It’s the most environmentally destructive time of the year? Hmm, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
For many of us, the word ‘Christmas’ signals us to start spending – there’s wrapping paper, decorations, greeting cards, festive food… and that’s before you even get to the presents!
In recent years, I’ve become aware of just how much of an impact these holidays have on the planet. Each household in the UK produces an average of 115kg of extra waste during December – forget The Nightmare Before Christmas, this is a nightmare after Christmas!
If you’re like me, you’re looking for small ways to enjoy a more sustainable festive season without having to sacrifice your usual traditions. I’m here to tell you that it’s totally possible. More than possible – it’s easy! With just a couple of tweaks to your usual December activities, you can drastically reduce your carbon footprint this December.
Break out the mince pies and get reading!
Reuse your decorations
Pop into any shop during December and you’ll be greeted with shelves of adorable Christmas decorations that would look so cute in your apartment. I completely understand the temptation to fill your home with new decorations each year – after all, there are so many to choose from! But when you think about it, each little ornament and trinket is just another thing that will eventually be discarded.
I hate to sound like the Grinch here, but our love of Christmas decorations comes with a high environmental price. Baubles are often made from non-recyclable plastic, and those long strings of tinsel wrapped around your Christmas tree are unable to be recycled. Anything covered in glitter will also be a problem – a bit concerning when you realise just how sparkly everything is at this time of year! It makes sense to reuse your old decorations each year, only replacing them when they are broken or completely worn out. Plus, there’s something fun about digging out that battered old box every December and reminiscing over old memories.
My boyfriend and I haven’t bought a single new decoration this year. We’re ridiculously proud of ourselves! Aside from the fact that we’ve saved money, we’ve also taken some of the strain off the planet by reusing our (perfectly good) decorations from the last few years. And I don’t mean to brag, but our apartment looks absolutely stunning – proof that being sustainable at Christmas doesn’t mean sacrificing that festive aesthetic.
And if you absolutely have to purchase something new this December, make sure you buy beautiful, good-quality decorations that you love – I promise you’ll use them for years to come.
Buy useful presents
I know. I know. Isn’t that wrapping paper just the best? I have a major soft spot for anything dinosaur-related.
Speaking of gift wrap, it makes me feel a little ill to think that 52 square miles of it will have been used by Boxing Day this year in the UK alone. And 125,000 tons of plastic packaging will be filling our bins once all the presents have been opened. Gulp. All the more reason to be as sustainable as possible this Christmas – finding cute recycled wrapping paper is easy, and there are so many gift options that don’t involve a ton of plastic (hello, Lush bath bombs!)
But I digress. I can’t be the only person who hates going into stores at this time of year and seeing shelves filled with cheap disposable gifts – things that are made to be opened on Christmas Day, chuckled at and then tossed into the bin. I feel stressed out when I see parents frantically spending hundreds on the latest must-have toys for their children, particularly after reading that 41% of the toys children receive at Christmas will be broken within three months.
This year, I’ve purchased fewer gifts than usual. But the ones I have bought are filled with much more meaning. That pile of presents in the photograph brings me so much joy – I love the feeling of giving a gift that you just know the recipient is going to adore. A few of the presents I’ve bought this year include a beautiful vegan leather wallet and luxury food hampers – things that I know will be appreciated and used. If you’re stuck for ideas, a high-quality candle always goes down well, along with a good book or anything food-related. Even cosy hats and scarves have been hits in the past!
An Australian study found that over $70 billion dollar’s worth of gifts are returned after Christmas each year. A little forward-thinking and savvy will ensure that your presents won’t join that pile, and will be used and loved for years to come.
Make a list
Don’t you just love those people who actually have an answer when you ask them what they want for Christmas? And don’t you just hate the ones who chirp, ‘Oh, you don’t have to get me anything!’ when they know perfectly well that you love them and want to treat them during the holiday season? Grr.
Be the kind of person that everyone loves at Christmas – the one who makes a list, checks it twice and shows it to anyone who asks. I recently read that 78.5% of people receive a gift they don’t want over the holiday season, and that 13.7% of these people will simply throw away their unwanted gifts. That’s a lot of landfill. Even if you do make the effort to return a dud present to the store, it doesn’t always end up back on the shelf – if the retailer decides that it’s more cost-effective to just throw it away, they won’t hesitate to do so.
Honestly, I love every gift I receive – I really appreciate the fact that someone has used their time and money to buy something for me. But I love the gift even more when I know I’ll actually get some use out of it, as opposed to just keeping it in a drawer.
If you feel awkward about telling people exactly what you want, explain that you’re trying to be a little more sustainable and give them a few broad options – you could say, ‘I like candles, looseleaf tea and mini succulents!’ I don’t know about you, but I always appreciate a little guidance when picking out gifts. Plus, you’re guaranteed a good haul on Christmas Day!
Support small businesses
I love finding unique, personal gifts for the people I love. Take my boyfriend, for example. He’s a total geek (in the best kind of way!) and has a ton of pop culture obsessions. The problem is, the merchandise for so many fandoms is mass-produced and completely overpriced. I want to buy him something meaningful, not something that can just be purchased from the Toys R Us store down the road. So what’s a girl to do?
Enter Etsy. This handy little website is similar to eBay, but the focus is on handcrafted and vintage items. It allows individual people to develop their own small businesses and sell their creations online, and is a lifesaver when it comes to finding unique gifts. In the past I’ve purchased Zelda-themed candles, a hand-drawn print of Miyajima Island and a customised Buffy the Vampire Slayer quote that has a special meaning to my boyfriend and I. It feels so good to purchase from these creative people – you’re supporting their little company and receiving something wonderful at the same time!
You can also find handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items at places like Borough Market, and even the Saturday market in your town will likely sell pots of jam or homemade soap. Turn your Christmas shopping into a fun day out – make the trip to a quaint little village and check out the local stores, or scour the nearby markets for that perfect gift.
Skip the chain stores this Christmas and turn to small, local businesses instead – your gift recipients (and your wallet) will thank you!
Lend a helping hand
“But say a prayer, and pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear…”
Those lyrics always make me feel emotional. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are, particularly at this time of year. If you’re reading these words, you have access to the Internet and the ability to read and write – luxuries that are denied to millions of people across the globe. Even small things like the Christmas candle burning in our living rooms or the clean sheets on our beds would fill us with gratitude if we truly knew what other people had to go through.
When I find myself stressing about things like the queue at the post office being too long or a Christmas present getting stuck in the post, I take a step back and remember how fortunate I am.
Last year, my friend Christina and I asked our colleagues to go through their wardrobes and bring us any warm clothes that they no longer needed. Once we’d filled several huge bags, we went to the homeless shelter across the road from our office and gave everything to them. They were so grateful for our donation, and took us on a tour of the shelter. Seeing how other people live was so eye-opening and really showed me how lucky I am. That day, I resolved to do more.
This Christmas, do something to help. It can be as small as buying an item from Choose Love, a store devoted to helping refugees in Europe and the Middle East, or as big as giving up your Christmas day to volunteer in a homeless shelter.
These actions may seem small, but with every step you take you’ll be doing the planet a huge favour. How’s that for festive cheer?
Merry Christmas, everyone – I hope all your wishes come true!