Because not everyone has time to make gifts from scratch.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most wasteful. In the UK we create 30% more waste than usual during the festive period. Last year 125,000 tonnes of that was plastic packaging alone, and that’s not taking into account other materials such as paper, card, glass and food.
But the season doesn’t have to be synonymous with waste. The good news is that you can make a major dent in the amount of rubbish you generate with very little extra effort – you just have to make smart choices. Here’s how.
- Rethink your wrapping paper
The UK sent 277,000 miles of wrapping paper to landfill after Christmas 2017 – that’s enough to reach 90% of the way to the moon. Fortunately, this figure was considerably down on 2016’s (which saw the UK use enough paper to wrap around the world 22 times!) but there’s still a lot to be done.
Most wrapping paper can’t be recycled because of special coatings and inks, so opt for non-shiny or plain brown paper and add some festive cheer with colourful ribbons or your own designs. Another trick is to use old magazines or car maps that are lying around your home. Better yet, use bright fabrics to wrap your gifts – it’s completely reusable and doubles up as an extra pressie in the form of a scarf or napkin. Fabric.com has a great tutorial on gift wrapping with material.
- Play your cards right
The average Brit sends 18 greetings cards in the run up to Christmas, which adds up to a mountain of waste destined for the bin. It goes without saying that any cards you receive should be recycled (or reused as gift tags), but it would be a whole lot better if they weren’t used in the first place. In this age of social media and email, it’s just as simple – if not more so – to send a festive greeting over the internet. Take the money that you’d normally spend on cards and postage and donate it to charity instead.
- Don’t bark up the wrong tree
There’s huge debate around the environmental pros and cons of real Christmas trees versus artificial trees. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re going to do with it after the festive season. More than 250,000 tonnes of trees are thrown away every January – the majority of these have taken around 10 years to grow. Before you opt for a real tree, be absolutely certain you can make sure it’s recycled. Many local authorities now offer tree recycling services, where trees are shredded into chippings used in parks and schools.
If you’re not certain that you’ll be able to recycle your tree, you could be better off choosing an artificial tree – but only if you intend on reusing it for many years. Studies suggest that you need to use an artificial tree for four years before it becomes a better choice in terms of its carbon footprint.
- Food for thought
Food waste is a mounting problem year-round, and the Christmas period only exacerbates matters. Last year, Brits threw away two million turkeys, five million Christmas puddings, 17 million Brussel sprouts and a whopping 74 million mince pies. Top tip? Only buy what you’re going to eat. It sounds obvious but as a nation we love to ‘stock up for Christmas’ as if the shops will never open again!
Consider how many guests you have coming and make a list of the items you actually need – and then stick to it. Having a clear list will make doing the Christmas shop a lot less stressful, too. And if you do end up with leftovers, use them! Love Food Hate Waste has a great recipe creator that lets you search by ingredient, cooking skill level and even dietary requirement, so there are no excuses!
- Present power
Christmas gift giving can be a bit of nightmare. How many times have you opted for the packaging-laden toiletry set for a distant relative because you weren’t really sure what else to go for? How many drawers in your house are home to cheap novelty mugs bestowed upon you by well-meaning colleagues? Christmas is responsible for so much waste largely because we feel like we should be buying, wrapping and giving to anyone and everyone.
But before you rush out to join the throngs of shoppers on the high street, or settle down to an evening of mindlessly clicking things into an online shopping basket, take a moment to think about who you’re buying for and why, and consider the following instead.
- Create a ‘present pact’ with colleagues or casual acquaintances, whereby no gifts are exchanged, but the money that would have been spent goes towards after work drinks, or to a food bank or other good cause.
- Christmas advertising encourages us to pick out the perfect surprise gift for our loved ones, but the fact is, we’re not psychic. Ask friends and family what they really want instead of hazarding a guess.
- Teens and younger people are always going to appreciate gift vouchers for their favourite store – just make sure you go for a digital voucher instead of a plastic card that’ll end up in landfill.
- Choose experiences rather than stuff – what are you more likely to remember in 10 years’ time? A novelty pyjama set and decorative box of bland biscuits, or a fun day out with loved ones?
While it’s true that the festive period is no good for the environment, staying mindful of your waste doesn’t mean putting a stop to celebrations altogether. By making informed choices, planning ahead and reflecting on your beliefs about Christmas consumerism, you can make the very most of the holiday without putting any extra strain on the planet.
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