It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Christmas is upon us and with it comes all the merriment and organised mayhem of the festive season.
For obvious reasons, this Christmas will be a little different from previous years. But I’m hopeful that it will still allow people to come together and enjoy a bit of a break from what has been a really tough 12 months.
Given the year we’ve had, I don’t expect environmentalism to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
But with just a little bit of conscious effort, there are still plenty of small things we can all do to make this a greener Christmas, without sacrificing the traditions that we all hold dear.
Because while I love Christmas, it is the least sustainable time of the year!
With that in mind I’ve made a list (and checked it twice) of some of the ways you can live a little lighter this festive season.
I’ve divided it up into the a few sections, so feel free to jump to whatever part takes your fancy.
Gifts and Presents
1. Give Useful Gifts
It’s a time for giving, and we’ve all probably given and received our fair share of useless gifts over the years! This year try to buy gifts that will be used and that will last.
While some presents might have symbolic or sentimental value, you should steer clear of buying cheap tacky items that won’t be used and will be forgotten by Stephen’s Day.
This goes for stocking fillers as well!
2. Buy Sustainably Made Gifts
Avoiding plastic where possible should be the aim for any kind of shopping you do. But this is particularly true at Christmas time.
Properly sourced wood, metal, glass and textiles are much greener materials to look out for. They will also often be harder wearing and easier to repair down the line.
3. Support Local and Sustainable Businesses
Given the year that small retailers have had, it makes more sense now than ever before to support local business.
Local retailers, particularly those selling locally made products, will also be a more sustainable choice due to shorter supply chains and their use of nearby resources.
See this list of Irish online retailers by the Irish Times!
Even if you do have to look further field for your Christmas Shopping, it’s still worth supporting sustainable businesses abroad.
4. Kris Kindle
Nobody needs a gift from every person in their phonebook. Instead draw names amongst friends and family and have each person buy and receive just one gift. This will also allow you to buy one meaningful, useful gift rather than a mountain of useless gadgets and gizmos.
5. Homemade Gifts
The most sustainable kind of Christmas shopping is the kind you don’t even have to do!
A homemade gift is extra personal and totally unique to you. Bonus points if you can make it using repurposed materials from around the house.
Homemade gift ideas might include paintings, drawings, handmade jewellery, personalised collages and calendars, wooden carved toys, decorations and much more! Check out Pinterest for lots more ideas.
6. Regifting and Pre-loved Presents
There’s a bit of a stigma around giving old gifts or second hand presents but there needn’t be. If you already own something, or can find something second-hand and give it a new lease of life, why wouldn’t you?
Have a look through your own belongings and see if there’s anything you have that could make someone else’s day.
Failing that, your local second-hand shop is a great place to find some low cost, low impact gifts.
7. Put Money Toward a Bigger Present
One big gift is usually better than a bunch of small ones, from a sustainability point of view. So pooling money together with friends and family to buy a more expensive, higher quality present where possible can be a great way to reduce waste on all fronts.
8. Gift Experiences
Tickets and vouchers for experiences are a great way to give useful gifts without the waste.
There are endless possibilities, from concerts, live sporting events and weekends away, to classes, tours and fun outdoor activities. These are all things that have been in short supply during the pandemic, so might be appreciated now more than ever as things start to (hopefully!) return to normal.
Cards and Wrapping
9. Christmas Cards
As meaningful as they might be, cards are a huge source of waste around Christmas time.
To offset this, try making homemade cards from bits of scrap paper lying around the house. Even reusing parts of old cards can be a great way of reducing waste.
For a less labour-intensive alternative, try sending e-cards or virtual greetings. Even a phone call can be a nice way to spread the Christmas cheer while reducing your impact.
10. Reuse Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper can be a difficult one to recycle, especially if it’s an irregular shaped gift or if tape has been used to secure it. For regular shaped gifts, try to unwrap without destroying the paper.
Reduce the amount of paper and tape you need by wrapping multiple items together rather than individually, and by using small pieces of tape rather than long strips.
Another option is to use more durable wrapping paper along with twine or cord to secure it (as seen in the photo at the top of this post). No tearing or taping needed!
Finally, Christmas bags can be a great way to bypass wrapping all together. Simply place your gifts inside and maybe include a note on the bag asking that the recipient reuse it.
11. Tree Decorations
Avoid tacky plastic decorations and ornaments. By all means use what you already own but if you need to buy new decorations, look for locally made products made from wood, metal and other hard-wearing materials.
Go one better and make your own. Homemade decorations provide a fun way to get creative and make your home look a little more unique this Christmas.
12. Christmas lights
Christmas lights may brighten up the dark winter months, but we still need to be mindful of how we use them.
