This year, why not have a thoughtful Christmas, that doesn't cost the Earth? By Helena Bennett
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s also the most wasteful time of the year. Mountains of packaging,
wrapping paper, food, and unused gifts pile up during the festive season, so much of which is never given a second
thought. What’s supposed to be a time for love and peace doesn’t seem to apply to the state of our planet. According to the waste management company, Biffa, Brits create 30 per cent more landfill waste at Christmas than we do any other time of year. On top of that, there are approximately 17.2 million uneaten Brussels sprouts and 1 billion Christmas cards bought (Unilever) during this time. Christmas seems to cause a waste pandemic that we can’t break free from.
As December fast approaches, so does the last-minute frenzy to decide what to buy your extended family and office secret Santa; the panicked trip to the supermarket to buy as many traditional Christmas vegetables as possible; the endless lists of things you might have forgotten before the shops close. It’s overwhelming anyway, let alone adding the stress of thinking about all the waste our Christmas habits are creating.
This year why not do things a little differently? Here are some ideas for how you can have a happy Christmas that doesn’t cost the Earth...
Instead of giving your secret Santa a shampoo gift set swathed in plastic and full of harsh chemicals, consider giving a present that will encourage sustainable behaviours. If you’ve seen them walking around the office with a plastic water bottle or disposable coffee cup, giving a reusable version might inspire a change in perspective on their daily habits.
Don’t second guess what people want as a gift – just ask them. That way they get something they want, you aren’t fretting about it for weeks, and there are no waste materials created. And if you do get an idea for a gift, check your local charity shop or online for a second-hand version – there’s not much more sustainable than perpetuating the circular economy. In fact, why not ask your friends or family for the things that you want or need second-hand? Don’t be shy – it’s better than being given something that goes straight in the bin.
If you see something you think your best friend would love in June, don’t worry about buying too early. A good gift will still be a good gift in six months, just keep it in the back of your wardrobe until Christmas.
Get ethical with your buying habits: check your gift idea really is sustainable by using apps such as Giki, which tells you how sustainable a product is; if it is locally made, cruelty-free, or contains palm oil, for example. But before you buy anything at all, ask yourself if the gift receiver really needs that gift, or is there something else that would be more useful, and won’t get discarded as soon as your back is turned.
According to the British Turkey company, 10 million turkeys were killed for Christmas dinners last year, with approximately 200,000 of those going to waste. There are many delicious alternatives to turkey – or indeed any meat – that you can indulge in instead. Linda McCartney does some great country pies and a meat-free beef wellington. Alternatively, you could try your hand at making a nut roast; last year I made a delicious seitan and truffle wellington that went down a treat even with the people who eat meat. BOSH! have a very hearty and flavoursome gravy recipe that can be found in their first recipe book and goes well with any kind of roast (or chips, or mash, or anything else...).
In 2014, 7.5 million mince pies were thrown away. That equates to over 1 million boxes of mince pies. The amount of energy and resources that could be saved from not producing an extra 1 million boxes of mince pies is huge. Before you buy that ‘traditional’ Christmas food, think carefully about whether it will get eaten. And if you do end up with any food waste, be sure to dispose of it properly in a compost bin or your local food waste. Incorrectly decomposing food is a key contributor to methane emissions – a greenhouse gas that is 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide, trapping much more heat and contributing greatly to the warming planet.
To avoid wasting food, plan your meals ahead: think about how many people there will be and how much they will realistically eat; use up your leftovers by making a delicious Boxing Day soup or bubble and squeak; freeze anything that you can – you might be grateful for it during the black hole of time between Christmas and New Year when you can’t be bothered to cook!
We are facing potentially huge global resource scarcities, so we should be aiming to reduce our consumption as much as possible, and the festive season is no exception. I hope these ideas might have inspired you to approach the holidays a little more sustainably this year, while not having to lose out on any of the fun and excitement of buying great gifts. Have a happy, sustainable Christmas!
For more from Helena, head to @earthbyhelena
This article first appeared in Issue 10 of Be Kind magazine.