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Our Top Tips for an eco friendly Christmas

Sarah Ferriss and Sarah Smith

After almost two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us will be seeing family and friends for the first time in a long time, and will be hoping for a very special Christmas . On the other hand, with the close of the recent COP26 on climate change, the clear and urgent need for us to live sustainably has never been more apparent.

Christmas generates a huge amount of additional waste, from hundreds of thousands of tonnes of excess food, to thousands of tonnes of plastic packaging, millions of cards, and countless unwanted presents. For example, supermarkets sell approximately 750 million individual Brussels sprouts at Christmas time, but the estimated number eaten is only about half of that.

So how can we embrace the festive season and do it sustainably. Here are some ideas.

Keep it simple- Christmas can sometimes be an overwhelming and expensive time with immense pressure to buy and consume more, increasing the temptation to grab the most convenient and less sustainable option. By keeping it simple and thinking about what is really important to you at Christmas, what traditions are special to you, and what gifting style works for you and your family, you may find you can have a more sustainable and cheaper Christmas too. This can also help to avoid sustainability being another thing on the to do list, adding to the burden or expense of Christmas. Many families we know have replaced buying gifts for everyone with a “secret santa” where everyone gets one truly special gift.

Eat sustainably – food waste plays a huge part in the environmental footprint of Christmas. Try to only buy what you need, and be sure to use or freeze any leftovers. Home made mince pies and other treats - or if you are not a baker, bought from local markets - are a lovely alternative to supermarket ones in a lot of packaging. For Christmas dinner, choose veggies that are sold loose and not wrapped in plastic, either in your local supermarket, or try a local vegetable box, organic if possible.

Shop sustainably – While it is lovely to to give gifts and bring pleasure to our friends and families, we also buy, and later throw out, 1000s of tonnes of unwanted toys, clothes and other items, as well as all the packaging that gifting brings. The good news is, with a little thought, there are loads of sustainable options out there. Buying less, buying second hand, and gifting experiences can substantially reduce the environmental footprint of Christmas as well as the cost.

It’s amazing what you can find in second-hand shops and online local selling groups. For our children, the idea that a gift is second hand adds value as they know and appreciate that it therefore has a lower carbon footprint than a new item. It may take a little more time to scout out the options, but it is definitely worth it.

If you are keen to buy new, why not buy fewer, and more high quality, longer lasting items. Shopping local has a lower carbon footprint for delivery and supports small and independent businesses, many of which make big efforts to be sustainable.  Or visit a local vintage shop for a truly unique gift. Choose eco-friendly products, for example an eco swap-box or focus on gifts that people need and will use, from unwrapped organic soaps to kitchen essentials.

Gifts experiences can also make great low impact options. This might be a gift of time – a babysitting voucher or a special day out, or home made cake or hand knit scarf (though our skills fall down with the latter!). We gifted guitar lessons to one of our children which he has absolutely loved, and to build on that, concert tickets will be next!

Alternatively, many charities offer eco-friendly gifts such as planting trees or sponsoring wildlife conservation. 

Wrap Sustainably - A lot of Christmas paper and cards cannot be recycled and end up in landfill. Look for the recyclable label, and paper which is FSC certified or recycled. Or switch from paper to e-cards and reusable fabric wrapping or gift bags. You can do the same for other Christmas items -choose reusable or recyclable crackers, decorations and tableware to help reduce your Christmas footprint.

We hope this is helpful. And of course all the ideas above also apply to other festivities and celebrations, including birthdays. So plenty of opportunities to celebrate and to give, without it costing the earth.

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