Mountains of wrapping paper, tons of packaging, unwanted presents and uneaten food that is scraped off plates. Christmas is the ultimate time of excess. And we are probably all guilty of some of the above. In order to make this time of year extra special we tend to overbuy and as a result, create an extra amount of waste.
In fact, an iReach survey commissioned by a supermarket chain found that during Christmas week 50% more food is wasted in Irish households than any other week of the year. Similar figures have been published throughout the years concerning black bin waste and recycling.
So, why not rethink the way we do Christmas? Reducing our consumption and choosing sustainable alternatives doesn’t just make a difference to the planet but also to your wallet. Here is your step-by-step guide to a more sustainable Christmas!
Use What You Have & Be Creative
Regardless if you want to achieve a more sustainable Christmas or a more eco-conscious lifestyle in general, this is rule number one: The most sustainable thing is ALWAYS the item you already have!
So if you already have an artificial tree that is made from cheap plastic, use it and love it year after year. Same goes for decorations. They might be made from plastic and have been shipped halfway around the globe to get to you but using them year after year after year at least makes all that energy and those emissions ‘worth it’.
Sometimes you already own things that can be repurposed and prevent you from buying something new. This could for example be some waste timber that could get a second life as a reusable wooden Christmas tree. Or decorations made from cinnamon sticks, dried oranges or foraged greenery. If you let your creativity flow and maybe break a little with typical Christmas traditions you’ll be surprised what you can come up with!
Food & Drink
Buying a lot of food for Christmas seems almost like part of the festivities. After all, we don’t want to run out of anything. However, instead of buying ‘just in case’ spend a little time preparing a shopping list. This doesn’t just include a list of ingredients but also amounts. Estimate how many portions of each meal you will need and what size portions these should be. Remember to half them for kids. Savethefood.com have a very handy calculator that can give a better indication of what you’ll actually need.
Shop Local Ingredients
Does it make a difference where the food comes from if it is organic? Yes, it still makes a difference. The reason is the transport and the associated emissions from that. When you shop from local producers you also support your local economy, which is always a good idea.
According to onegreenplanet.org a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings emits 23.5kg of carbon dioxide – you could drive your car for 125km for that amount. So reducing the amount of meat you serve this Christmas or going for a full vegan or vegetarian dinner will have a huge impact on that figure. A great and very popular alternative to a traditional meat roast is a nut or vegetable roast. Jamie Oliver has many easy to follow and free recipes on his website!
Opt for Reusable Food Storage
When it comes to a sustainable Christmas dinner, food storage is a bit of an afterthought. However, even with the best planning, chances are you will have some leftovers (for those infamous Stephen’s Day Sandwiches). While wrapping them in tinfoil or clingfilm seems like the easiest option it is also the most wasteful. Instead, opt for reusable food storage. This can be a good old bowl covered with a plate, a reusable container or some beeswax food wraps.
Gifts, Toys & Wrapping
Shop Small, Irish & Ethical
Ireland has such a huge variety of small ethical businesses, and most of them have set up an online shop over the last 18 months, so there really is no need to shop elsewhere. Gifts made in a sustainable way by a business here in Ireland are kinder to our environment and to our economy.
Organise Kris Kindle or Secret Santa
Finding a meaningful gift for all our loved ones can be an almost impossible task. Reducing the number of our giftees by organising Christmas in a Kris Kindle or Secret Santa kinda way can make all the difference. Instead of loads of gifts, you will only have to get one or two and in most cases, your giftee will have a wish or two to ensure that your present will be cherished.
Just put all the names of the group taking part in a hat. Everyone pulls out the name of their giftee and you are sorted. For families living abroad or a group of friends, you could use online Secret Santa generators like elfster.com
Choose Sustainable Gift Wrap Options
Wrapping paper is probably one of the most wasteful things about Christmas. Think about it, the paper is produced to make a present look lovely for a few minutes and to end up in the bin a short while later. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable which means it will end up in landfill. Why not ditch the paper altogether and opt for some reusable options instead. Cloth, glass jars, recycled brown paper, gift boxes & bags, kids drawings or old maps & sheet music are all great options. When you receive a wrapped gift, open it carefully and you will be able to re-use the wrapping paper afterwards.
When you need to bin wrapping paper, do the scrunch test to know how to dispose of it correctly. Scrunch the paper in your hand, if it stays scrunched it is recyclable – if it unravels or springs back it, unfortunately, needs to go into your black bin.
Regift, Shop Preloved or Make Your Own
Giving a gift that you have received yourself is somehow frowned upon. Although it actually is the most sustainable thing you can do. Remember: use what you already have. So if you have an unwanted gift that you know someone else would love - go for it! Same goes for second-hand present shopping. Often second-hand shops or preloved selling sites are a real treasure trove. With a bit of luck you’ll find items in almost new condition and for just a fraction of the retail price (and of course, you are participating in a circular economy!).
