Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How to Have a Sustainable Christmas!

You know what I love about Christmas? Seeing my family, playing cheesy Christmas songs, sharing a few glasses of wine over a delicious dinner.

What I can't stand about Christmas is the amount of consumerism and waste that it brings. Getting into debt to pay for presents is so normal that the Internet is full of guides on how to avoid digging yourself into a black hole of debt. We spend hours obsessing over what to get, who to get for, who we need to send cards to and what we might do if our loved ones don't like their presents. As well as the financial cost, the aftermath of Christmas is a pile of paper, an expanding waistline (and accompanying feelings of guilt) and, probably, a pile of presents that nobody really wanted in the first place.

How about, this year, you avoid the waste and the stress, and go for a sustainable Christmas? What I mean by this is a Christmas that:

  • Doesn't break the bank (i.e. it is financially sustainable for you)
  • Doesn't result in a lot of waste (sustainable for the planet), and
  • Brings feelings of joy and love instead of guilt and anxiety (sustainable for your wellbeing)!
Some of my ideas may seem a little extreme, especially if you're used to big shops once a year. Still, hopefully at least one or two of them will give you a bit of inspiration!

1. Cut out wrapping paper!

How much wrapping paper do you end up with at the end of the holidays? While my grandparents,
who are used to rationing rather than disposing of everything, usually carefully fold up each piece of wrapping paper for future use, most of us shove mountains of the stuff into the bin. If you're going to use wrapping paper, at least recycle it!

However, I have another suggestion. Why not do what the Japanese do and use a pretty cloth to wrap your presents? When I first moved there, I couldn't find wrapping paper anywhere... that's when I discovered furoshiki - wrapping cloths! 

Furoshiki can be used time and time again, and you can either ask for it back after the recipient has unwrapped their present, or let them keep it - this way you can encourage people to follow the trend! You can buy furoshiki from a few websites (e.g. or you could use pieces of fabric, scarves that you already have!

2. Buy from charity shops, or buy charity!

Set yourself a challenge; only buy Christmas presents this year from charity shops. You'll be surprised at the nice clothes, jewellery, books, DVDs and toys you can find, plus you'll be giving money to a good cause. You could also buy from second-hand shops or online groups. The beauty of this is that it saves lots of perfectly good items from ending up on in the landfill, therefore helping the environment a little - while helping you to save money. Charity shop books are normally around £1.50, rather than the £10 or so you'll spend to get them new.

Yes, some people might think it's a bit funny that you'd buy them second hand items, but if you explain your 'challenge' people might be impressed - plus, can you really stay mad at someone who gave to charity for you? 

Alternatively, I think it's nice to donate to charity in someone's name. There might be a cause close to your loved one's heart, so if they love puppies, for example, you could sponsor a guide dog puppy in their name! This is especially nice for people who really have enough "stuff" in their home and are unlikely to truly appreciate anything that adds to the clutter.

3. Use natural decorations - use a real tree!

Artificial trees are plastic and eventually end up on the landfill - I don't think they're really recyclable! If you're unsure about the ethics of having a tree cut down from a forest to put in your living room, perhaps you could plant your own for future years.

One step further is to look at the usual ton of decorations that most people use and ask yourself whether you really need them. Lights use up electricity, while most decorations - especially cheap, plastic ones - are again going to end up on the landfill - not to mention they're usually pretty expensive! If you still want to to decorate your house, why not try tea light candles in pretty lanterns (or LED lights if you must have lights), real plants and flowers, or - if you're creative - decorations made from recycled items? There are loads of ideas all over the Internet, e.g. 46 Christmas Crafts from Recycled Items. Making them might be fun, and there's another thought... 

4. Give home-made gifts!

OK, this might only work if you're good at making things, but as well as cute crafts made from
A tree made from recycled bottles! 
 recycled items, are there other things you could make? Perhaps you could write a poem for someone, or write them a personalised story with pictures. You could make a photo collage of the good times you've spent together. Or, if you like cooking, why not make some nice sweets - or vouchers that promise something like "one three-course meal" for a date to be chosen in future by your friend/family member?

It can be cheesy, yes, but home-made items can really show that you care enough to put the time and effort into something unique. They can also help to strengthen your connection to that person, as you'll be thinking of them while you make your gift. 

5. Organic, green Christmas dinner

Yes, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without the turkey and all the trimmings - but if your ingredients have been flown to your country from all over the world, all those dinners add up to spell disaster for the environment. 

As always, it's better to buy local, seasonal and organic - I really love Riverford for delivering local, organic veggies to my house. You can also get meat through them, which can be pretty darn expensive - but if you're savings loads on presents now, you can spend the difference on some high quality, organic food instead! Of course, the best thing for the environment is to have a vegetarian dinner - there are hundreds of "nut roast" style recipes out there, such as this lentil and walnut loaf with sweet potato from Oh She Glows, this tofu, pumpkin and stuffing roulade from Vegan Easy, or this nut roast pie with cranberries from BBC food!

To help you find local, organic food this Christmas, the Soil Association has put together a UK directory where you can find your nearest farm supplying Christmas meats/veg.

And finally... remember what it's all about!

First and foremost, Christmas is a religious holiday - not, as it has become for many, an orgy of consumerism. If your friend is likely to sulk with you because you didn't buy the right thing, how much does that person really value your friendship? 

When you receive a gift, how would you feel knowing that the giver had spent hours agonising over it and is now in debt, partly because of it? You'd probably feel quite guilty and would tell them not to worry. In the same way, nobody who really cares about you is going to want you to suffer just to give them a present. At the end of the day, Christmas is a time to spend with the people you love, and to be thankful for the things that money can't buy. 

Merry Christmas!

Pictures: Furoshiki from
Christmas tree from

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