October creeps in and all of a sudden, Michael Bublé’s on the radio. Somewhere across the Atlantic an alarm jingles gleefully and – oh shit – it’s that time of year. Again. It might not be a Christmas song, but he’s arrived just in time to remind everyone he exists for the holiday period.
Okay, you got me. I’m acting like a cynic but I’m actually a huge fan. I can’t help it. He’s just so jolly.
I digress. This is not a blog post about Michael Bublé.
There are many joyful things about Christmas, but what it does for the environment isn’t one of them. Sparkly wrapping paper, plastic toys and excess food all contribute around this time of year, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many things I did wrong last year, and I’m going all-out to make sure we have a much more eco-friendly Christmas this year.
Last year, Joe and I both worked in pubs and December was all kinds of manic. Shifts not only increase in length and frequency, but also in intensity and stressfulness. We were lucky enough to both have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, but that was all.
That being said, now an office-type worker I’m really feeling the positivity this year, and I’m working hard to keep it around as the cold seeps in. Planning Christmas is one of my favourite things, and here is how I plan on doing it eco-friendly this year:
Planning presents in advance
I don’t know about you, but in my experience a last-minute mad dash for presents on Christmas Eve invariably lands my loved ones with more useless tat than thoughtful gifts. I cant help it – the societal pressure of gift-giving kicks in and you end up buying anything – anything – just to get home, presents bought, into your PJ’s before it gets dark at FOUR O’ CLOCK.
Now, as much as I hate the October Tinsel Emerge-ment, it’d be no good receiving this advice in December because you’d already be panicking. I’m writing this almost two months before Christmas, but it’s with good cause, so it doesn’t count, Okay?
Plan your presents well in advance and avoid impulse buys. Instead, stick to your budget and aim for something you truly think they’ll use. If you can’t think of anything physical that they need, get them an experience. All of the awesome, without the clutter!
Oxfam do a great range of eco-friendly, re-used or recycled products which make great gifts. There are loads of other great ideas out there, so keep your eyes peeled for my ethical gift-giving guide in a few weeks!
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Eco-Friendly Wrapping paper
Now, this can be tricky to navigate. I would just invest completely in re-usable wrapping paper, but there can be a confusion as to whether said wrapping paper is a gift in itself, or if it should be returned to the gift-giver. I’m not sure if there’s a correct answer to this question, so if someone could let me know that would be grand. Otherwise, my plan this year is three-fold (no pun intended).
The first approach I’ll be taking is to not wrap gifts, and rather strategically use them to conceal their contents (for example, one year I got my sister a bundle from lush that came pre-wrapped in a gorgeous scarf).
The second is to use re-useable wrapping paper (oh yeah, it’s a thing), but only with close family members. This is simply so that we can gift the wrapping paper along with the actual present without spending an absolute fortune.
The third approach is to use recycled and recyclable wrapping paper. Although recycling isn’t the quick-fix many people assume it is, it’s still a huge step in the right direction, and the purchase of recycled materials is statistically important, because it demonstrate how many people care about it and surrounding issues in a wider context.
The same can be said for Christmas cards – send e-cards, recycled cards, or don’t send them at all. Obviously my Granddad will never go a Christmas without one, but friends my age simply aren’t that bothered.
Only Buying What You Need
There’s a great sense of urgency in supermarkets at Christmas. What? The shops are going to be shut for TWO DAYS?! Stock up the cupboards, the apocalypse is coming!
An exaggeration, I know, but some people’s trolleys at Sainsbury’s the weekend before Christmas are ridiculous, yet Joe and I can go weeks without going to the supermarket by accident. Why people think they’re going to starve over the Christmas period is beyond be, but the culture surrounding it seems to be: We Must Feed Everyone. Everywhere you go, you’re offered a mince pie. At work, at my parents, the pub. Mince pies. Everywhere. It’s delightful, but extremely consumerist.
According to this article by the independent, the equivalent of 4.2 million Christmas dinners worth of food is wasted over the Christmas period. This includes 7.5 million mince pies (who wastes mince pies?!).
Again, it comes back to planning ahead. By the time shops close almost everybody knows how many people they’re having around for Christmas. Rather than stocking up for a family of eight, only to find six people bring a bottle of wine, a box of mince pies and their kitchen sink along with them, talk. Drop your guard, find out who wants to bring what and treat it like a normal Sunday dinner. If a little goes to waste, no matter. If people aren’t rolling around trying to do up their trousers after dinner, it’s also not going to be the end of the world.
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Christmas trees can be difficult; at first glance there doesn’t seem to be a right answer. Cutting down a live tree to stick in your living room sounds terrible, but having one made of PVC is even worse! The truth is, real trees aren’t all that bad for the environment. Most Christmas trees are grown for purpose, so if they weren’t bought they wouldn’t have existed in the first place. You can use this link to the Forestry Commission website to find an FSC tree near you. Keeping a potted tree is also a great option, so it can go on absorbing CO2 for years to come.
If you’re not into the real thing, there are plenty of alternatives to plastic trees, too. You can get all sorts of cool cardboard trees (again, go for the FSC ones), or you could make one out of almost anything if you’re creative enough. One year, I made a tree out of books! If you’re dead set on a traditional-looking tree, there are plenty going second-hand on the Freecycle Network, eBay or Preloved.
As for decorations, LEDs are 80% more efficient than ordinary lights, last much longer and don’t contain toxic elements. D-I-Y baubles and decorations to re-use old or broken things can look awesome. This Pinterest board is full of great ideas.
Stress and Loneliness
This doesn’t fall under the category of eco-friendly, but it needs mentioning. Christmas can be uber-stressful, financially straining and (unless you’re blessed with a wonderful family and annual leave), lonely.
I’m very lucky to have my family close by, a Joe (he is One Of A Kind), the freedom to take time off work and the space to chill. If you’re missing any of these things then Christmas can become extremely daunting, especially with picture-perfect influencers dominating your Instagram feed with flawless decorations, meals and presents. Take a breath, put the kettle on and remember that if you had hours every day to perfect your grid then yours would be flawless, too.