A Green Christmas
Holly Louise Eells reveals how to make your festive season more eco-friendly
Yes, the festive season is one of the most joyous times of the year, but that Merry Christmas can take its toll on the environment. From plastic decorations, countless greeting cards and unwanted food and gifts, we are generating a huge amount of waste, causing an added strain on landfills and extra CO² emissions. But, it isn’t all doom and gloom…
Gorgeous Food, Less Waste
Shop locally and seasonally. Your first port of call should be your local farmers’ markets. Try, for example: Surbiton (third Saturday of the month), Ham (first Saturday of the month) and Twickenham (every Saturday morning). And take along you reusable bags!
Food waste is a big problem over the festive season. According to a report by Unilever, “each year in the UK, the equivalent of four million Christmas dinners are wasted – the equivalent to two million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and five million Christmas puddings.”
Louise Simpson, founder of Surrey Vegan Food Market, believes forward planning is key to helping to reduce waste. She says: “Whenever there is any seasonal holiday it seems people stockpile as if it’s the apocalypse and overbuy because the shops are shut for literally one day.” She adds: “My advice for any meal is, work out how many people you have coming to dinner, think before you buy something and, my biggest tip: never go shopping hungry!”
And get creative with your leftovers. London-based chef George Rouse, owner of luxury catering company George’s Kitchen, works with a sustainability ethos and believes you can do wonders with Christmas food leftovers. He explains, “All of the leftovers can be used as fresh ingredients for a completely new dish. One of the easiest ways to use them up is to make a roast turkey pie for Boxing Day as you can put just about any veg in. Alternatively, we donate all of the leftovers to a homeless shelter to make sure it’s going to good use.”
Robyn McAllister, director of Surbiton Farmers’ Market, adds: “There are fantastic apps to take advantage of such as Olio and Foodcloud to share your leftovers within your community. Donate leftover long-life products to your local foodbank and make use of your freezer!”
But food waste is not the only problem, and more than 80,000 tonnes of old clothes will be thrown away this Christmas.
Olivia Walters, deputy manager at Queen Elizabeth Foundation in Bookham, says with the current climate crisis, second-hand shopping should be a big priority. She says: “It helps keep unwanted clothing and bric-a-brac out of landfills. These items being second-hand and resold means there will be less environmental damage. You can find amazing one-of-akind items that would make a thoughtful, innovative gift for Christmas rather than buying ‘3 for 2’s’ we see in some high street shops,” says Olivia. “Charity shops are great as you can save money and enjoy a bit of a treasure hunt while helping support a good cause. Buying Christmas gifts in any of these shops will support local businesses, raise funds for charity and help our environment. We will also have Christmas goods, including decorations, artificial trees and toys.”
But it isn’t just second-hand shops that are doing good for the climate. There are many shops, such as The Refil Larder in Teddington, that will allow you to refill your own bags and containers, saving on food and packaging waste, making your first step to a green Christmas that little bit easier.
Tracey Harwood, owner of the zerowaste store Fetch’em from the Cupboard, where you take in your own containers to be refilled, also has another tip for Christmas shopping this year. She explains: “I have started a group present buying system where each adult gets a single present but all the monies are pooled by other family and friends so you actually buy something you want or need. Everyone always wants to spoil their children and I am no different, but I have given myself a limit of a single present, book and treat on the day. I mostly go for wooden toys, sustainable clothes or educational books and games which can be passed on.”
She adds: “If you can’t find a physical thing, think about experiences like cookery courses or sewing lessons which will help a person gain a new skill!”
According to Recylenow.com, English households will throw out an additional three million tonnes – that is five sacks of rubbish per family – over the festive period. Much of this will be waste that could have been recycled. With nine out of 10 homes in Britain now having a doorstep recycling service which will take paper, card, glass and metal cans, it is harder to make an excuse. Speak to your local council and they can help.
On the topic of recycling, some six million trees were purchased for homes and offices across Britain last year, of which only 10% were recycled. Which is disappointing as most councils offer a Christmas tree collection and recycling service.
Sarah Jordan, from the Surrey Wildlife Trust, says deciding on what type of Christmas tree you buy can be tricky when it comes to what is best for the environment. “We have an alternative: On 1 December we are hosting an event where you can chop down your own Christmas tree whilst doing important conservation work. Pick A Pine will offer the opportunity to assist with removing invasive Scots Pine from rare heathland habitat.”
Also, 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.
Small Steps to Green
And don’t forget all the little things too – paper straws, cloth napkins, tap water from a glass carafe, plastic-free crackers. Look for ethical beauty brands for gifts, such as Hourglass, which is 80% vegan, and aiming for 100% by 2020. Use beautiful scarves for wrapping up gifts that can then be worn. You can also buy reusable wrapping in organic cotton. For Christmas cards, look for eco options such as 1 Tree Cards, which are matched with the planting of a tree in an area of mass deforestation. Inside, the receiver is greeted by a token telling them that ‘1 tree has been planted for you’. This token is embedded with seeds and can be grown into bee friendly flowers.
Green Christmas Tips
Courtesy of Anna Fosbery from Surrey Wildlife Trust
1. Choose wrapping paper without glitter or foils as they can’t be recycled. Go one step further and try the Japanese art of Furoshiki, which uses squares of cloth to wrap gifts. Use string instead of sticky tape.
2. Buy fewer gifts but consider them more carefully. If you’re giving physical presents, look for shops and websites with a zero or reduced-waste policy. There are loads of lovely gifts out there that come in minimal packaging.
3. Talk to friends about some easy gift swaps they can make.