he run up to Christmas and New Year is often a time to let loose and indulge in the finer things in life. Decorating our homes with lights and ornaments, swapping beautifully wrapped gifts, tucking into luxurious feasts, wearing paper hats and silly jumpers are all synonymous with the festive period.
It’s fair to say we all enjoy treating ourselves every now and then but reflecting on the impact of global warming and looking to 2023 (and beyond), we can’t help but wonder if this excess culture aligns with the green lifestyle. Is it possible to have a sustainable Christmas? Moreover, shouldn’t we be aiming for more than just a sustainable Christmas? A green lifestyle should be engrained into our everyday if we genuinely want to make a difference.
The good news is even small changes can have a big impact. To help make Christmas and every other day green, we have collated some great ideas, alternatives, and suggestions around gifting, food and alcohol, decorating and more. We hope these ideas give you food for thought – every little helps
Swapping gifts with our loved ones brings untold joy – but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the planet! Here are a few things to consider when purchasing presents:
Quality not quantity
How many times have you received gifts you don't want or need? When buying gifts readjust your thinking to “less but better”. By picking a quality item that will last from eco-friendly and sustainable stores will reduce the likelihood of gifts going to waste and can ultimately be better for your wallet, especially in a cost-of-living crisis.
Why not consider gifting something alternative to a physical present? Perhaps donating to a charity in your loved one's name or buying them an experience to help create a lifelong memory. By choosing to bypass the traditional present, you also bypass the waste associated with it.
Wrapping & cards
Once you’ve bought your presents, you typically think about wrapping paper and cards. While most wrapping paper (including the glossy stuff) is generally recyclable, once sellotape is added into the mix, it is no longer salvageable. Think about using one of the many alternatives available such as natural cord/twine, wool, washi tape or brown paper tape, which are both easy to use and charming. If you want to save the pennies (and trees!), why not reuse old newspapers or even go without wrapping paper.
Cards for Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions can be more meaningful than a present, but the reality is they are bad for the environment. Fortunately, most greeting cards are recyclable, if they don’t contain glitter or other plastics. Some retailers now offer sustainable cards made from upcycled paper waste, embedded with seeds that can be planted after use to reduce waste and help offset carbon emissions. Alternatively, consider sending an ecard to completely eradicate the waste of paper and unnecessary travel.
Eating & drinking
Eating and drinking is part of our everyday life. There are so many options available to learn sustainable practices and root them into our day-to-day routines in a bid to offset carbon emissions and live a green lifestyle. If you make just one of the changes below, you can help make a more sustainable future:
Suppliers & grocers
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the public conscience and there are many independent grocers who are filling that ‘space’ in the industry. Whether it’s shops with refill stations that encourage customers to bring their own glassware to stock up on supplies and reduce plastic waste or those who source stock locally, you are sure to find sustainable alternatives to the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Asda in or around your neighbourhood. You can do your bit for the environment and support local businesses – two birds, one stone!
It’s common knowledge that meat adds significantly to our carbon footprint but there are a few behaviours you can change to reduce your impact on the environment. Start with considering what kind of meat you purchase; chicken and turkey farming has a relatively low carbon footprint when compared to beef and lamb but there are still ethical concerns across the board when it comes to large scale farming. Whatever meat you decide on, consider buying organic options. Organic meat might cost a little more, but you’ll get higher quality meat with a reduced impact on our environment – what tastes better than that?
The farming of vegetables has a lower carbon footprint than animal farming, but we still need to mindful when selecting which veggies we want to accompany our protein. By selecting UK grown vegetables, we can guarantee that they are locally grown and seasonal. Local and seasonal veg means fewer food miles and artificial ripening methods. Luckily, potatoes, parsnips, carrots and sprouts all happily grow in the UK in December for those of us looking forward to a traditional Christmas roast!
If you wanted to go a step further and like to pre-plan, you could always grow your own vegetables. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peas, chillies and courgettes are all notoriously easy to grow in the UK. What’s greener than living off your own produce? You can live sustainably and pick up a new hobby all at once!
Veganism has really taken off and has carved its own space in the food industry. There are so many vegan food brands that even meat companies like Richmond are producing their own vegan ranges to compete. With so many vegan options now available, it would be more than easy to put on an entirely vegan spread every day of the week. Experiment with plant based ‘meats’, tofu, dairy alternatives and more to create a luxury (and sustainable) 3 course meal for any occasion.
