December means time spent with family, winter warmers, festive feasts and winding down. It is also married with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, overeating, waste and commercialism. Over the Christmas period we tend to shut off from our usual duties and indulge in the season’s treats. In fact, over the festive period, the UK produces 30% more waste than usual. Should all our festivities cost so much for our environment? How do we tackle Christmas waste and make the season of giving a gift to our environment as well as our families? Here are a few ideas that might help.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…
Both natural and artificial trees cause an environmental impact. Approximately 6 million Christmas trees are discarded each year; which equates to 250 tonnes of Christmas trees that are thrown away after Christmas instead of composted/recycled (London Cleaning System). Whilst real Christmas trees - evergreen conifers - are replanted in rotation, providing an ongoing home for wildlife, Christmas trees plantations offer limited diversity for natural habitats. Poorly managed plantations can lead to soil degradation (Woodland Trust). Obviously, the use of a Christmas tree is a short-lived gift and most Christmas trees end up in landfill, despite being renewable and biodegradable. Artificial trees are also not so ‘green’. They are made with Petroleum-derived plastic PVC trees are non-renewable and are polluting; adding to the emission of carcinogens. In addition, lead is often used to create the needles which can cause negative health impacts presenting a real hazard! Asking people to forego their Christmas tree experience is going to be a challenge to say the least! So, here’s a few things we can spread the word about:
Picking a Christmas Tree
• Artificial: There is no such thing as an entirely eco-friendly artificial tree. Let’s not mistake reusable for green. Once these trees have fulfilled their Christmas use they will end up in landfill. What can you look for to lessen your impact? Try a PE plastic tree which is made from polyethylene rather than PVC and lead. Keeping your artificial tree for as long as you can will reduce it's impact.
• Real: Try and find a locally grown tree. Look for sustainable growers such as Christmas Tree Sale Centres. After Christmas think about shredding and composting your tree, burning it for firewood or recycling. Check out your council’s Christmas tree scheme – they might even pick it up from your house.
• Alive: If you want a real tree – think about a potted tree. Think of UK grown trees to cut down on transport: Blue Spruce or Nordman. At the end of Christmas, the family can celebrate by replanting their tree for a few years’ time (trees may take a few years to recuperate). This is a great way to do something outdoors with the family, foster a sense of responsibility for our Christmas trees and reap the rewards of growing a tree year after year.
On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…
Whether you are a high street shopper or do your shopping online, Christmas calls for presents! Gidgets, gadgets, novelty gifts, basics, his & hers are some of the things we end up buying and gift wrapping before the big day. Some of these things we use and are grateful for, some of which end up being forgotten all too quick and discarded. Along with the presents 30,000 tonnes of card packaging, 1 billion cards and 227,000 miles of wrapping paper are thrown away at Christmas time. Here are some ideas to limit waste when sending gifts this Christmas:
• Consider where you are buying from. Santa travels all the way around the world to deliver his presents – as do most of our gifts. 4,000 tonnes of Christmas presents come from China each year. Support small businesses and buy locally – this has the added benefit that you can refuse any extra packaging at the till such as plastic bags.
• Look for sustainable, battery-free and durable gifts. There are plenty of options out there including recycled materials for clothing and children’s toys. Replace plastic toys and gadgets for more durable materials such as metal and wood.
• Make your own. Making your own gifts is special, cheaper and more festive than a ‘click-click’. A simple start is to make your own wrapping paper and cards. From there who knows… hand knitted gifts, home-made sweets, hand-carved ornaments… There are endless ideas for package-free and thoughtful pressies that will really impress! Check out Pinterest for endless ideas!
• Pass on the gift of sustainable living. Look for pressies that will promote a sustainable lifestyle. A reusable coffee cup, a bicycle, a national trust pass or subscription for something outside; gardening starter kits or a seasonal veggie box subscription. Gifts that keep on giving.
Bring me some figgy pudding…
“I can’t eat another bite” is a sign of a happy Christmas. We certainly get bombarded with advertisements suggesting more sophisticated feast ideas. But what happens to all the waste food? Approximately we throw away 2 million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and 17.2 million brussel sprouts each year. Followed by 13,350 tonnes of glass which is thrown out in the UK. In total it is estimated that food accounts for 19% of domestic waste! Our food travels from around the world to end up being discarded before its eaten. Or costing us further by taking up space in land-fill. Here’s a few ideas on how to reduce food waste:
Reducing food waste
• Try organic turkey’s sourced locally or rear your own.
• Cut your carbon footprint by buying fruit and veg locally or try a local food box.
• Refuse packaging. Buy loose veggies and scan them without plastic packaging at the till. Buying loose fruit and veggies is sometimes cheaper than those that are packaged!
• Compost your waste! At Christmas we get clogged up with waste in the kitchen, waiting for the next bin-day to arrive. Make it easy. Start a compost bin and enjoy a guilt free trip to the garden to make up new space in the kitchen.
• Cut down on meat or go vegetarian. Meat is a major contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing or replacing meat dishes with tasty vegetarian dishes is one way to help reduce your carbon footprint.
Being sustainable is certainly not at the top of the list when it comes to most people’s Christmas. Statistics on waste don’t exactly spread Christmas cheer. But you don’t need to turn into the Grinch to make a few alterations at Christmas time. This Christmas take small steps to pass on the message.