Better Christmas – celebrating sustainably

2016-11-29-15.34.33.png.pngWell I know I’ve indicated that this post is all about sustainability but I’m going to sneak some ethical stuff in too, hope you don’t mind?

Christmas can be a time of great joy but also of great waste and sadness. People who already have everything they need get still more, while others continue on in poverty. Homes are filled with piles of stuff and waste abounds.

As mentioned in my previous Christmas post, I have no intention of boycotting this celebration as a really love it and firmly believe that it can bring out the best in people and society, as well as the worst.

Here are some ideas help you create a better bootprint this holiday season.

English_food_cycle_diagram_v2Meal planning. Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you have to shop differently. Honestly. Think about the number of meals you will be having and who is going to be there. Buy food accordingly. Yes, people might pop in and it’s nice to offer them a mince pie and a glass of something, but honestly, do you really need another tin of Quality Street? Advertisers want us to believe that our houses will be flooded with unexpected visitors who we must feed and water to within an inch of their lives. But is this really the case? I know that I would never turn up somewhere unannounced and presume to be given access to limitless supplies of Yule Log and Baileys. The amount of food wasted over Christmas is both staggering and sickening. Figures from 2012 (I would guess that they’ve since increased) showed that we throw out the equivalent of 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and a truly shocking 74 million mince pies over the holidays. Numbers like this leave me feeling queasy, especially when I think about the reality of how many go without. For more tips on reducing your food waste visit:

Look for this logo
Look for this logo

Christmas trees. A contentious one I know, but a really big issue. Being brought up in a ‘real’ Christmas tree household, I do feel like Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the magical smell of pine needles. But sadly they do come with their ethical and sustainable downsides. According to the BBC, Britons decorate and throw away over 6 million real Christmas trees during the festive season and this produces an extra 9,000 tonnes of waste. So what can we do to make it better? There are a number of things you can do if you’re buying a real one. Most important is to find out about the tree you are buying. We spend a lot of time focusing on the perfect looking tree, but at what cost? Leo Hickman from The Guardian explains

“The vast majority of the trees we buy from garden centres and garage forecourts are intensively farmed on an industrial scale, sometimes beyond these shores. As with most monocrops, Christmas trees are typically sprayed with potent fertilisers and herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate).”

Trees like these are clearly not an environmentally friendly or sustainable choice. Hickman goes on to explain the importance of seeking out trees that have been approved by The Soil Association and The Forest Stewardship Council, both of whom have stringent checks and can guarantee your tree’s sustainability. Of course it’s also important to aim to get a tree that’s been grow as locally as possible. When you’re done with your tree, make sure you recycle it. Thankfully most councils now do this free of charge. They chip the wood and use in parks.

A great alternative to buying a real tree is renting one, which is what Lucy is doing this year. This ingenious idea has the advantage of creating no waste whatsoever. You simply order and collect a potted tree, enjoy it for the allotted Christmas period and then return it to be planted again. I can’t think of a more perfect solution. If you live in Bristol or nearby, check out

Christmas cards. Most people love receiving Christmas cards. The designs can be beautiful and they add to the decoration in our homes. They are a great way of keeping in touch with people, sharing news and good wishes. However we need to think about what we do with them come January 6th. In 2014 he BBC stated “The Royal Mail delivers as many as 150 million cards per day in the pre Christmas run up and up to 1 billion of those cards end up in the bin. These cards can take up to 30 years to decompose.” It is vital that we recycle these cards properly.

While it is lovely to send and receive cards, it’s not an essential requirement, whatever society might try to convince us. I’ve had messages from friends wishing me a happy Christmas but saying that they are not sending cards and instead will be donating money to a particular charity. I think this is a great idea. You could just take a break this year and support a good cause.

Another way to support causes is to buy charity cards. Supermarkets now offer some of these but I’d urge you to go direct to the charities themselves to ensure they get as much of the profit as possible.

Wrapping paper. As with cards the waste produced by something, which is used so fleetingly, is astonishing. Enough wrapping paper is thrown away in the UK each year to cover Gurnsey. This year I will be wrapping my gifts in newspaper and string. I’m using the travel pages and so far I’m pretty chuffed with the results. By using little or no cellotape I’m also maximizing the amount of paper that can be recycled. Reusing is also another option and I have wrapped a few presents in tissue paper that I have had things carefully wrapped in myself. Plastic waste over Christmas is also terrible so avoid buying gifts in excess packaging. Plastic will never biodegrade so the less we use the better.

I know how you feel Kevin.

Turn off the TV. There is a big increase in the number of hours of TV watched over Christmas. Maybe because people are off work. Maybe because families have reached their amicable conversational limit. Maybe because you can never watch Home Alone too many times. But all the CO2 emissions do add up and the BBC reports that the average Briton watches thirty hours of television during Christmas week, using 61.5 million KWh of energy and generating over 28,000 tonnes of CO2, which is enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 155 times! Shocking indeed. So turn it off every now and again and have a highly competitive game of pick-up-sticks or something.

Christmas lunch, run by The Marmalade Trust

Help someone. Volunteering is a great way to have a better impact on our communities. Last year I volunteered at Caring at Christmas in Bristol and am doing the same this year. Most charities have now closed their Christmas volunteer registrations (don’t take my word for this, have a look) but fear not – you can still do good! Christmas can be a time of intense loneliness for some people. A visit to a neighbor could mean a great deal and is so easy to do. If knocking on doors terrifies you, why not send some cards to cheer up seriously ill children? My friend Jo told me about Postpals and it’s so simple. If you’ve missed the chance to volunteer this year, bear it in mind for 2017. You need to be pretty organised as you will probably need to attend training before you help out. There are so many great organisations out there who need all sorts of helpers, so get looking.

So there you go. There are plenty more ways of making Christmas more sustainable but these are just a few to get you started. I think an important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do everything. Be realistic about what would be good place to start.

If you’d like some tips on more ethical gift giving, click this link 🙂

Wishing you all an ethical Christmas and a sustainable New Year!

Ellie x

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