Treats & snacks
Our favourite deserts and snacks always come wrapped in in some sort of plastic, most of which is unrecyclable. That plastic is then disposed of, often irresponsibly, and makes its way into our oceans causing harm to fish and animals while also polluting our waters. When it comes to treats and desserts, simply aim to have fewer or different – not sure about you but I love dates and they are not individually wrapped. We all buy more than we need anyway.
The impact of alcohol on the environment is hugely underestimated. The packaging alone involves an enormous number of bottles, cans, kegs, plastic, and cardboard boxes, and then there’s the physical transportation costs that come with distributing it around the world. Many alcoholic beverages, such as Scotch Whiskey, can only be produced in specific locations but are widely available all around the world. Fortunately, there are eco-friendly brands available that can be enjoyed while remaining environmentally conscious. The likes of Carlsberg, Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Absolute Vodka, Bacardi and Bombay Sapphire Gin all have admirable sustainable initiatives that make it that much easier to celebrate any occasion with a little tipple. Alternatively, you could commit to purchasing organic and vegan wine to help reduce your carbon footprint.
There’s nothing more wholesome than getting the whole family together to decorate your home for special occasions. Unfortunately, these trinkets are responsible for so much waste and (you guessed it) are often not recyclable. It’s unrealistic to suggest we scrap decorations all together, especially for times like Christmas, so here are a few ideas to help keep your home dazzling and sustainable:
Fairy lights are far from being a sustainable option, but they are a staple for most households. They add a gorgeous ambience to every occasion, and you will rarely see a Christmas tree without them. While they might not be the most eco-friendly, there are choices you can make that will have less of an impact on the environment. LED lights are by the far the best option when it comes to sustainable lights. Not only do they use less electricity, but they last much longer than most other options, saving you money and a new trip to the store every year for a new set. Be sure to store them in a way that keeps them from getting tangled and broken so you can reuse them for all your special occasions. If you want to go the extra mile and decorate outdoors, be sure to use solar powered lights, you will save on electricity and reduce your carbon footprint.
Bunting & garlands
We all love adding some bunting and garlands around the fireplace to celebrate holidays and special occasions but with so many made of harmful plastics or smothered in glitter, they’re difficult to enjoy without feeling guilty. By switching to bunting made from recycled materials and garlands created with natural items you can reduce the impact on the environment, support your local farmers, and fill your home with the authentic evergreen smell that just cannot be replaced!
We can’t talk about sustainable decorations without mentioning the star of the decoration show in most homes this time of year, the Christmas tree! While it may seem like buying a faux tree is the more sustainable option because of its reusability, its lifecycle has a much more harmful end. Fake trees end up in landfills — where they could take hundreds of years to decompose — or incinerators, where they release hazardous chemicals. Weighing the complicated climate pros and cons, real Christmas trees have the edge. You also have the option of buying a Christmas tree in a plant pot, meaning you can plant it in your garden when Christmas is over and reuse it the following year. When a real tree is disposed of, it decomposes naturally, making it the much more sustainable option of the two. You could also opt for something more individual and creative, why not decorate one of your houseplants, a wooden structure or a wispy branch, the options really are endless when you put your mind to it.
Christmas time has an abundance of traditions weaved into the festivities, but they often involve a lot of waste and come at the detriment of the environment. Let's explore some sustainable options and alternatives that let us maintain our traditions while living green:
While they can be a fun novelty, it’s difficult to enjoy the festivities when nearly 95% of Christmas jumpers contain acrylic which pollutes the earth when disposed of. Instead of buying a new jumper each year, why not swap jumpers with friends and family to keep the tradition alive while saving the planet and avoiding needless cost and waste. If you do want something new, you could always buy from a charity shop or get creative and upcycle an existing piece of clothing with something crafty.
It’s not often you see a Christmas table set without crackers. Unfortunately, they are nearly always filled with plastic toys or puzzles that nobody wants or needs and end up in the bin. Avoid adding to the needless waste and hazardous plastics dumped in our landfills by sourcing and buying sustainable and recyclable crackers. Alternatively, you could always create a new family tradition by making your own crackers and filling them with small sustainable gifts your friends and family will actually use.
These daily gift givers are made from cardboard and plastic, which you no doubt know by now are bad for the environment. While there is always the option to go without, we know how precious our traditions can be. There are reusable advent calendars out there that can be refilled year after year and avoid all that nasty plastic wasting away for centuries to come. It also means you can buy, grow or make sustainable treats to put in each pocket.