How important is sustainablity for you at Christmas? Does any eco thinking all go out the window as soon as the John Lewis ad comes out, are you a disciplined eco gifter and
celebrator or are you somewhere in the middle wanting to do more but in reality short of time and ideas?
COP26 made climate change big news this month which is great, even if the overall results seemed somewhat disappointing at least it made the topic widely discussed for a couple of weeks and it feels like real pressure is starting to be put on the government and country leaders to act. It also feels like more and more people are becoming aware that some of the ways we have been ‘consuming’ for decades now need to change – from the use of fossil fuels and plastic to thinking more about re-using and upcycling every day items.
Last year I wrote a blog about making more sustainable choices at Christmas and with festive ads galore, Heart Radio launching Christmas songs and Black Friday and Cyber Monday looming I thought it would be good to reflect my thoughts and ideas for this year before being tempted to fall into the media frenzy of festive splurging.
By the way, did you know that, according to Which, 9/10 Black Friday deals last year had been the same price or cheaper within the prior 6 months??? Now there’s food for thought about the impact of advertising!!!
Christmas is a season that is, in theory, defined by generosity and kindness, however it seems that it is also now associated with being a time of abundance and materialistic consumerism from the amount and value of presents that are gifted, to how you decorate your home, the extremes you go to to visit Father Christmas and what you serve up for your Christmas meal. If there is any positives to come out of a global pandemic then you have to hope that being deprived of seeing some of our loved ones at times last year, including Christmas, has made people think a bit more about what is important at this time of year.
Unfortunately this also means that, whilst this may be hugely enjoyable for some, it can also be incredibly stressful for others and the end result for everyone is a huge expense combined with the creation of somewhat obscene amounts of waste … wrapping paper (quite often not recyclable due to the glitter content or being foil based), plastic packaging, Christmas trees, leftover food, Elf on the Shelf props and unwanted presents that are simply thrown away. Did you know that each year at Christmas…
- 108 million of wrapping paper are thrown away (enough to wrap the island of Guernsey) along with 74 million mince pies and 6 million Christmas trees
- almost 100 million black bags are filled with 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from toys and gifts
- over 21 million people in the UK receive at least one unwanted gift and 5% of those then throw them in the bin
It’s scary stuff when you think about these numbers and this year I am continuing my mission to change the family perspective on Christmas and how we celebrate it to try and minimise some of the negative impacts. So here are some of my old, and new, ideas and reflections on having a more sustainable festive period whilst still having lots of Christmas fun!
If you want to be really eco-friendly when buying your gifts then ideally try to go non-plastic, locally sourced, sustainable and from a small business. Here are some ideas to help:
- Experiences - There are a huge number of experiences to choose from and I love doing this for gifts as I think creating memories with loved ones is far more special than material possessions. From vineyard tours (try Flint Vineyard if you are Norfolk/ Suffolk based) to afternoon tea (themed or not), from zoo keeper experiences or walking with alpacas to race car driving or restaurant vouchers, from theatre or cinema tickets to zorbing – there is normally something you can find to suit most people and most budgets if you put your mind - to it. Try browsing some of the bigger experience day websites like Buy a Gift or Virgin for ideas and then see if you can find someone locally who you can buy direct from … they will definitely appreciate it.
- Vouchers or subscriptions - Some people prefer to give a physical gift I know but magazines (try this site for some ideas), days out, country parks or museum memberships (try Norfolk Museums) or subscriptions will keep on giving all year. Check out attractions near where your recipient lives for ideas or go for a national option like National Trust or English Heritage for annual passes. Think about hobbies and interests for magazine subscriptions or vouchers (check out this site for some more ideas) …. crafting, travel, music, current affairs, fashion, there will be a publication or shopping voucher that will work for nearly any interest.
- Charitable gift – If you want to be truly selfless then think about gifting charitably … you could give a donation, plant a tree for someone or sponsor an animal (check out Concern for a great choice of gifts like providing a goat or a school starter kit for someone in one of the worlds poorest countries)
- Make your own – If you have a talent try making your own gifts for people. Make food gifts like chocolates, jams or home brew and even turn them into a home made hamper or if you can sew, knit or craft then be creative and make personalised gifts for people. I do love browsing Pinterest for inspiration when it comes to making things!
If you are still stuck and worried about buying something that might go to waste then the best idea may just be to ask your friend or family member for ideas so you know you are going to gift them something they really want that will be appreciated and put to good use rather than going to waste.
A huge amount of Christmas wrapping paper is not able to be recycled either because it is foil based, has glitter in the decoration, is actually not paper or has been laminated. One way to test if your wrapping paper is recyclable is to do the ‘scrunch’ test …. try to scrunch the wrapping paper into a ball, if it remains scrunched then it is probably able to be recycled. Personally love the look of Planet Wrap It who can provide recycled (and recyclable) paper, paper tape, twine and accessories.
