Christmas is supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill, but it usually ends up as the season of conspicuous consumption and excess. Just think of all those Christmas lights, and the several forests worth of wrapping paper and cards we each use every year – let alone the number of trees that are chopped down for seasonal decoration and all the food that goes to waste each Christmas. Multiply that by every family in the country – and then the world – and it ends up being not very environmentally friendly at all.
However, it is actually possible to have a great Christmas while still being as green (and as ethical) as possible – and that doesn’t mean being revoltingly worthy about it all, either. It’s all about taking small steps to becoming more environmentally friendly: it all soon builds up. So here are a few simple and practical ideas to make your Christmas a greener celebration without costing the earth, either financially or environmentally…
There is some debate over whether artificial or live trees are more environmentally friendly. There are plus points to both, but a live tree is undoubtedly more attractive and Christmassy. If you do go for a live tree, try to get one that is locally grown, as this will save on transportation costs (and the associated pollution) as well as support your local economy.
If possible, buy your tree still growing in a pot – if you give it plenty of water (to be as green as possible, try using the water you’ve cooked the veggies in, once it’s gone cold), it will last longer indoors than a cut tree – which means fewer pine needles all over the house! – and after the festivities are over you can put it out in your garden or on your balcony to continue growing for next year.
I’ve tried this myself, and the tree (albeit a very small one) thrived on my balcony for two years before it sadly gave up the ghost, but I know people who have had the same tree for many years. If you have kids, you could get them involved in the task of caring for the tree over the next twelve months – they’ll love to see their handiwork decorated and lit up next Christmas!
If availability and budget dictate a cut tree, then these can be recycled after Christmas – many local garden centres and local councils now offer a tree recycling service, which turns these now-sorry specimens into wood chips or garden mulch. In some areas, recycling your tree can be as simple as leaving it out with the rubbish and regular recycling bins. Check your local council website for more details on what’s available in your neighbourhood.
So, you’ve got the tree home and you’ve set it up in an epic struggle involving much swearing and half a Scottish forest’s worth of pine needles in your hair. What about the decorating then (I’d have a very large drink before even thinking of starting that…)? Helpfully, the family can be roped in to make decorations from things you’ll find around the house (check out some fun ideas for recycled Christmas decorations here and here) or even in the garden.
Buy some strings of LED fairy lights – they use around 80% less energy and last much, much longer than the old incandescent lights. You can get a long string for a reasonable price these days, and you can buy them almost anywhere. I bought some for the first time this year and can confirm that they look just as pretty as the incandescent ones!
Pets can often be curious about the tree (my cats certainly were!), so don’t use any decorations that might be dangerous to them if eaten – like tinsel – and hang any chocolate goodies out of their reach for the same reason. Glitter, although fun and Christmassy, can’t be recycled; avoid it if you can on your decorations, cards and wrapping paper.
Cards and presents:
Do your Christmas shopping locally, if you can (this also applies to the food shop). In these days of identikit high streets crammed full of the same multinational brands, it is more important than ever to support local independent businesses and traders. You’re also more likely to find beautiful and unique gifts in small, independent stores than on the high street. And a quick walk to your local shops is obviously less polluting than a congested car journey to the nearest out-of-town retail park!
Buy organic and Fair Trade if at all possible when it comes to gifts and food. Or make your own mince pies and presents at home – Google and your local library are definitely your friends when it comes to the sourcing of recipes and craft ideas! When it comes to cards and wrapping paper, you’ve got several options: you can buy recycled, you can re-use what you already have – or you can recycle last year’s cards and wrap by cleverly turning them into something new.
When I was a child, my family used to turn last year’s cards into this year’s gift tags with the aid of a pair of pinking shears, a hole punch, and some brightly coloured wool or thread. Large sheets of wrapping paper are always retrieved and saved for re-use the following year, and every member of the family still has an individual gift bag that comes out of the cupboard under the stairs each Christmas to be filled with the relevent person’s pressies – a method that can save on an awful lot of paper.
Christmas cards are recyclable almost everywhere and some councils also recycle wrapping paper – check with yours to see what their policy is before you put your bins out. Some paper and cards can’t be recycled (especially those covered in glitter), but you could hang on to them for creative reuse next year, and go some way towards consuming less and spending less…
For more ways to go green this Christmas, try these links: