How to have an eco-friendly Christmas
This blog is about how you and your family can have an environmentally-friendly and ethical Christmas. This includes info on things such as reducing your carbon footprint, and reducing your waste from things such as food, plastic and paper, along with a lot more tips and tricks to make your Christmas more eco-friendly in various different ways. It covers what is the more eco-friendly Christmas tree to get, plastic or real? And also how to decorate your home and gift people sustainably. Christmas may be the season of giving, relaxing and indulging, but it’s certainly not the most eco-friendly time of year. With the added strain on landfills and extra CO2 emissions that occur during the Christmas period, the festive season is one of the most taxing times of year for the environment. This blog, to make it a little different from my usual blog format, has been laid out in an A-Z list (it’s actually an A-W). Please take the time to look through the blog as it contains lots of stats, facts and tips about Christmas and how you can make yours more eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical, and lots more, such as specific links to websites that sell eco-friendly decorations.
A-Z for an eco-friendly Christmas
A is for artificial trees – These are not necessarily greener – although they last for longer, plastic Christmas trees are made from a combination of unrecyclable materials that can be potentially hazardous to health and the environment. The majority of artificial trees are shipped from China, adding to their large carbon footprint. Real trees also help to remove carbon from the atmosphere while they are growing (lots more on real trees below under C – Christmas trees).
B is for batteries – New gifts at Christmas often mean that households go through a lot of batteries. Batteries contain toxic chemicals, do not biodegrade and are difficult to recycle.
C is for…
Candles – Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are no good for your health or for the environment. Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.
Cards (and wrapping paper) – 150 million cards per day are delivered on average by the Royal Mail in the run up to Christmas in the UK alone. Considering how simple most of these cards are to recycle, 1 billion still end up in landfill and can take up to 30 years to decompose. As well as recycling the cards you receive in the post, why not get crafty with the kids and make your own eco friendly Christmas cards to send. Use recycled card and envelopes and cut down on plastic packaging, or you can buy recycled cards if crafts just aren’t your thing, these can be found online just by searching for them.
It’s not just the packaging that some shops use that can make your Christmas presents problematic for the environment. Over 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper are used in Britain over Christmas, equating to 83 square km of rubbish! Do your bit to reduce this figure by using recycled wrapping paper and always recycling the wrapping paper from your Christmas presents, as well as all other paper and card from things such as boxes. You can easily buy recycled wrapping online just by searching for it and this saves both money and energy and helps conserve forests by reducing the need for fresh paper.
Compost – Compost all your food peelings or get a wormery to help break down the vegetable food waste into rich soil nutrition, and try to not throw any food away that you can still eat – keep it for Boxing Day sandwiches!
Clothes – Over 80,000 tonnes of old clothes will be thrown away this Christmas, so if you do get a new wardrobe, make sure you donate your old clothes to a local charity shop, or give them to relatives or use them as ‘scruffy clothes’ for activities where you don’t want to get your regular clothes dirty.
Christmas trees – Real trees are the more eco-friendly choice, as long as you consider where and how they have been grown. Make sure you get one from a sustainable source. There are over 400 Christmas tree growers across the UK registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers ‘ Association, where trees are grown according to strict guidelines governing everything from sustainable seeds and cultivation to protecting local wildlife. The Soil Association also certifies some trees as organic, which means that no pesticides will have been used during growing. You could also choose a tree with roots so that it can be replanted.
Recycle your tree after Christmas. In the UK an estimated 6 million Christmas trees are sent to landfill every year, equalling approximately 9,000 tonnes of extra waste. Each tree sent to landfill has a carbon footprint of around 16kg (the average UK person has a yearly carbon footprint of around 1,000kg) and costs the local authority around £2.32 in fees, wasting money that could be injected back into the community. This is also a wasted opportunity to create biomass that would have provided nutrients for depleted soil.
D is for…
Decorations – Use recycled decorations or ones from last year instead of buying new ones each year. You can find all sorts eco-friendly decorations online, again just by searching for them, and these look just as good as conventional ones. One type of decoration to avoid is tinsel. This is made of unrecyclable plastic, and many households get rid of their tinsel then buy new tinsel each year, adding to the waste of a decoration that is already completely unnecessary. Ditch plastic baubles – why not decorate your home with nature. Boughs of ivy and holly look great on mantelpieces, and garlands of festive plants such as mistletoe (careful of the berries as they are slightly poisonous!) Look amazing on your front door, much better than tacky plastic alternatives.
Defrost your freezer before Christmas – It will work more efficiently and create more space to store leftover food, so that it doesn’t go to waste.
E is for eco-bags – Use a cotton shopper bag instead of all that plastic. These bags are a great eco-friendly alternative and usually last for longer. You can find them online easily just by searching for them, and considering buying them if you don’t use one already is a great way to reduce your plastic footprint.
F is for food shopping – By the time the ingredients that make up the average British Christmas dinner arrive on our plates, they have travelled a combined distance of 49,000 miles. Turkeys from Europe, vegetables from Africa, wine from the southern hemisphere, cranberries from America – the turkey and trimmings add up to the equivalent of 6,000 car trips around the world, new research from the University Of Manchester has found.
Buy an organic turkey. Ten million turkeys are eaten every Christmas, so try to make sure it has been reared in humane conditions, and also reduce the amount of chemicals you ingest. By buying a local turkey (or whatever other meat you will have if you eat meat) the food-miles and carbon emitted will be reduced.
Buy local or buy less. Produce bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint. Shop at a local farmer’s market, or try growing some of your own vegetables where possible.
Buy your fruit and vegetables loose and ditch all that wasteful plastic packaging. Make sure the goods that are packaged are made from recycled materials.
Buy drinks in bigger bottles rather than small ones. One large bottle generates less waste than several smaller ones. Try to avoid serving people with paper or plastic plates and cups if you are entertaining as this is an useless waste of something unnecessary, as after your meal the plastic will go to landfill and remain there for hundreds of years, or even be dumped into the ocean and cause horrendous damage to marine animals and ecosystems (check out my other blog for more info on what plastic is doing to our oceans, and how you can avoid it and hugely reduce your use of plastic – http://ripplezoo.com/2017/09/14/our-plastic-oceans/
Pack all your goods into a re-usable shopping bag or re-use old plastic bags.
Don’t forget to put the vegetable peelings from your Christmas dinner in your home compost bin.
K is for keeping your curtains closed – This keeps heat in and saves energy and money. And with all those guests to entertain, more heat is going to be generated anyway.
L is for lights – Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas produce enough CO2 to inflate 12 balloons, so turn them off when they are not needed. If you want to be more environmentally friendly, try switching to either LED lights, choosing lights that are powered by solar power or rechargeable batteries, or installing an energy-saving bulb to offset the energy usage.
If you haven’t already – make it a new year’s resolution to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, and save both energy and money.
P is for…
Plastic-free – More than 17bn plastic bags are handed out just by supermarkets a year – that’s 300 for every man, woman and child – causing nearly 60,000 tonnes of plastic to go to landfill sites. Now and after Christmas, use a cotton bag, these are cheap and easily available (you can find them or eco-friendly alternatives in many shops), and usually last longer. Alternatively you can take old plastic bags and reuse them. You could even follow Modbury’s example, and get your whole town to go plastic bag-free. With retailers yet to get the message on excessive packaging, try to avoid purchasing products and food that are overpackaged, by buying things such as loose fruit and veg.
Presents – Buy local or buy less. Each Christmas, thousands of tonnes of products arrive from China. Presents bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint. If not, as many families will be unwilling to due to their wishes for Christmas, you can do things to offset your carbon footprint from buying products by buying a tree-planting subscription from TreeEra, where a specific amount of trees are planted in your name each year for a small monthly amount, or through Reforestum, where you can pay for your own forest to be planted in a chosen location, and add to it over time.
For incredible ethical and eco-friendly baubles, gift ideas and decorations check out ProtectThePlanet (http://www.protecttheplanet.co.uk/christmas-decorations.html ). You can find lots of other websites and companies that offer great products that are also eco-friendly in one way or another just by searching for what you want online.
Buy durable gifts and avoid buying or requesting presents that rely on disposable parts like batteries. Try to look for alternatives, for example, goods that are solar or wind-up powered.
Do you have to buy gifts? Could you buy an “experience” instead? Try cinema tickets, club memberships, gift tokens. Sponsor an animal, buy them some rainforest to protect – but don’t give them another unwanted gift which they will simply throw away, store or never use.
R is for recycle – Estimates say that English households will throw out an additional 3m tonnes – that’s five sacks of rubbish per family – over the festive period. Much of this will be waste that could have been recycled. If you’re not doing it already, it’s getting harder to have an excuse not to recycle, with nine out of 10 homes in Britain now having a doorstep recycling service which will take paper, card, glass and metal cans.
If you don’t have a doorstep service, take your drinks bottles and paper to the recycling bank when you next go to the supermarket. Recycling is great as it reuses old products and turns them into brand new products to use, but also saves land as less goes to landfill and also saves lots of public money, which can be invested into other things such as education and healthcare. Try to make sure that you recycle everything possible, not just at Christmas but all year round.
T is for…
Turning off your appliances – Turning your appliances off at the mains, rather than leaving them on standby. This saves huge amounts of carbon, and also saves you money.
Turning down the thermostat by 1C – Not only does this save carbon and money, it’s a good excuse to resurrect the themed Christmas jumper.
U is for using the right-sized pan – Use the right-sized pan for the vegetables you cook, and only boil the kettle with the amount of water you need, to save water and money.
W is for wrapping – This constitutes one of the biggest Christmas wastes – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that last year’s wasted paper would be enough to wrap up the Channel island of Guernsey. If we all recycled just half of the 8,000 tonnes produced we’d save 25,000 trees. Try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper, recycled foil or newspaper, or buy recycled wrapping paper online, and using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up instead of sellotape. (Lots more under the ‘cards’ section about wrapping)
Sources / Further Reading
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3656947/Have-yourself-an-eco-friendly-Christmas.html – more advice on how to have an eco-friendly Christmas
- https://www.greenpeople.co.uk/beauty-hub/blog/top-tips-eco-friendly-christmas – tips on making your Christmas have less of an impact on the environment
- http://www.sustainablebabysteps.com/green-christmas.html – 30 + ideas to make your Christmas environmentally friendly
- http://www.protecttheplanet.co.uk/christmas-decorations.html – a marketplace for eco-friendly decorations and gifts
- https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2007/dec/12/toptipsforagreenchristmas – this is where I got the basis of the A-Z, to which I added lots of extra info and tips onto the basic original
My name is Oscar and I am the face behind Rescuetheworldtoday. I am a student who is passionate about the environment and like to raise awareness about it through daily posts on Instagram on my account (@rescuetheworldtoday) and I also do environmentaly-themed blogs here on RippleZoo, I hope you enjoy them.