At WEN we love the festive season. However, we also know that the planet doesn't love it quite as much.
Every year in Britain we produce 30% more rubbish over the Christmas period, which amounts to over 3 million tonnes of festive waste. Trees, cards, wrapping paper, food, packaging and gifts... Many of the things we think are essential to our festive celebrations end up in the landfill.
This can represent quite a dilemma for those of us trying to reduce our environmental impact, but fear not! – you don’t need to be a Scrooge to make Christmas greener. If you want to cut down and reduce over the festive period, the Woman’s Environmental Network has a few ideas to share...
CHRISTMAS TREES - There is a sustainable option!
People in Britain buy around eight million trees every year and despite growing recycling efforts, over six million trees end up burnt or dumped in a landfill.
★ If you are looking for an original alternative to the Christmas tree, why not decorate a big pot plant? You could also get creative and build your own tree out of waste materials from around the home!
★ If you’re going for the more traditional Christmas tree look you might want to consult this guidance from the Carbon Trust, ranking different options from most to least environmentally-friendly:
1. The winner is... the POTTED TREE! Reusable year after year, you can plant it in your garden after Christmas and bring it back inside in a year’s time. An average breathing tree will actually capture over 1 tonne of carbon per year, compensating for around 10% of your annual carbon footprint!
2. If you don’t have a garden or the space to keep a potted tree, REAL TREES can be a good option. Make sure to purchase it from a seller committed to growing trees in an environmental and sustainable manner.
3. Finally if you have an ARTIFICIAL TREE, by all means re-use it! Plastic trees are ranked third by Carbon Trust due to their carbon-intensive manufacturing processes but by using it at least ten times, you can lower its environmental impact below that of real cut trees.
When you are ready to get rid of your tree, make sure to do it in a sustainable way:
Get crafty and give your tree a second life. You could for example build an insect hotel with the trunk and twigs... You could even help the bee cause ! (See the Friends of the Earth website for more information).
- Burn it at home. This will emit as much carbon as was absorbed during the tree’s growth, with no net increase in emission (better than letting the tree decay in a landfill).
- Recycle! Many tree farms and gardening centres take old trees back (you can check this when you buy your tree), and your local authority will also have its own recycling scheme.
Just remember artificial trees do not recycle well, so even if you want to switch to a real tree make sure to donate rather than throw the old one away....
CARDS, WRAPPING AND CRACKERS – Make your own!
1.5 billion of Christmas cards are thrown out in the UK yearly which amounts to 500 million cut trees (one tree is needed to make three thousand cards).
★ Only send them if you mean them! Christmas cards are a great tradition, but too many are sent thoughtlessly and to a very large mailing list. Why not switch to e-cards and reserve paper cards for the people who will most appreciate it!
A very small portion of the 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper used each year is recycled.
★ Alternative wrappings can easily be made with newspaper, pieces of old material and pieces of string or ribbon. And if you are buying, make sure to go for 100% recycled.
And if you do receive more cards than you can keep or more end up with more wrapping than necessary, why not save them and get crafty?
★ Cards and wrapping paper are easy to recycle: keep them and use them the following year to make your own new cards, tags or decorations.
★ You could even use wrapping paper to make your very own homemade crackers...
If you are not feeling creative yourself, you could check with local community centres or schools whether they would be interested in taking your cards. Alternatively, you can always recycle the cards with cardboard recycling or bring them to your local supermarket: Marks & Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s for example each run a Christmas card recycling scheme.
GUILT FREE GIVING - Give experiences, not stuff!
Shop consciously this Christmas. The British spend more on Christmas presents than any other European country, with the average Brit spending over £300 on gifts! It is, of course, far better to give than it is to receive, and we applaud this show of generosity, but all too often gifts fall victim to a change of taste, and are doomed to a landfill site after one use.
This is a time when shops and advertisers will constantly make you believe that you need to buy more.
- Use cash rather than a credit card as this will help you to spend less.
- Try to plan ahead, whether for food, toys or decoration and resist the temptation to buy things you don’t really need or want.
Shopping locally or at markets reduces the air miles of your gifts, and, subsequently, lowers your carbon footprint, as well as supporting small businesses. Buy fewer, more considered gifts, rather than presents for the sake of presents! Buy things that you know the recipient will really love, and that will last. They will be more appreciated by your friends and the planet.