Making your own gifts is also a great option to make gifting more sustainable. There are tons of tutorials on Youtube on how to make candles from wax scraps, bath bombs and other useful things. Or simply bake some cookies and present them in a self-designed box.
There is no rule that says you can only gift ‘things’. Experiences make such a great gift, especially when you combine them with your own time. Like for example a visit to the theatre together or a spa break. That way your giftee gets to go somewhere nice and spend quality time with you! Memberships or yearly passes for local attractions like museums are also a great choice.
Choose Toys for Longevity & Quality over Quantity
When you have kids or maybe nieces or nephews you might agree that little ones add a certain kind of magic to the festive season and the presents are, of course, a highlight for them. It is all too easy to get swept away by the ‘hottest toy of the year’ wave. However, those toys are often made from plastic in china and are designed in a way that kids will want the subsequent toy soon after.
For younger kids, you have so many lovely sustainable choices of wooden toys. Check your local toy shop or have a look at online options like Rainbow Kids Boutique or Little Ones. Older kids might not necessarily be satisfied with wooden toys, however, you can still choose to gift them toys that will stand the test of time. One of the most popular choices is Lego. Even though it is made from plastic it will be played with for a long time and can be passed on to younger siblings or the next generation. Same goes for other brands like Playmobil or Schleich.
Avoid Excess Gifting for Kids
In order to reduce the number of gifts for kids, you can follow this rule, which is proofing very popular with parents over the last couple of years. It is known as the four gift rule and goes as follows:
Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear.
Something to read.
Rent a Christmas Tree or Get a Potted Tree
If you already own an artificial tree, don’t feel bad – embrace it! Use it until it falls apart and know that this is the MOST sustainable choice for you. If you are, however, in the market for a tree this year your most sustainable option are either potted trees or rented ones.
Your local garden centre might have a rental service for already potted trees. They will be delivered to your door and collected after Christmas to be reused again next year. If you have the space, you could, of course, get your own potted tree and reuse it year after year. Potted trees should be pot grown, otherwise, they might not survive in the pot for long.
Should a potted tree not be an option for you, find a supplier of sustainably and locally grown Christmas trees. Your last resort is getting a second-hand artificial tree!
Forage for Decorations
Decorating your house together for Christmas can be a lovely family tradition. Before you head to the shop and buy all the plastic decorations, why not plan a woodland walk instead and forage for them. Get some greenery, holly boughs, acorns, twigs and pine cones; and combine them with dried orange and apple slices and cinnamon sticks. These make for great garlands, wreaths, ornaments and centrepieces.
To fill your home with a lovely Christmassy scent you can simply place orange or citrus peel on the radiator. For a bit of extra spice stick some whole cloves into an unpeeled orange and place it on the radiator or around the house.
Second-Hand & DIY Decorations
If foraging isn’t for you, keep an eye on Facebook Marketplace or similar second-hand sites for preloved Christmas decorations. Often you come across huge selections of ornaments etc for very little money or even for free. So you do not only give these a new lease of life but you are also saving money!
Why not plan a craft afternoon with the entire family to make your own decorations? These can be made from waste paper (like scraps, old drawings, newspapers, sheet music etc), fabric scraps, random bits and bobs or salt dough (google the recipe, it is super easy). These will be fun to make and with a bit of careful handling will last you for years to come.
Keep Lights to Minimum and Choose LEDs
Is there anything more magical in December than the twinkling of fairy lights? They make everything cosy and warm. However, in recent years the trend has gone to loads of lights inside and outside our homes. You probably see the increased emissions this produces when your electricity bill for December spikes. Besides reducing the number of lights and lit-up figures around your house, you could also make sure to choose energy-saving LEDs that use up to 99% less energy than traditional bulbs. Also, limit the amount of time your Christmas lights are on – a plug-in timer can handle all that for you!
Christmas Cards & Parcels
DIY Christmas Cards
Even though eCards are obviously the more sustainable options to send your seasons greetings, most people opt for traditional cards at Christmas. And who doesn’t like to get a bit of cheerful holiday post?
Instead of buying your cards, you could make them yourself though. All you need is a bit of waste paper, some colours and maybe a nice pen. If you don’t feel like getting creative yourself you could always recycle some of the Christmas cards you received the previous year. Simply cut the cover (or even just elements of the design) off last years card and attach it to a blank sheet of paper to write your greetings on.
Post with AnPost
While you probably post Christmas cards with AnPost anyway, you might be tempted to send any parcels with one of the many couriers available in Ireland. However, since AnPost is already on the road and passes every single house in the country anyway on a daily basis it is the more sustainable postage option. Think about it: A courier only makes a journey if there is a delivery, once there is no delivery the journey and associated emissions are saved!