Tables heaving with plates of food, stacks of presents spilling out from under a tree smothered in tinsel and baubles, and rolls of lights beaming into outer space… This may seem like the epitome of the festive season, but is Christmas really not about more than what we consume? Christmas has become synonymous with over-indulgence - over-eating, drinking and spending. We feel compelled to make the best of the offers that are constantly thrown at us- even if we don’t need, want or even like the products that we are buying. What’s more, each year there is pressure to improve upon the previous one – by buying and spending more. But how much need for this is there? Shouldn’t we stop to consider how much waste we are producing – all the excess food, packaging, and gadgets we are churning out for this festive season? At such a wasteful time of year even making small changes can make a difference to our impact on the environment.
When buying a new smartphone do we consider the hundreds of thousand workers at factories who work overtime to churn out gadgets and trinkets at this time of year? Do we consider what happens to all the packaging, or all the food we throw away after a Christmas day roast? Is this kind of gift-giving really all so good? Could we instead invest our time and talents to make a better Christmas for all?
1. Plan ahead
The key to both a more ecological and economical Christmas lies in the planning. Good intentions are often thrown to the wind in the last-minute panic to get everything done. If you know exactly what you want to buy and where from, you can pretty much finish your Christmas shopping in one go, simultaneously avoiding those hideously expensive delivery fees (plus the stress of seeing if they arrive in time) and the excessive boxes and packaging that come with it.
Equally, if you force yourself to decide what you will cook and when you will eat, you can actually buy the right quantity of food, clear freezer and fridge space so that you have room for extras, and make use of the huge abundance of great leftover recipes like those on BBC Good Food. Not only are you reducing your food wastage but also preventing the costly impulse buys.
2. Spend less, give better
According to the Centre for Retail Research, around £79 billion was spent in the UK between mid November and the end of December last year, and particularly as a student it’s very easy to feel a mounting panic at the amount of money disappearing from your bank account in the approach to Christmas. However, by spending and buying less you can not only save money but also reduce the amount we are wasting. When it comes to presents less really is more. Our society makes us feel it is necessary to spend time and money in shops in order to express our gratitude for each other. but is there really any point in giving gifts for their own sake and in receiving yet another useless trinket? Gifting ideas like Secret Santa mean you can afford to buy fewer, but more meaningful, gifts.
Another great way to reduce waste is by gifting experiences rather than items, especially here in London where there’s so much to do and often so much money required to do it. Tickets to a concert, a football match or the theatre are after all so much more memorable than a generic gift box.
3. Upgrade your cards
Our habits in less-considered areas also need to change when you consider that, according to A Sustainable Life, an online guide to sustainable living, an astonishing one billion Christmas cards end up in the bin. If sending cards is important to you why not go paperless? There are a huge number of affordable options for sending e-cards: companies like Greenvelope are focused on sustainability; Ojolie allow you to send unlimited cards for a £12 yearly membership; Paperless Post allows photo customisation. Even better, you can donate to charity at the same time. Large charities including Barnados, Oxfam and Macmillan offer good e-card services as well. It’s also worth considering how you dispose of any cards you receive. Recycling these may make you feel better, but especially since China’s ban import of waste for recycling (see Sustainability section in Felix 1706) they may still end up going to landfill or incineration. Instead, why not reuse them as gift tags or make into ornaments or wreaths?
4. Be creative with wrapping
Accepting that there will be some physical presents to give, how to give them is a whole dilemma in itself. In the UK alone 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used each Christmas - that’s enough to go around the Earth nine times!
Following the old mantra of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ the best option yet again is to wrap fewer presents. Often gifts come already in a box or festive packaging, so resist the temptation to put wrapping paper on top of that. Awkwardly shaped gifts may actually look better unwrapped and consider how much time can save just by covering them with a scarf or blanket. If you do want to do some actual wrapping you could invest in some reusable fabric such as the reindeer print produced by Happy Wrap. This actually looks really festive and the higher price is justified by the fact it will last. This could be a really good option for giving gifts to close family as you can reclaim it afterwards! If you want a more classical wrapping method you could consider using newspaper or brown paper – both very cheap materials - and add festive twine like the ones offered from eco-craft to make it look prettier and biodegradable tape to make it recyclable. Alternatively, if you’re not such a pro at wrapping and can’t produce an artistic masterpiece you could opt for some recycled wrapping paper. Rewrapped has some nice Christmas designs to choose from or if you’re happy to spend more Oxfam has some pretty handmade paper. As long as you’re careful you can reuse these wrapping papers as well – any crumples shouldn’t be beyond the flattening capabilities of an iron. As a last resort checking that it is recyclable – paper with glitter on it or that won’t hold its shape when scrunched is definitely not recyclable – is better than nothing.
These ideas are just a starting point to so much more, but Christmas is the one time where embracing even a few small changes can reduce so much waste. Lets resist the temptation to forget about the environment over the festive period, and as we give presents to our friends and family, try to give this present to our planet too.