Christmas is a time of excess, and it’s nice to be a bit naughty once a year. However, there’s a dark side to the festive season – and that’s the sheer amount of waste it creates.
From the mountains of presents, to leftover food chucked in the bin, and the mammoth amounts of throwaway plastic from wrapping paper and crackers, it’s easy to overlook the impact Christmas has on the environment.
“I think we are encouraged to make each Christmas bigger and better than the one before,” says Eilidh Gallagher, eco blogger and author of Green Christmas. “More presents, more decorations, more parties, just more.
“We all feel the need to keep up thanks to social media, and see so many images of the picture-perfect Christmas that we feel pressure to recreate. It’s hard to take a step back and think about what we really want from Christmas.”
From the wildfires in Australia and California to temperatures reaching record-breaking heights all over the world, environmental damage has been clear to see on the news this year and many people have been thinking about their personal impact.
This Christmas is a perfect opportunity to be a bit more eco-friendly, Gallagher says – but that doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on all the trimmings. “If everyone made a few swaps or thought more about their gifts, we could reduce the huge amount of waste that is created at Christmas,” says Gallagher.
Her top piece of advice is to “have a think about what presents you can make this year with foraged ingredients, or ones you already have in your kitchen”. Chances are, this will make for even more personal and touching gifts.
If you really don’t trust yourself to make any presents, Gallagher suggests “looking into sourcing pre-loved gifts, rather than buying new, and trying to shop local”. For minimal waste, you could even consider gifting an experience rather than a physical thing.
Gallagher also recommends keeping decorations, instead of buying new – which means that they can be reused every year. Many of us fall into the trap of getting new tinsel and baubles each December – and this adds up to a lot of plastic waste, particularly if it’s all thrown away come January 1. “Bring the outdoors in with freshly cut greenery, like holly or mistletoe,” Gallagher suggests.
When it comes to Christmas dinner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wildly over-catering. Though for many the meal is an opportunity to stuff yourself until you can’t eat any more, Gallagher suggests really thinking about how much everyone is likely to eat, and planning ahead so you’re buying the right amount of food.
If leftovers are inevitable, don’t throw anything away – instead, repurpose your festive veg into Boxing Day bubble and squeak, or shred the rest of the roast turkey and bake it into a delicious post-Christmas pie.
It’s also time to rethink wrapping paper, she says. If it has glitter in it, is laminated, or can’t be scrunched into a ball, it’s not recyclable. This year, her advice is to make sure your paper is fully eco-friendly, and instead of throwing it out, you can easily save it to be used again.
As for cards, according to The Greeting Card Association, nearly 100 million Christmas cards were sold in the UK in 2017. An awful lot of waste, Gallagher says, for something almost immediately thrown away. This year, and in future, why not swap a physical card for a digital one, she suggests.
Green Christmas by Eilidh Gallagher is published by Bloomsbury, priced £10.99 (ebook £7.69). Available now.
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