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Just a few short weeks until Christmas, peeps! Who’s getting excited? Our Christmas tree will be going up on the 1st of December, the whole house will soon start smelling of cinnamon and orange. The thought of twinkly fairy lights makes me feel all warm inside. My children are overexcited about their advent calendar activities coming out and they’re already planning their letters to Father Christmas. We’ll be having a more sustainable Christmas this year, so read on for eco-friendly gifts and ideas.
Look after the planet this Christmas
Sorry (not sorry) if I dampen the Christmas spirit with what comes next, but I also firmly believe it’s our job to look after our planet and not add to the piles and piles of rubbish that pollute our environment. If we keep doing what we’re doing and don’t change a thing, here is one of the things that are going to happen: there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. (Source: Center for Biological Diversity)
I know, I know. Some rubbish piling up here and there is probably not doing to dramatically wreck our quality of life as we know it now. How about our children and our children’s children though? Picture this: a gap year in Thailand. What do they see everywhere they go? Mountains and mountains of rubbish. A honeymoon in the idyllic lagoons of Bora Bora? Debris everywhere, floating bottles and bits of plastic, a pod of dolphins swimming nearby. It is actually happening now (source: Ocean Crusaders). Just imagine how much worse it’s going to get if we do nothing.
It is my responsibility, your responsibility, OUR responsibility to start changing things. We don’t have to be drastic and can change things little by little. I also believe it’s our duty to educate our children so they don’t become as wasteful as our own generation. I don’t mean by any means that we should all move to hippy communes, start wearing handmade hemp clothes, hand make everything we own or chant to the gods of rain to make our crops abundant. That would be way too ‘out there’ for me, but we definitely need to slowly (but surely) shift the way we do things to go back to a more eco-friendly way of living.
Small changes really matter
Do I mean you should have a complete house declutter and throw away all your plastic water bottles, Tupperware boxes and your kids’ plastic toys? Absolutely not! Replacing stuff is wasteful. Just keep what you’ve got and use it until it’s gone towards the end of its life. The thing is “Plastic is incredibly versatile and long-lasting, finding its way into every corner of our lives. But the very qualities that make plastic so useful also make it a huge problem. Cheap and disposable, plastic has been a symbol of our throwaway culture.” (source: Greenpeace)
Single use plastic is what we have to try and eradicate, not durable plastic we use for years and years and years. We have DUPLO bricks at home that were passed on by the kids’ great-uncle. His 5 boys played with the bricks in the 80s and 90s and my children have been playing with them since 2009. When we’re done with them, they’ll go to a school, hospital, playgroup or friends.
Small changes make all the difference. It’s actually more effective to have lots and lots of people doing small things towards a greener future than one person doing ALL the things. You can dramatically reduce your environmental footprint by focusing on provenance of what you’re buying. If you think twice about the presents you’re buying, you’ll also save money. Chances are you won’t end up buying tons of plastic rubbish that recipients will sell on eBay the day after Christmas. Who’s with me?
What better time to get started than now? Are you ready for a few realistic (and not that drastic) ideas for a more sustainable Christmas?
Top 10 things you can do to have a more sustainable Christmas this year:
1- Eco-friendly advent calendars
My green Christmas tips start with the very beginning of the Christmas season: advent. Is it just me who finds the chocolate in most advent calendars absolutely revolting? I remember being really disappointed as a child. I expected some tasty praline in a fine layer of delicate chocolate yet ended up with cardboard-tasting muck every single day. Bleurgh! I think that was my incentive to rethink the way I did advent calendars when I had my own children.
We were lucky because when Crevette was born, my auntie asked me if I wanted my cousin’s old fabric advent calendar. Mélissa had outgrown it about 10 years previously. It smelt a bit musty and needed a bit of a refresh, but I thought it was perfect! It’s been Crevette’s advent calendar ever since. The first year I had it, Crevette was an infant so I didn’t fill it. Instead, I spent the festive season upcycling it. I sat on the sofa trying to mend it, cutting and sticking numbers on felt for each little bag and trying to make the whole calendar look nice.
As I had more children, their first Christmas present from someone special (godparents, great-nan, grandad) was their own wooden advent calendar. My four absolutely love them and they know the calendars are coming our on the first of December each year. The thought that those calendars will one day be reused by my children’s children makes me pretty happy!
Every day during advent, the children either get little notes with things to do (crafts, watching a Christmas film, reading stories, singing Christmas carols together, living room disco with Christmas tunes etc.). On days I can’t be bothered to think of something to do, they get a chocolate each. I don’t like putting unwrapped chocolates in the calendars so I tend to go for Lindt chocolates wrapped in foil (can be recycled). They’re generally slightly too big to fit in the girls’ tiny wooden drawers so I write something along the lines of, “Look in the cutlery drawer” and hide the treats on there. They love the ‘treasure hunt’ element as much as they the chocolate they get at the end. In an ideal world, I’d buy high quality handmade chocolates wrapped in biodegradable material, but I can’t afford that. You’ve got to be realistic, right?
We also made our own reindeer advent calendar with toilet paper tubes and paint a few years ago and that was lots of fun. Click here for the blog post for instructions. We’ve still got most of the little reindeer!
Does this mean we never succumb to peer pressure and have no other Christmas calendar? No, actually. We’ve bought or been sent Smiggle, Playmobil, Lego and Hatchimals calendars as well in the past few years. Rather than one each, the children share and take it in turns to get a surprise.
