Here are our top tips for avoiding single-use plastic and going for a more sustainable Christmas this year. The ‘at a glance’ message is to buy less, buy good quality, buy local if you can and make sustainability central to your choices over the festive period.
1. Christmas Cards
Are you a die-hard Christmas card-sender or do you avoid them? There’s no denying the sentiment behind them can be lovely, when some care has gone into a proper message. But so many of us may have been guilty of just signing our names over the years without much more thought than that! So, why not run through this checklist of things to consider when purchasing Christmas cards:
- Do you really need to send lots of cards? When did you last go through your list of people with whom you exchange cards? Make a list of the people that you feel you really need to send physical cards, and maybe just email or message others.
- If you really want to send them, can you buy recyclable, sustainable cards? Cards with glitter or a plastic coating can’t go in the recycling bin – and keep an eye out for FSC Certified cards, which means the paper has be responsibly sourced.
- How about making a charitable donation instead of sending cards, and sending a newsy email instead?
- What about giving people a phone call rather than sending a card? This year in particular has been such a difficult year for so many, perhaps hearing your voice would really give people a lift instead of sending a card?
2. Wrapping Paper
Great news! We’ve seen a huge increase in the options for plastic-free wrapping paper in the last couple of years. The key things to remember with choosing wrapping paper are that if it has glitter on it, as much as it looks pretty, it’s not great for the environment, and that lots of shiny/glossy wrapping papers have a plastic coating. So try to go for matt papers if possible.
We invested in a couple of beautiful ink stamps a few years ago, and use those to decorate plain brown paper together with colourful cotton string to wrap presents. You can also use paper tape to avoid plastic altogether!
3. The Tree!
Ah, the Christmas Tree. Such a key part of most people’s Christmas, there are a few options for making your tree choice as sustainable as possible. Some people will only ever have real trees, and some love their fake tree. Here are some things to think about:
- If you buy a cut tree, make sure it has been sustainably and locally sourced, and make sure you dispose of it properly after Christmas. Most local councils offer a chipping service where you can drop your tree and it will be turned into wood chips for mulching or compost.
- Did you know you can hire real potted Christmas trees? You get a healthy, real Christmas tree and give it back after the festive period and it will continue to grow and live to see another year!
- If you don’t want to rent a tree, you can buy a small tree in a pot and keep it year on year until it eventually becomes too large and needs planting out. It will capture carbon as it grows and potentially provide a habitat for wildlife while it is outside.
- If you already have a fake tree – that’s OK! Just keep it for as long as you can. Good quality fake trees can last for 20/30+ years! If you are thinking about buying one, we’d urge you to think twice if possible. Aside from the impact of the manufacture of the tree (mostly plastic) and import into the country (most are made in China) in the first place, they are pretty much impossible to recycle at the moment so they will (eventually) end up in landfill. If you are dead set on a fake tree, go for the best quality one you can afford, and this will hopefully last for a really long time.
4. Christmas Decorations
Try to avoid cheap plastic decorations and baubles for your tree. Go for natural decorations from the garden if you can, collect fir cones or get the kids to make decorations. If you aren’t feeling crafty, invest in beautiful, good quality glass baubles that will become heirlooms, passed down along with memories of Christmas’s past.
You can also think carefully about the kind of advent calendar you use. We have a reusable advent house that we have used for over 10 years – each year, we fill it with plastic-free treats, and it has become a part of our Christmas family tradition, we love it!
5. Secret Santa
Love it or hate it? We conducted a survey in 2020 on what people really think about Secret Santa gift exchanges, and the results showed a real mix of opinions. One of the key findings that shone through was that it’s fine when you know who you are buying for, and when the budget is slightly higher.
Plastic-free food and drink are always a good option, or try to find out what the person you are buying for really likes first. There is no point in buying cheap gifts that end up in the bin the next day. Go for sustainable and good quality gifts if possible. And if you really dislike the whole Secret Santa thing, try to encourage people to donate to charity or avoid it altogether instead.
6. Plastic-Free Gifts
Unfortunately, Christmas gift buying is often synonymous with a huge amount of plastic packaging! Here are our top tips to avoid ending up with a mountain of un-recyclable rubbish after the event…
- Experiences: Do we really need more ‘stuff’? Buying experiences for loved ones for Christmas can be really novel and help make some wonderful memories. Whether it’s membership to their favourite day out, bungee-jumping or chocolate making, there are some brilliant ideas out there.
