It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For many of us, the holidays are a time of great joy, love, and maybe some drama. We finally have the opportunity to spend time with our chosen families and friends, give and receive gifts and let’s be honest, a lot of us are just waiting for the food. Despite it being a time when many of us are at home, Christmas time is one of the most unsustainable seasons of the year due to the sheer amount of waste and overconsumption of food and gifts. In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to reduce our waste and consumption this holiday season.
During the holiday period, it’s estimated that in the UK, we waste 5 million Christmas puddings, 2 million turkeys, and 74 million mince pies each year – that’s not including the number of fruits, vegetables, and snacks that are also thrown away. Another estimate suggests that 54 million platefuls of food are thrown away each year over the festive period, with around 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrapping used for food being thrown away along with it. Given that food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our food waste throughout the year is very important. Not only this, buying only what we need will save us a lot of time and money in the long run.
1. Eat more plant-based
Animal agriculture is estimated to produce around 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, most poultries are bred through intensive farming practices, which, while poultry farming has the lowest carbon footprint of any meat, are still very energy-intensive. Not only that, but animals raised in factory farms are often kept in very cramped, dark conditions for the entirety of their lives, leading to many diseases and illnesses before slaughtering. Poor farming management can also lead to manure run-off into land and waterways, damaging local ecosystems.
Of course, you can buy from local, sustainable farmers who raise the animals more slowly, allow pasture grazing, have proper practices for toxic waste disposal, or sell wild-caught animals such as rabbits or deer. You could also go wholly meat-free or even vegan for Christmas and try delicious plant-based holiday recipes from The Green Loot or delish.
2. Buy locally and seasonally where possible.
Buying local, seasonal produce reduces the length of the supply chain, reducing food waste as more food is likely to survive a shorter journey. Reducing your food miles minimizes the amount of CO2 produced in transportation. It can also be a bit cheaper as seasonal food is in abundance and requires less intensive farming practices to be grown, meaning the price is lower. Local, seasonal food also tastes better and may put you closer to your local community! By supporting local (and ethical) farmers, you support non-intensive farming practices and the local economy.
3. Plan your meals
Planning your meals (and writing an accompanying shopping list) is incredibly useful, as it can help you to calculate how much food you need to buy to cook Christmas dinner, meaning you won’t end up having to throw away a lot of food that you thought you might need but didn’t. Plus, you can use any leftovers for lunch and dinner in the days following the holidays, but if you still have too much, why not freeze them? Later, you can defrost and eat those leftovers if in the future you don’t have time to do the groceries or are feeling too lazy to cook one day!
4. Use all of the scraps
Food scraps like onion and garlic peels, carrot tops, broccoli stems, herbs, and meat bones can be frozen and used to make things like stocks and broths. Some veggies like spring onions and celery can be regrown in water. Stale bread can be turned into croutons, bread crumbs, or french toast. The options are endless, so before you chuck any food scraps in the bin, get creative (or have a google) and see what you could make out of them.
Community is underrated – there is probably someone in your community who might be alone this season or is struggling to make ends meet. If you have the money, space and capacity, see what you can share so that everyone is looked after this Christmas (but also the whole year-round). This could be dropping things at your neighbours, letting your guests take away some leftovers, or donating to food banks.
Despite our best efforts, likely, there will still be some food waste. In this case, compost! Many local councils have a composting system, but if they don’t, look into getting a compost bin in an apartment or creating a compost heap in your garden.
Each year, many people face the dilemma of whether they should get a real or artificial Christmas tree. Artificial trees are obviously produced with plastic and chemicals that don’t biodegrade and can’t be recycled. Likely, they may also leach the chemicals into the landfill’s soil. However, these trees can be reused for many years, reducing consumption and saving money.
Real trees have to be grown and bought annually, meaning land has to be reserved especially for their growth. They may be produced using pesticides or chemical fertilisers, which may impact the local ecosystem, and are sometimes shipped long distances, adding to the carbon footprint. However, they can be bought locally and composted or recycled after Christmas, minimising their impact. If you have the space, you could opt for a potted or a garden Christmas tree which you look after throughout the year and decorate during the Christmas period.