Again, it wouldn’t be realistic or sustainable to change everything. Reducing waste is a small step towards a less wasteful way of life. If done little by little, I honestly think we won’t look back. We’ll also build on our new habits rather than reverting to our wasteful ways.
2- Is there such a thing as an eco-friendly Christmas tree?
A fake tree you keep for a few years might not be a greener option than a natural Christmas tree. In fact, it could take as long as a decade or two for this option to be a more sustainable one. Obviously, if you’ve already got a fake tree, keep using it. The environmental impact would be greater if you dumped it and found an alternative option rather than keeping your plastic Christmas tree.
If you buy a cut Christmas tree from a local grower, the impact on the environment won’t be particularly negative as the grower will replant new trees, and there’s no issue with carbon footprint either.
The issues arises when you dispose of your tree. If you are opting for a cut tree, make sure you recycle it rather than letting it end up in landfill like millions of people do every year come January.
Here are a few things you could do to recycle your old Christmas tree:
Chop it up and leave it to dry so you can use it in your fireplace or in a fire pit.
If you know someone with a wood chipper, turn your tree into wood clippings that can be used as mulch in your garden.
– Head over to Recycle Now to find out where your old Christmas tree can be turned into wood chips that will be used in local parks and woods.
Alternatively, you could rent or buy a potted Christmas tree from Love a Christmas Tree.
3- Eco-friendly Christmas decorations
Why not go plastic free with sustainable ornaments that come out Christmas after Christmas? You can also make your own felt decorations, thread biscuits on ribbon or make decorations with wood slices from last year’s Christmas tree.
4- Christmas lights or no Christmas lights?
To be more energy efficient, switch to LED Christmas lights, which don’t overheat as much as traditional Christmas lights and use a lot less energy.
Outdoors, why not use solar-powered lights?
For some Christmassy feel, why not make our really easy Christmas lanterns? They take under 10 minutes each to make and look really effective!
5- Sustainable Christmas wrapping options
Use recycled wrapping paper, brown paper or tissue paper.
Wrap presents in fabric – pretty scarves and tea towels are ideal for this.
Reuse gift bags rather than recycling them.
Make your own gift bags using brown bags.
Gift tags can be homemade or you could use brown card tags.
Make your own little gift tags using a stamp like those great ones from Stamptastic (we were sent PR samples).
6- Sustainable Christmas cards
For the first time last year, I didn’t buy or make a single Christmas card. Normally spend hundreds on stamps and cards for our family and friends. It was 2019 after all and everyone in our family either had social media or access to a smartphone (both of the above in the case of my 85-year-old nan!), so I simply posted a couple of my favourite photos of my children in their festive pyjamas on social media.
It does feel odd though not sending our usual personalised Christmas card, and I have to admit I love keeping ours year after year. I know quite a few of our family members keep them too so I think we might go back to eco -friendly Christmas cards this year (check our reindeer and snowman thumbprint ones here), at least for close family members. The children wanted to write a few Christmas cards, so they got creative and used pens and paper to create their own little cards.
As I was doing a bit of research to find unique cards that would benefit the environment in some way, I spotted Rani Deshpande’s creations. ‘Plant a Bloomer‘ is all about cards and paper gifts using a unique seed paper made from recycled materials. When planted, the paper breaks down into the soil and the seeds germinate to produce seedlings. I absolutely love the idea behind these cards and although they’re quite expensive, I think they’re a brilliant idea.
Another nice alternative is to opt for cards that are made of 100% recycled materials. Always make sure the cards you get do not have elements you can’t recycle, like glitter or sticky foam parts. You could also make your own Christmas cards.
7- Food provenance and food waste
The best way to reduce food waste is to buy less. It’s not always easy, especially when you’ve got guests coming round, but carefully planning your meals and buying what you need is the most effective way to reduce wastage.
Try to source your food from small-scale producers. The Soil Association, a charity and organic certification body, is the best place to start.
Add food scraps and peelings to your green bin or composter if you have one. After Christmas, make sure you use your leftovers. You can even use your turkey carcass to make stock.
8- What do you wear during the festive season?
Go for sustainable materials and avoid sequins, made from PVC with no biodegradable alternative.
Rather than splashing on new clothes for the festive season, how about repurposing outfits or getting ‘capsule’ pieces you’ll still want to wear after Christmas? Charity shops are also brimming with pre-loved party wear, so why not opt for second hand bits?
9- More sustainable Christmas crackers
Instead of getting single-use crackers, you could go with reusable ones. Some are made from natural linen and it’s such a lovely touch to add your own personalised gifts to the paper hat and joke.
10- Eco-friendly gift ideas
Want to be more environmentally friendly this Christmas? Buy less. It’s that simple. Give a bit more thought to what you’re gifting and reduce the amount of presents you get for people. Asking family members what they’d like as a present is a good idea to make sure you’re not getting them something they don’t want or need. Similarly, telling people what you need or want will reduce the chances of tat gathering dust in a corner.
Children are a bit different. They might think they’ve been forgotten by Father Christmas if there is only only one gift under the Christmas tree. To make sure Christmas still feel really special and abundant, get them a book, something to wear, something they need as well as something they want. That way, they’re still getting a few gifts, but instead of just plastic tat, they’re more meaningful presents and things they actually need.
For more ideas on how to have a more eco-friendly Christmas, check my friend Eilidh’s book, Green Christmas*.