★ For a present that lasts all year -and really does keep giving- pay for a subscription to a magazine or membership of a charity. Join WEN and receive briefings on our different campaigns and a membership pack full of environmental goodies.
★ Give your time, not money: visiting an elderly relative is a gift in its own right. Or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Contact your local volunteer bureau or look on www.timebank.org.uk.
★ Buy vouchers or experiences, not stuff! Paying for someone to do something they wouldn't normally afford is environmentally friendly and giving them a treat. Tickets to plays, ballets, day trips, evening classes or short courses are all great gifts that don't cost the earth! (Theatre tokens is a good website for that) .
Still need to get some stockings stuffed? We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite environmentally friendly shops so you can have a guilt free Christmas!
You could also give a composter, a wormery or a tree... An original way to wish a merry Christmas and a greener new year!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Sustainable shopping, cooking and packaging
Christmas really is all about eating – a time to treat yourself to a seasonal, healthy and delicious festive feast! So why not try some fresh local produce? Or, better yet, grow your own! Different types of cabbage, including kale, and brussels sprouts are at their best in December – so raid your garden for some delicious green accompaniments to your Christmas meals.
★ To add a new twist to the classic sprout, try halving them, then frying with a few cloves of garlic. Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese and a good pinch of salt and pepper over the top for the perfect vegetable side.
★ Carrots and beetroot are also in season at this time of year, and they make great accompaniments to the classic roast! Simply roast both in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until they are soft, then serve hot with crumbled goats cheese and roughly chopped almonds sprinkled over the top.
Christmas is a time when we like to treat ourselves to good food. So why not try out some fresh local produce? Look for organic, locally produced or fairly traded food; visit a farmers market or a food cooperative.
Buying nice fresh vegetables might even make you curious to try having a meat-free Christmas dinner this year. An average festive meal for eight people represents 20kg of CO2 emissions, 60% of which are attributable to the turkey: from its production to its long preparation in the oven.
Vegetarian and vegan options are generally much less carbon intensive. Nut roasts, pies and filo pastries make delicious Christmas dishes. Here’s an opportunity to cook something new and to bring new flavours to the dinner table for the whole family to experience! We’ve collected some of our favourite recipes for you to try here.
MINIMISE FOOD WASTE
Here are some of Love Food Hate Waste’s simple tips to reduce food costs and waste at Christmas.
- Check the contents of your cupboards
- Make a list to avoid buying too much
- Plan your meals ahead
Every year millions of mince pies and Christmas puddings are produced, packaged and transported to our shops in the UK without ever fulfilling their destiny. Isn’t it particularly sad to throw out food which we only get to eat once a year? So even if Christmas is a time for food abundance, let’s not overdo it.
- Use LFHW’s online portion planner to buy the right amount and avoid having too many leftovers.
- Make sure to use the leftovers you do have before they go off (we all know leftover gravy makes a great “moistmaker” in a sandwich).
- If you are not going to eat the leftovers in the next few days, wrap, label and freeze them.
- You could also give away what you realistically will not consume in time, using one of the great available food waste apps for example.
More food at Christmas also means more packaging, so it is a time to be even more careful and prevent waste at its source. Champagne, sherry bottles, mincemeat and cranberry sauce jars... In the UK 13,350 tonnes of glass is thrown out every Christmas. Recycling this glass could save 4,200 tonnes of CO2 the saving equivalent, yearly, to taking around 1,300 cars off the road.
Take your own bag to the supermarket and avoid over-packaging
Buy foods in reusable containers (glass, cans, and paper) if possible, to minimise waste and make sure to recycle those you won’t reuse.
Every year, 4,500 tonnes of tin foil are also thrown away in the UK.
- Recycling one aluminium drink can save enough energy to run a set of Christmas tree lights for 2 hours. So just think of the energy we could save by recycling turkey foil trays (after rinsing them properly), mice pies cases and drink cans!
The way we see it at WEN – making Christmas greener is a chance both to return to the simple things, and to explore new ideas and be more creative! Preparing meaningful presents and eating good food brings friends and family together in a very special way.
So from us all, have a WENderful Christmas!