From trees to crackers to food, our Christmas can really put a strain on the environment. Here's some of our favourite eco friendly solutions to have a more sustainable 2020 Christmas, without compromising on the enjoyment of the special occasion.
Eco Friendly Christmas Trees & Disposing of Them
When it comes to Christmas trees the real tree vs. fake tree debate occurs continually. The general consensus is that the absolute best thing you can do for the environment is buy a Christmas tree and dispose of it responsibly.
Real trees take 10-12 years to grow, during which time they sequester carbon from the atmosphere and provide a home for wildlife. Moreover, deforestation is not really something to worry about when it comes to Christmas trees as the trees are farmed and often on marginal land that can’t be used for other purposes. The best thing to do when buying a tree is to look out for the ‘Grown in Britain’ label or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) symbol. There is even a company called Love A Christmas Tree, who will let you rent a tree and come early January it can be returned to them to replant!
An annual real tree does require a lot more shipping energy than the one-time shipping of an artificial tree, yet given that it is unlikely a person will only ever purchase one artificial tree and the emissions emitted from producing them, real trees will still be better for the environment.
The only time that real trees become more problematic is when they are thrown into landfill. This not only takes up room in landfill, but also the slow decomposition of the Christmas tree produces methane. You should also avoid burning your Christmas tree as it will release the sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere. The best thing to do is to recycle them to be used as woodchips. Many councils offer services to recycle your trees so check with your local one. Alternatively, you can buy potted trees and reuse them for multiple years before planting them in your garden!
However, it is not possible for everyone to buy a real Christmas tree every year, whether that’s due to money, allergies or convenience. Which is why if you are going to buy a fake tree we recommend getting one that you know will last and you will reuse every year. According to the Carbon Trust a two-metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg, more than ten times that of a real tree that’s burned after Christmas. So, to negate this carbon footprint it will need to be used for at least 10 years.
Environmentally Friendly Christmas Decorations
The biggest thing to avoid here is ordering loads of cheap decorations from Amazon that you know won’t last. Instead you can try making some, dried oranges, pine cones and cinnamon sticks can easily be turned into festive decorations. Where you do buy them, try to support local businesses. You will help the environment and more likely end up with unique decorations that will last!
When it comes to lights, make sure you use LEDs rather than incandescent lights as they use up to 80% less energy. Ensure you only have the lights on when they are needed, you can purchase timers/smart plugs if you often forget to turn them out, and these will continue to be useful for other appliances! Finally, switch your outside lights to solar-powered and also put them on timers/smart plugs.
The Carbon Footprint of Emails
Around this time of year you’re probably deleting hundreds of emails from brands you’ve once bought something off a while ago. It’s a mindless activity which certainly doesn’t make you even consider that those emails could be having a detrimental effect on the environment. Yet, an average email emits 4g of carbon. Whilst that may seem like nothing, if everyone in the UK got 10 emails a day, it would add up to 973,090 tonnes of carbon a year. Whilst we are not telling you to delete your email address, maybe unsubscribe to some of the mailing lists you are on – especially those which get deleted as soon as they’re in your inbox!
Eco Friendly Wrapping Paper
What some people don’t know is that most wrapping paper isn’t actually recyclable, often due to the dyes, lamination and glitter. Recycle Now say you should put it to the ‘scrunch test’. When you scrunch the paper up, if it stays scrunched you can recycle it, if it doesn’t, you can’t.
However, we recommend avoiding it at first and seeing whether there is something you can reuse before purchasing wrapping paper. Gift bags are a great idea as they can be used over and over. Alternatively, you can keep wrapping paper from previous years (if unwrapped carefully), or, one of our favourites is reusable wrapping paper.
If you do need to buy new wrapping paper opt for an eco-friendly one by looking out for ones which are made out of recycled materials, are recyclable and some might be certified by FSC. We recommend brown recyclable tape and tying them with string. This year we think brown is the new green and are loving the rustic look.
