How To Have A More Sustainable Christmas
For 10 months of the year, we're all about global warming, recycling, sustainability. But when it comes to the festive season we seem to completely lose the run of ourselves!
With approximately $75 billion spent on Christmas gifts, 1.9 billion cards sent, and 20.8 million Christmas trees cut in the U.S. alone, the environmental impact of Christmas is immense.
Irish households will spend an average of €2,690 in shops this December, approximately €866 more than any other month of the year. As a whole, we are expected to spend around €4.5 billion over the Christmas period, just for 1 day!!!!
As a family we are just as guilty of this, we get caught up in the consumerism of it all, and we forget what Christmas is really about. Already I find we are stressing about 'what will we do with the kids?' so that we can get into town to start the gift shopping...when we should be planning gingerbread house baking and paper snowflake crafting!!
So while I was thinking of ways we could be a little more conscientious this Christmas I came across a few ideas I thought you might also enjoy. Maybe if we all just do one of these things this Christmas, it will help to convince others to do the same.
The average person will spend €755.67 on Christmas gifts this year
Shop Local & Ethical
- Many gifts in today’s marketplace come from halfway around the world, and the impact of transportation contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Local craft fairs and artisan shops are a good source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation. And gifts made locally often have a story which goes with the gift, since the artisan and the origin of the gift are known.
All of the items that are sold in the lead-up to Christmas are made in some small way by real people, even factory machines still require human operators. Take the time to consider this before you shop, and seek out fair trade options. Not only will you positively impact on someone's life and a community with your purchase, but you are also making a more sustainable choice. Because they are often handmade, small-batch, and made from recycled or renewable materials, fair trade products are usually the more eco-friendly option to their mass-produced counterparts.
Buy a gift without packaging
- Think about giving an experience as a gift rather than an object. An excellent idea for that picky family member or friend that doesn’t approve of your taste in chocolates, clothes, or even soaps. Trying for something that will create a nice memory to replace the physical object that you might otherwise buy. Buy cooking classes or a day out and take photos.
- In the same vein as giving an experience or a handmade gift, sometimes people don’t want a thing, they want your time. Giving a coupon for free babysitting to your sister-in-law with four kids is often worth more than gold. The same goes for cooking dinner, washing cars, and cleaning out the shed! Give them the gift of a day off from their hectic life, but just be sure to follow through! And the best part is, there’s no waste!
- When it comes to extended family and a large group of friends, why not do a Secret Santa with a set budget. This means you can spend more of your budget on that one gift, making sure its something really special that they will treasure for longer. For some added fun, keep the budget low and make people get creative with their gift ideas! You can also set a theme...the gift must be green, or have a special meaning, or even just funny!!
- According to Repak 6 million rolls of wrapping paper or the same weight as 94,240 Christmas trees are used in Ireland during Christmas. In the US, the annual rubbish from gift wrap and shopping bags totals over 4 million tonnes.
- Choose recyclable wrapping paper and use last year’s Christmas cards as tags. Alternatively, use brown paper and twine with a few fallen twigs from the forest floor tucked into the string – it’s both sustainable and beautiful!
- Don't use metallic wrapping paper. This kind of ‘paper’ is difficult to recycle and it has no value for use as mulch since there are heavy metals used in the foil paper.
- Choose a gorgeous fabric scarf to wrap your gift in – the recipient will love you for the 2-in-1 present. Charity shops and second-hand shops are a good place to shop for them.
- Reuse gift bags, boxes, tissue paper and ribbon kept from last Christmas. If you’re going to use ribbon or raffia to finish off your wrapping, you may not need to use tape. By not using tape, more of the wrapping paper can be reclaimed, and it’s easier for the recipient to save the wrapping for reuse.
- Store-bought Christmas cards are rich, elegant, and expensive. They also consume a huge amount of natural resources for a throw-away item. The amount of cards sold in the US during the holiday season would fill a football field 10 stories high, and requires the harvesting of nearly 300,000 trees.
- Last year’s cards are a good place to start when making homemade ones. Cut out sections of pictures and ‘glue-stick’ them to a folded-over piece of paper. Spend an evening with the kids in front of the fire making cards for friends and family, maybe even with a cup or two of hot chocolate to keep the energy up!!
- Children’s art work is another good source for Christmas card pictures. Even the ‘scribblings’ of the smallest kids are interesting, fun and especially appropriate for the season. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles will probably appreciate a ‘child’s art’ card even more than a shop-bought card.
Did you know that to offset the amount of CO2 generated by a plastic tree you would have to use it for twelve years?