There are however lots of alternatives to the traditional paper method of wrapping your presents … try some of the following:
- Furoshiki and fabric wrapping – Furoshiki is a Japanese method of wrapping gifts using fabric but you can also wrap gifts using any fabric, even tea towels! Have a look here for a tutorial on how to wrap using fabric.
- Reusable gift bags – Instead of wrapping put gifts in re-usable fabric gift bags that can be used for years to come and add a special touch to your presents. Either have a go at making your own (there are some really simple ways of doing this and I love this version which uses old clothes for the material!) or, if you are just time poor (or not at all crafty, then buy the ready made. I love the look of the Christmas themed ones from Green Heron Designs
- Tea towels – Maybe not your old and worn out tea towels but there are some really pretty ones out there with Christmassy designs or even plain coloured ones you could finish off with some Christmas ribbon, paper tape or just knot them a la Furoshiki!
- Paper recycling – Try recycling your recycling! Kids drawings, newspaper, parcel paper …. make some truly personalised wrapping and let the children help you get creative!
There are lots of information and ideas out there on eco friendly wrapping and far more than I can share! Check out https://ecothriftyliving.com/ for lots of wrapping information and even a course on how to become an expert in sustainable wrapping!
And if you really can’t bring yourself to let go of the good old Christmas paper then think about how you could recycle it …. keep any reusable paper for next year, shred it to use as protective packaging for your parcels, or use sections as polishing cloths for streak free windows.
Christmas trees - I always thought that an artificial tree was a good option for the environment as opposed to a real one (plus it is less messy!) but it turns out that you need to use it for 20 years for it to actually be greener than a real one! We got to about 18 years last year but then ours finally gave up the ghost after multiple cats, dogs and children had had way too much fun climbing inside it!! I do feel a bit disappointed that it was not as worthwhile as I had hoped however we have managed to replace it with a ‘hand me down’ from my father in law so that has made me feel much better about having one that is new to us but not shop bought.
There is a problem though that although real trees may be more environmentally friendly this is really only the case if they are disposed of in the right way. The current estimate is that 7 million real trees are dumped every year rather than recycled. If you are in for the real fir tree for your living room this year maybe investigate renting a tree, companies like Love a Christmas Tree deliver a tree for you to have up over the festive period and then come and collect it and re-plant it when Christmas is over. If you do want to buy your own tree make sure you shop as locally as possible and visit Recycle Now to find your local recycling centre so you can dispose of it responsibly when you are done.
Decorations – Most decorations can be stored away and reused each Christmas which is obviously the most eco friendly approach however if you are looking to add to your decorations or are starting afresh then here are a few pointers:
- Advent calendars really are part of the Christmas tradition, the excitement of counting down from the 1st December can’t fail to get anyone in the festive spirit! Unfortunately single use advent calendars are usually just full of plastic, even if the outer shell is cardboard and may be recyclable, so investing (or making) a re-usable advent calendar is definitely the way to go. There are lots to choose from if making your own is not your thing (try Etsy for some ideas and inspiration), they can be fabric, cardboard or wood and can hang, stand or string! You can then fill them with your choice of treats … from the traditional chocolates and sweets to small gifts, jigsaw puzzle pieces or lego bricks to build part of a puzzle or model each day, jokes, treasure hunt clues or even money or scratch cards which the tweens or teens will definitely appreciate!
I also love the idea of the book advent calendar where you wrap a book for each day of the advent and open one each day to read as a family. You can then store them away and re-use them each year to create a real family tradition.
- Crackers really are a Christmas tradition for a lot of families but also create a lot of waste … I am not sure I can think of much, if anything, that comes out of a cracker that does not end up in the bin whether that is the contents or the construction materials and are often mostly non-recyclable. There are lots more crackers becoming available that are made from recyclable materials and also now more and more that are designed to be re-used and you can fill them with your own mini gifts and treats. Have a look here at what you can buy or some ideas on making your own.
And of course, I couldn’t finish this blog without mentioning my favourite part of Christmas … Christmas Jumpers!! Always check for preloved jumpers for you and the family (including the dogs!) … they tend not to have had the wear that other clothes do because they are so seasonal (although I do wear mine constantly through December!) and 40% are only ever worn once so make great secondhand purchases.
Obviously check out the Twinkling Tiger Christmas shop for preloved jumpers and party clothes for your little people as well as the normal auction sites, preloved clothes shops (like my fave Take Two who also sell online) or swap groups like The Great British Clothes Swap on Facebook. Our school have had a great idea to get those jumpers dusted off and also raise some money by asking for Christmas jumper donations and then selling them on for £2 each with all proceeds being donated to charity … maybe you could organise something similar?
I hope you have found this blog informative and of some help with your Christmas planning and preparation this year. I guess I should take this opportunity to say Happy Christmas and thank you so much for all your support in my first full calendar year of Twinkling Tiger. I hope you enjoy the (hopefully less wasteful!) festive time and fingers crossed we will all be able to enjoy spending it with our nearest and dearest this year!