Sustainable Christmas Cards
Cards can be a great way to wish friends and family a Merry Christmas, especially this year when relatives might not be able to see each other in person, which is why we would never ask you not to post cards. However, we ask that you are careful with how many you buy and send. Do you really need to give a card to those who you will see on Christmas? Alternatively, you can send e-cards via email, which, whilst they do have a carbon footprint, it is much lower than that of a physical card. Similarly to wrapping paper, cards which are laminated, dyed and have glitter on may not be recyclable.
If you do want to wish someone you love a Merry Christmas through a card then consider which cards you buy. You can get some amazing plantable cards, so your friends and family not only get a Christmas message from you, they can also grow flowers from their farm afterwards! Alternatively, opt for recyclable ones that are FSC certified.
One of the most exciting parts of Christmas is possibly the gift-giving. Searching for the perfect present for a friend or family member is one of our favourite parts! However, often people can get it wrong and a lot of unwanted presents end up getting thrown away come January. This is why we recommend asking people what they want for Christmas, or even getting a list of a few things so it is still a surprise! Moreover, when shopping for presents try to shop locally to support small businesses in your area!
Environmentally Conscious Food
Christmas is definitely a time for food! We all love to push the boat out when it comes to food and definitely don’t want to underestimate how much we will need! Our main suggestions here will be to spend a bit of time working out how much you need to avoid food waste, make sure you are buying organic meat from the UK as less transport emissions are involved and where possible go for seasonal vegetables.
A special shout-out needs to go to Iceland who have been the leading supermarket in the sustainability sector. The company really gained recognition for this from their banned palm oil ad and commitment to remove palm oil from all own-brand products. They have since been working hard to remove plastic from their packaging and Managing Director, Richard Walker, recently tweeted that they have doubled the number of products in their reduced-plastic Christmas range for 2020.
One app we think is absolutely perfect for this time of year is Olio. If you do over estimate how much food you need you can use Olio to share it with those around you rather than waste it.
When it comes to booze there’s a few brands doing great things. Brewdog, Toast Ale and Future Brew are all beer brands making a positive impact on the environment. When it comes to wine, boxed wine can have a much lower carbon footprint due to less energy needed to make the packaging and transport the product. When it comes to spirits, Absolute Vodka’s facilities are carbon-neutral and aims to achieve zero-emissions, zero-waste and 100% recycling by 2040. Glengoyne Whisky is powered by 100% renewable energy and is partnered with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, helping to conserve the environment and reduce CO2. One of our biggest suggestions when it comes to alcohol is to buy locally.
Finally, when it comes to serving your food, look into renting! Rather than buying single-use glasses you can rent the extra you made need for entertaining from Waitrose.
Sustainable Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers, essentially cardboard, often unrecyclable, filled with small bits of plastic which will soon go in the bin. It’s slightly scary to think that the little plastic toy in the first cracker you ever pulled is still out there somewhere…BUT, it’s not Christmas without crackers is it?! One of our favourite alternatives is the Advent of Change charity Christmas crackers. These are completely plastic free crackers which instead contain a small card, which can be turned into a Christmas tree decoration using the string, that tells you which charity you have helped by purchasing the crackers. They also contain the classic tissue paper hat and a joke written by one of the 24 celebrities they’ve teamed up with! The crackers are of course recyclable.
Our favourite idea for Christmas crackers are reusable ones. There are some really beautiful ones which you can even get personalised on Etsy and Not On The High Street, both of whom support small businesses. Be sure to also check whether someone local to you makes them. The best thing about these crackers is you can fill them with little gifts that you know the person will enjoy and reuse, rather than them ending up in landfill before the end of the month!
Eco Friendly Advent Calendars
Similarly to crackers, our top recommendation here would be reusable advent calendars! You can purchase gorgeous wooden ones, also from places like Etsy and Not On The High Street. These can be filled either with your favourite chocolates or with little gifts. We love the idea of switching it up a little bit and including a fun challenge or game each day. This could range from eco-friendly focused challenges such as having a meat-free day, or for children you could include a small arts and crafts item for them to build/colour in, get creative with it!