- The carbon footprint of a real tree is actually much lower than that of artificial trees which are typically imported from China and cannot be recycled. Each conifer sucks up over a ton of CO² a year. Typically each tree cut down is replaced with one or two new trees in Ireland. Furthermore, trees brought to local council depots are turned into mulch for parks, putting carbon into the soil. Locally sourced trees which are composted are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
- A natural tree that ends up as splinters for woodwork or is burnt as firewood has a 3.5 kg CO2 carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of an artificial tree is quite bigger, reaching 40 kg of CO2
- If you prefer an artificial tree and don’t already have one, buy a good quality one that will last for at least 12 years rather than a cheap one that will need to be replaced in a few years. Don't forget to check out local buy and sell pages or second-hand shops for some great bargains too.
- Use LED lights which are more energy efficient. LED lights use an average of 75 per cent less energy and can last up to 25 times longer, meaning you'll save both energy (and money!). As an added bonus, if one of the LED lights burns out the rest of the strand will stay lit.
- Use a timer power strip to ensure the lights are off when you’re asleep or out of the house.
- For many children (and adults!) advent calendars make up a big part of the build-up to Christmas. Being more eco-conscious doesn't mean having to sacrifice this tradition entirely, but it should mean making a slight change. Pinterest has some great ideas on how to make your own advent calendar or you could buy one of the beautiful empty wooden ones available and fill it yourself with handmade chocolates or gifts.
- Instead of decorating your outdoor trees with lights, why not decorate them for the birds instead? Place seed bells, suet, pine cones with peanut butter, and seed trays on any tree in your garden (preferably a tree in the open where cats can be seen easily by the birds!).This is great fun for the kids, and offers an important food source for birds during the winter.
Irish shoppers spend an extra €90 million on groceries over the festive period.
- Know where your meat is coming from, try to source it as locally as possible (We get ours from The Friendly Farmer) and make sure it's grass-fed, organically raised meat. Locally grown vegetables from the farmer's market (I highly recommend Green Earth Organics if you don't have a local market), or even some you've grown yourself, all create a sustainable, delicious and healthy meal.
- Avoid going too fancy with your meals. If you can't source it locally or its not in season, pick something else instead. Most of the hero veg of Christmas, such as potatoes, sprouts, carrots, and parsnips, are all in season during the Christmas period. Choosing to switch these staples to organic is a simple and cost-effective swap, especially when you consider how much better they are for you and how much better they taste!
- For store-cupboard basics such as flour, pulses and nuts, try to find a bulk-buy shop in your area. In Galway, we are very fortunate to have the newly opened Filling Station, where you can bring your own containers and pay by weight. If there aren't any locally, try online as the next best alternative.
Planning is the key to reducing food waste this Christmas. Sit down and make some calculations about how much food you will need. Don't get sucked into all the wonderful offers that the supermarket is promoting, make a list, check it twice and stick to it!
Sales of alcohol over the festive period are up almost 6 percent since 2017 – an increase of €13 million
- Opting for organic alcohol not only reduces the impact of fertilisers and pesticides on the environment, but also (apparently) leaves drinkers with less of a hangover than non-organic options. What's not to love?
- Instead of offering kids fizzy, sugary drinks with Christmas dinner, encourage them to drink water or organic fruit juice instead. They won't spoil their appetite and in turn, won't waste food.
- John Lewis has recently made the decision to ban plastic toys from their crackers, in a bid to cut down on plastic waste. If you choose to have Christmas crackers, find ones that contain useful or at least, recyclable, gifts.
- Pinterest has lots of ideas on how to make your own festive crackers, or as an alternative, you could fill little handmade envelopes with a nice quote and an after-dinner mint.
- Christmas means guests, and guests mean a cleaning frenzy (followed by a 'so sorry about the mess' when the guests arrive!). Before you start scrubbing, consider switching to natural and non-toxic cleaning supplies. Amazon has a few really good books on making your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. Invest in some good quality glass spray bottles while you're there too!!
Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- Both for shopping trips and on Christmas day, try to carpool with family, friends or neighbours to decrease fuel consumption and traffic. Make a point to take advantage of public transportation whenever possible, and walk if you have the opportunity
- Plastic bags are cheap, strong, and easy to produce. But they are filling up our landfills, the ocean, and along our roadsides. Bring your own shopping bags into town this Christmas. Reuse old ones, make your own from scrap material or buy good quality reusable ones from a local shop.
So if at the end of all that you feel inspired to make some changes this year, I'd love to hear from you! Maybe you have some ideas of your own that I can share over on Facebook and Instagram. Just drop a comment below and if you have any questions please let me know!
Thanks for reading,