At Christmas, we buy and buy and buy. The festive season has become a celebration of wealth and this frenzy of buying results in a massive amount of landfill.
There is no denying Christmas could be dialled down a little, made a little greener, gentler, and maybe a bit more real along the way...
Deck the halls
We love the decorations. Tinsel and shiny tree ornaments, fairy lights and goofy Santas — it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. But they are about as green as the colour purple, so how to enjoy them without doing damage? There’s no way that these items made of plastic and petroleum by-products in a factory thousands of kilometres away are ever going to be okay, but don’t throw out what you have — just don’t buy any more. Pack everything away and use it again next year, and the year after that, and the … Re-using over a long period is better than sending them to landfill.
If you’re starting afresh, it’s a good idea to build up a collection of hand-made ornaments that will last you years. Look around local markets — craftspeople are making beautiful decorations out of natural materials.
If you can, use a real tree. It will fill the house with forest fragrance and most councils have a recycling program in the new year. Real trees are grown in managed forests, where for every tree harvested, one or more trees are planted. The chemicals and manufacturing processes of artificial trees are much worse for the environment. Not to mention the fuel for shipping — whereas your real tree is likely to come from close to where you live.
We tend to go a bit overboard with lights at this time of the year and it’s worth remembering that LEDs use less electricity, don’t generate heat, and last longer.
Turkey, pudding and pie
For that once-a-year feast, source food as locally as possible. Imported clementines in a light rum syrup might look festive, but do you really need luxuries that have scored more air-miles than you have? A lot of food companies seem to go mad with the packaging at Christmas, too. Try to choose items that are not heavily packaged, or buy loose items.
Probably the last thing you’ll feel like doing when that long lunch is finally over is dealing with the leftovers. Don’t bin them. Use the vegetables for bubble and squeak, the turkey and the ham for pie, sandwiches and any number of delicious recipes. Plum pudding and cake can be frozen or will keep in the refrigerator for ages (it also improves if sprinkled occasionally with brandy).
The spirit of giving
There are so many potential pitfalls with gift-giving that any deviation from the norm makes us nervous. However, there are ways of giving with love and meaning that have less of a consumer focus.
Try giving your time instead of a commodity. A couple of hours’ gardening would probably go down very well with older relatives. Make up a cute babysitting voucher for a new mum or offer driving time for someone working towards their license.
Recycled gift giving is another option, but it is not for the faint-hearted. There is really only one group that will not be puzzled or horrified by a secondhand gift and that is your like-minded peers. A lot of people simply will not understand.
When buying for children, maybe re-think plastic and toys that require batteries. Look for fair trade or locally made sustainable toys.
When it comes to wrapping any of the above, remember tonnes of wrapping paper are discarded at this time of year and it’s fun to look for creative alternatives. Consider wrapping one thing in another — in a scarf or tea towel, for example. Calico shopping bags can also look charming tied with raffia or ribbon, then reused for their actual purpose. Be creative with newspaper, paper bags, old maps or sheet music.
Follow a few of these tips and your Christmas will be as much a gift to the environment as it is to your family and friends.
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