it's the most wasteful time of the year...

it's the most wasteful time of the year...

Tracey Banks

Christmas adverts are out…Edgar, Kevin, Olaf…excessively expensive commercials to tempt us the Christmas consumer in all of us

It’s the most wonderful wasteful time of the year…we generate about 30 per cent more waste over the holidays, throwing away more than 100 million black bags to landfill, putting toxins into our soil and releasing harmful greenhouse gases.

Therefore even more at this time of year, the small changes we all make individually can make a big difference collectively.

Whilst the negative impact of single-use plastic has never had so much press, it is still everywhere - especially at Christmas, with all its disposable traditions: advent calendars, cards, decorations, crackers and wrapping.

As with other sustainable swaps, it requires a bit of planning and a bit more effort – which will pay ecological dividends.

Christmas the season of giving, eating, drinking, decorating so how can a ‘sustainable christmas’ possibly compare?

No glitz? no glam? no sparkle?

That’s right, no glitter, no plastic, nothing disposable

No excess, no last minute panic buying, nothing superfluous. No fun then?

Wrong. More than fun…creative, rewarding, appreciated, long-lasting and meaningful.

Above all...More Sustainable = Less Waste

Sustainable Christmas. Here’s how.

The Countdown

Made of a composite of plastic and foil encased in a cardboard sleeve this mix of materials make Advent Calendars difficult to recycle as a single entity

Invest in a reusable advent calendar. Fill with low waste gifts, chocolates or activities

Reverse advert calendar. This is where you collect food and toiletry items to donate at the end of the 24 days. You donate to local food banks or charities.

The Messages

An unbelievable 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away by UK households each year, according to Imperial College researchers.

DIY cards. reuse last year’s cards by cutting in half and using as a Christmas postcard (no envelope needed!)

E-cards. They cut your carbon footprint, save trees and save money. Send e-cards and donate the cost of sending greeting cards to charity with

The Trees

The argument goes both ways: real trees are grown and cut down just for Christmas. While in theory an artificial tree will last a long time, in practice people get bored of them and discard them: that's a lot of plastic going into the landfill, and a lot of resources (including oil) wasted while producing it. 

we use as many as eight million natural Christmas trees each year and about seven million are discarded, yet you’d have to use an artificial plastic tree for over ten years to reduce the carbon footprint to that of a real tree. On balance, real trees have been shown to be more sustainable.

Rent a Christmas Tree. The most environmentally friendly solution is to hire one. A growing number of companies will drop the tree off at your house at the beginning of December and pick it up afterwards to be replanted until next year.

(The only one we could find local to Hitchin is The Walled Garden (Stanstead Abbotts, Hertfordshire)

Real Christmas trees can easily be recycled at your local Household Waste Recycling Centre. Some charities will also collect and recycle real trees after Christmas to raise money. Most plastic trees can’t be recycled. If you are discarding a tree (real or fake) next time consider buying a living tree in a pot that can be kept in the garden until you need it each year. Alternatively, look into renting a tree next year.

The Lights

If every UK household swapped a string of incandescent lights for its LED equivalent, we could save more than £11 million and 29,000 tonnes of CO2, just over the 12 days of Christmas.

LEDs are much more environmentally-friendly than traditional twinkling incandescent lights, because they use up to 80% less energy.

Switch to solar-powered lights outdoors, and put both sets on a timer. You'll not only make environmental savings but your energy bills will be reduced too.

Standard plug-in lights are more eco-friendly than battery operated.

Christmas lights can and should be recycled with other WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) at your local recycling and household waste site (tip). Some WEEE may be collected by your district council at the kerbside, check here 

The Decorations

The best Christmas decorations are family heirlooms that emerge year after year – making them instantly sustainable.

Make sure you buy wreaths that include natural moss. Plastic-based floral foam is often used as a backing to hold Christmas wreaths together, which crumbles into small microplastics over time.

Make your own wreath, which can be used for years, using natural materials.

Make your own decorations using string and natural materials, such as pine cones and fruit, which look good and reduce plastic at the same time. Although most plastic-based decorations are used over several years, many (such as tinsel) degrade over time, releasing plastic fragments. Biscuits threaded on ribbon are another option, as are foraged red berries, holly and mistletoe.

The Crackers

The majority of Christmas crackers are laden with teeny, tiny plastic gifts. With over 150 million crackers pulled each year, that’s a lot of plastic waste with a few hours of lifespan before the rubbish bin.

Invest in reusable crackers to replace single-use ones which also allow you to add your own personalised sustainable gifts.

The Wrapping

Enough wrapping paper to wrap around the equator nine times is sold each year in the UK. Unfortunately, much of this paper contains dye, glitter and plastic films which make them non-recyclable. Not to mention the plastic sticky tape still stuck to it.

Choose brown paper wrap instead, using string and/or paper tape to fasten.

Wrap gifts with fabric will not only help to eliminate Sellotape, single-use wrapping paper and plastic ribbons from your home (and, more importantly, from landfill), it will also add a unique, personalised touch to your presents.

You can either gift the fabric wrap to the present recipient, if you think they will use it again, or ask politely if you can take it home to reuse it yourself. Don't be shy in asking this, simply explain that it's part of your efforts to be less wasteful.

Next post…sustainable gift ideas

unpckd recommends:

reusable crackers

reusable fabric gift wrap

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