First off, go easy on the amount of lights you use. Lights can create a lovely atmosphere, but they can also be an unnecessary energy drain.
A timer for your Christmas lights is a great way to ensure they are only on when needed. Not only is this the sustainable choice, but the safer one too. Leaving electrics on unattended is a fire hazard, particularly when those electrics are hanging on a dry wooden Christmas tree!
If you can, opt for LED lights to reduce energy consumption, and save yourself some money on the December electricity bill!
For smaller ornamental lights, sustainably source candles can be a nice option. But once again, be wary of leaving them lit and unattended.
13. Christmas Trees
Christmas trees are a bit of a debateable one sustainability wise. I think the ideal scenario would be to buy a locally grown potted Christmas tree that can be watered then replanted after the holiday season.
If that’s not doable, your best bet is a locally grown tree that you then responsibly dispose of or reuse after Christmas.
Ways to recycle your tree sustainably would be composting, cutting up and repurposing the timber or turning it into mulch for gardening.
If you already have a plastic Christmas tree, then keep on using it and try to ensure you keep it in good condition. While plastic might not be great from a production point of view, it is long lasting.
So, if your plastic tree can be reused every year then it’s not the worst option, just don’t go buying a new one!
14. Reusable Christmas Crackers
Normal Christmas crackers are one of the more wasteful Christmas traditions. While the cardboard may be recyclable, the crackers are full of cheap plastic, foil and filler that inevitably ends up in the bin.
But there are alternatives! You may not know it, but reusable Christmas crackers are actually a thing! They’re made of thicker long-lasting cardboard, they come apart without tearing, and can be used year after year. You’ll still have that Christmas cracker snap plus you get to decide what goes in each one.
Food and Drink
15. Local Produce
I sound like a broken record here, but locally produced produce is the way to go for your food and drink needs this Christmas. After a year of COVID lockdowns, small local businesses could do with the added support. Add to that the sustainability benefits mentioned above, and you’re onto a winner!
16. Meat Free Options
Ham and turkey are staples of Christmas dinner for many households, but making an effort to include vegetarian options and reduce the amount of animal products you use is a great way to make your Christmas a little greener.
Nut roasts are a great turkey alternative and you can find meat free stuffing and gravy in most supermarkets. Plus, you can still have all your normal Christmas veg and sides, which are the best part if you ask me anyway!
17. Use Leftovers
It’s always good to moderate your food consumption (i.e don’t just eat for the sake of it!) but making a little too much food is often inevitable around Christmas.
The important thing is that you use what’s let over. Food waste is a huge problem at this time of year so try to use all the food you can.
Turkey, ham and stuffing sandwiches were a classic post-Christmas lunch in our home growing up. We would also usually have a leftovers night to finish off our Christmas food, and give the parents a night off from cooking!
You can also use reusable beeswax wraps to store food and cover leftovers without having to go through 100 metres worth or tinfoil or clingfilm.
I have often ended up with my rubbish and recycling bins completely full and overflowing during Christmas, due to the sheer volume of packaging we go through.
Earlier tips around reducing food waste and using reusable crackers and decorations will go some way toward reducing this, but there are other ways to help.
You could opt for homemade food rather than premade packaged goods. And if you are buying premade chocolates, crisps or treats, try to buy them in large bags or containers rather than buying lots of individually packaged items.
Communal drinks are a good way to cut down on the number of bottles and cans in your recycling bin. You could have a communal bowl of mulled wine or punch, plus larger communal bottles for soft drinks, wines and juices.
Try to steer clear of disposable plates, cups and cutlery if you can, as they are another cause of excessive Christmas waste.
Day to Day Habits
19. Get Outside, Stay Active
While cosy days inside are great, getting outside and staying active should be part of your Christmas plans too, especially this year.
Walks, or even a winter swims for the very brave, are a great low impact way to spend the day before you come home for a Christmas meal.
20. Drive Less
Traffic can be crazy around this time of year so walking and public transport are often a better, quicker way to get around. Cycling and skateboarding are great too but look out for ice on the roads!
Carpooling is another great habit to get into over Christmas. So much of the holiday season is spent with friends and family so it’s the perfect time to share a ride and cut your emissions.
21. Chill Out
Christmas is the busiest time of the year for many people. And busy usually means lots of driving, lots of shopping, lost of consuming and lots of waste.
This year why not try to slow down a little. Enjoy time with friends and family without the constant hustle and bustle.
And don’t be afraid to say no to things. You don’t have to say yes to every invite, and you don’t have to have an event planned for every day over Christmas.
Like I said, these are just ideas. You can take as much or as little from this post as you can manage.
And above all else, have a Merry Christmas!