- Quality over quantity: Try to buy good quality presents that will last over numerous cheap plastic gifts. Find out what people would really like rather than guessing, which may end up in your gift being re-gifted elsewhere or ending up in the bin.
- Donations: For the person who has everything, a donation to a charity of their choice is a great gift.
- Second hand: For unique gifts, why not look in antique or charity shops? This has the added benefit of reusing something ‘preloved’ and can often result in really interesting presents.
- Home-made: Are you a brilliant baker or clever craftsman? Home-made food and drink gifts can be a great idea, as can other crafty home-made presents, with the added bonus of being made with care by you.
- Plants: Plants for the garden or seeds are a great option for anyone who likes gardening, and this year there are a whole swathe of newly motivated gardeners who, thanks to Coronavirus, have really been enjoying their gardens this year! Bee bombs for pollinator-friendly plants are a great idea, bug and hedgehog hotels – nature really needs a helping hand in our gardens, which we tend to over-tidy these days.
- Use Local Artisans: This year has seen a proliferation of small, artisan businesses springing up. Often the products, whether it’s food, soft furnishings, soaps, jewellery or furniture, will be locally made and packaged sustainably (or you can ask for it to be so!).
- Cold Hard Cash: Yes, it feels like a bit of a cop out but some people can be really hard to buy for. Cash or vouchers can be a great idea as the recipient can buy exactly what they would like, which will hopefully result in less waste!
7. Christmas Dinner
Oh yes, we will eat and then eat some more… But, how can we make all this eating a bit more environmentally friendly? The key thing is to buy locally sourced, seasonal food for your festivities. Use your local greengrocer or farm shop, you can usually avoid unnecessary plastic packaging if you shop locally and take your own bags. Go big on your veg, but if you are a meat eater, make sure you buy good quality meat that has been responsibly sourced.
8. …And Crackers
We are really happy that over the last couple of years, retailers have started to embrace plastic-free Christmas Crackers. For so many years, the traditional Christmas Crackers that festooned our tables were filled with pointless plastic that would usually go straight in the bin. But thankfully now, from big businesses like M&S and John Lewis to small independent sellers, plastic-free crackers are becoming much more mainstream.
Making your own is also a great option. You can buy ‘fill your own’ kits containing the shell, party hats and the ‘cracker’ bit and then fill them with your own choice of little gift or toy (plastic-free, of course!), or you can make your own from scratch. We have seen some amazing crackers made using fabric and old loo roll tubes that can be reused!
9. Leftover Food Storage
How do you store left over food? Christmas is the prime time for leftovers, and may be the time that historically you wrestled with the cling film to store it in the fridge. Cling film is one of those impossible to recycle materials, and if you invest in a few reusable items you will find you never need it again. I have an old roll of cling film in my kitchen drawer and it hasn’t been used for over 3 years – I still keep it just in case and because there’s no point throwing it out!
Instead of clingfilm, you can use a combination of:
- Beeswax wraps: Great for covering plates/bowls of food in the fridge, or wrapping solid leftovers and cheese etc. They last for ages, you can buy them in many more mainstream shops these days or even make your own (some great tutorials on Youtube like this one)
- Tupperware tubs: Most people have THAT cupboard, you know the one where all the lids fall out whenever you open it! However, they are great for storing leftovers and we have some that are years old and still going strong.
- Tins: All those Christmas tins of Quality Street (other brands are available) are great for leftover cakes/biscuits/panettone etc.
- Silicone covers: These are super stretchy and great for popping over plates and bowls.
- Foil: Use sparingly as it’s still single-use (unless you can keep it clean).
Quite simple really – make sure you avoid hard to recycle drinks-packaging over the Christmas period. We avoid single-use plastic bottles if possible, even if they are technically recyclable, but if you do use them, make sure they are clean and dry before you put them in the recycling bin. Aluminium cans are infinitely recyclable and are a better option, or glass bottles. We have noticed some new brands of cocktail on the market that come in individual bags, which will no doubt be hard to recycle, so try to avoid these if possible.