Not sure about those options? Well, you can even rent a real Christmas tree
, meaning you don’t have to do much of the growing and care. However, if you don’t already have an artificial tree, maybe consider the other options! Personally, I have a 2nd hand artificial Christmas Tree and intend to keep using it until I have to give it back to my landlord.
Decorations and Gift Wrapping
1. Reuse your old decorations or buy 2nd hand
Buying second-hand decorations supports local charities, and you may find some cool vintage decoration pieces that you wouldn’t find new in the store! Reusing your old decorations is a super-easy way to save time, money, reduce demand for new decorations to be produced every year, and of course, reduce both consumption and waste produced by decorations.
You can also do this with gift wrapping – use old fabric, or if you receive well-wrapped gifts given with cute wrapping, bows, or ribbons, collect the gift wrapping and keep it for birthdays or next Christmas.
2. DIY your decorations
Making your own decorations from either old decorations, things you have around the house, or things like pine cones or leaves that you find outside in nature adds a unique touch to your decorating. It can be an easy and fun activity with family or friends who may also appreciate some of these decorations as small gifts!
3. Buy from local, sustainable businesses
If you have to buy new, try your best to buy from small, local businesses that sell sustainably and ethically produced products. Look for decorations made of non-plastic materials and aren’t covered in glitter (unless, of course, it’s biodegradable glitter).
1. Skip the gifts
What?? No gifts at Christmas? We’re constantly bombarded with marketing and sales that promote hyperconsumerism, particularly at Christmas time and the month or two prior. The advertised products are often non-biodegradable, non-recyclable, and shipped great distances, using very cheap labour.
For some, the pressure of gifting to many people reduces the fun and excitement of Christmas, whether for the expense or the stress of not knowing what to buy. A survey by Finder estimated that over 50% of Brits receive at least one unwanted gift each year. So maybe, talk to your friends and family and let them know they don’t have to get you anything this year!
Making donations on behalf of someone to a charity or cause of their choice is a wonderful way to give someone something they want and practice community care. It doesn’t involve any unnecessary consumerism or waste, making it a perfect sustainable Christmas gift.
3. Experiences and memberships
Instead of buying an item, why not give an experience! Maybe it’s something they’ve spoken about doing before or something you can do together or with a group. Perhaps they have a particular hobby like swimming, the gym or dance – maybe pay for one month of membership fees. As always, finding something run locally and on a small scale is a great way to support the local economy and minimise the environmental impact of gifts.
4. Second hand gifts
Buying second-hand gifts or even, dare I say it – regifting items – is seen as pretty taboo when deciding on gifts, but it’s the lowest waste option you can go for after no gifts at all. You can buy second-hand and/or vintage jewellery and furniture, refurbished electronics and appliances, or upcycled clothes. Check out online second-hand stores too, as you can often find the same product from large brands for much cheaper in great condition, if not new. The options are vast, so get creative!
5. DIY Gifts
Handmade gifts are some of the most thoughtful gifts I feel someone can give. Maybe you like baking, knitting, embroidery, painting, or another creative hobby. Perhaps you know they need a website or logo, and you have web or graphic design skills.
6. Buy local, small, sustainable
Some things have to be bought new, and that’s okay! Where possible, try and buy from small businesses in your local area – even better if they are sustainable and ethical brands.
 How to solve Britain’s overstuffed Christmas food waste epidemic –
 Food Waste: https://www.gwp.co.uk/guides/christmas-packaging-facts/#food
 Food Waste Emissions: https://ourworldindata.org/food-waste-emissions
 Animal Agriculture Emissions https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
 Survey on Unwanted Gifts: https://www.finder.com/uk/unwanted-gifts
featured photo: https://www.hellomagazine.com/fashion/news/20211012123717/sustainable-christmas-gift-ideas-eco-friendly-presents/