:
1) Slice oranges about 1cm wide.
2) Place on a rack in the oven at 120C.
3) Leave for 2-3 hours (turn throughout)
If you need new decorations but don't have the time to make your own, instead of heading down to the cheap shops, try to support small businesses this year. Places like Etsy and Not On The High Street offer lots of handmade decorations made by small businesses. Etsy is also carbon neutral so win win!
4. Rethink The Gift Wrap
Did you know that a large amount of wrapping paper can't be recycled? Just a tip for any gifts you receive in wrapping paper - the way to test if it can be recycled is to do the 'scrunch test'. Scrunch the paper up into a ball - if the paper unravels, it can't be recycled. If it stays in a tight ball, it can go in the recycling.
Again, firstly try to reuse anything you already have. I tend to keep gift bags from presents received by us, to reuse later on. For anyone who gets the newspaper, this also makes a very effective gift wrap. Save up your newspapers for a few weeks leading up to Christmas and you'll have a load of wrapping paper ready!
Brown paper also makes a nice gift wrap and is available in most supermarkets these days. I know that Wilkinsons is also offering a recyclable gift wrap this year, which is completely plastic free including the packaging! There are ways to secure it without any sort of tape, but if you need tape, recyclable paper tape is the way to go! This is available here.
For decoration, I always used to opt for ribbon and the shiny bows. Instead of ribbon (unless you have some to reuse), why not try twine? (Also available here). And instead of the shiny bows, there are lots of things you can use instead. For example, you could just tie the twine in a nice bow, or add some decoration like in the image above to give it that festive look.
If wrapping in paper is not your style and you'd rather use gift bags, lots of reusable gift bags are coming on the market now. Not only does it save time wrapping, but they can be reused year after year (available here).
5. Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers are a big tradition for the Christmas dinner table, including the terrible jokes! Unfortunately, most crackers are covered in glitter which therefore makes them not recyclable, and the little toys inside are 9 times out of 10 made of plastic. Lots of shops are starting to get the idea of reducing plastic waste, and are now offering plastic free crackers which is great to see. Dunelm for example.
If you're feeling creative, there are a few options for DIY crackers, where you buy the reusable outer shell, and you can then fill them with your own goodies and jokes! Just replace the 'snap' each year. Available here.
6. Rethink Your Gifts
With Christmas presents, it always worries me that sometimes we buy presents for people that they most likely don't want or need, just because there is an obligation to buy them something to unwrap on Christmas morning, or we feel the need to completely spoil our loved ones. This leads to a lot of waste every year which can be easily avoided.
Instead of buying something for them to unwrap, why not tune in to your creative side and try to make something as a gift? Edible gifts such as biscuits make a lovely gesture and are almost always well received! This is also a great way to get the kids involved!
I've also found Christmas hampers are a lovely gift. You can fill them with all the eco friendly goodies you wish to, including edible gifts.
As an example, last year my sister and I did my dad a cheese and chutney hamper as he absolutely loves a cheese and chutney sandwich! We were able to support lots of local small businesses in the process as well which is always great but even more so now given the year 2020 has been.
If DIY gifts aren't your style, I would always suggest trying to shop local and small first if possible before supporting the big corporations. If you do opt for the big corporations, try to check their ethics and values first.
There are also a couple of wrap-free options. You could give them an experience such as 'tea at the Ritz' or a day out somewhere that they'd love to go. For your little ones, lots of charities including local zoos allow you to adopt an animal. For my niece one year, we adopted a giraffe (her favourite animal) at our local zoo and we then took her for a day trip to the zoo to go and see her giraffe. Not only does this not involve any gift wrap, but it also supports a charity and gives them the gift of time which is priceless!
I've seen a lot on social media this year about the 'Rule of 4' for your little one's gifts:
Something they want
Something they need
Something to eat
Something to read
I thought this was a great idea to avoid overspending and will be doing this for our little man next year.
7. Plastic Free Advent Calendar
Last year, it was estimated that there were 16.5 million advent calendars containing single use plastic in circulation. Because of the mix of materials, most of these won't be recycled. That's a scary amount of waste going to landfill.
There are a few different options for having a plastic free advent:
Reusable advent calendars - There are lots of different ones on the market. You can invest a bit more to get a beautiful wooden one with drawers such as the one on the left from Etsy.
Or for your little ones, you can get felt ones that hang - available here. We have a bunting one at home which hangs down the banister - example here. You can then fill these with your own treats, edible or otherwise. I would recommend making your own edible treats and wrapping them in tin foil.
For anyone not wanting to go for the standard chocolate advent calendar for your little ones, you could print off a 'good deed' advent calendar where they have to do a good deed everyday. I thought this was a lovely idea! Check out Pinterest for some great good deed calendar ideas!
8. Christmas Food
In the past few years, we've been encouraged more and more to change our lifestyles to include a more plant-based diet. Lots of influencers like David Attenborough have been making TV programs on Netflix about the impact of our food choices on the planet. 'Meat-Free Mondays' has now become quite a popular choice to help people reduce their meat intake. But what about at Christmas?
Although poultry such as the Christmas Turkey has a smaller carbon footprint, it still emits around 6kg of CO2 each year per kilogram of food, which is a lot higher than the plant-based alternatives available. If you wanted to make your Christmas dinner more plant based this year, you could try a nut roast, or make your own vegan pigs in blankets!
If you want to stick with the traditional turkey roast dinner, why not support your local butchers this year instead of the big supermarkets? It is then more likely to be a free range, locally sourced turkey.
Christmas also tends to be a time where we feel the need to over-indulge and get multiple tins of sweets and chocolates, cheese and biscuits and all the trimmings with dinner. This leads to quite a lot of waste. This year, try to only buy what you need for Christmas dinner and avoid the excess snacks. Not only will this help the planet, but it'll help with the January new year's resolution to loose the Christmas weight!
9. Renewable Energy
Lots of people dress their houses inside and out with fairy lights at this time of year, so now is the perfect time to switch to a renewable energy supplier if you aren't already with one.
If you wanted to offset your energy consumption over the festive period, you could donate to Just One Tree.
10. Reuse Your Christmas Outfit
Most Christmas jumpers are made with plastic materials such as acrylic. Acrylic has been shown to be responsible for releasing nearly 730,000 microfibres per wash! Not only this, but it has become the norm to source a new Christmas jumper every year, leading to more plastic waste in landfill. As we only tend to wear our Christmas outfits one day per year, to get the wear out of them try and reuse the same outfit every year.
Not all of these suggestions will work with everyones lifestyle, but every little change makes a big difference so pick and choose whichever ones will work well for you. I hope this has been helpful in making some changes to Christmas to help reduce waste, and finally, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy (hopefully COVID - free) 2021!