We all want to do our bit for the environment but it can be hard to balance a time of festivity and over-indulgence with sustainability and caring for the environment. Below are some tips to have a more sustainable Christmas that are achievable and can make your Christmas just a little bit greener.
Present Giving for a sustainable Christmas
Not only do we buy too many gifts we buy too many plastic gifts. One option is to search charity shops for unique and repurposed presents. People will appreciate the time taken to source something they will cherish. It also means that you are supporting your local charity shop and the work they do in your community.
Another idea is to do kris kringle at work or in your family which cuts down on the number of gifts you have to buy.
Think your purchases through
The main thing is slow down and think before you buy. Whether it is gifts, food or decorations, play out the ending, where will it end up?
A gift might not be thrown out immediately but it could be in years to come. Can it be recycled, passed on or re-purposed? And even if it can be recycled, it still ends up in a bin. Wouldn’t it be better if if just disappeared? Think of the plastic containers for liquid hand wash vs. bars of soap that just literally wash away. It’s not to say don’t buy anything but maybe there are ways to buy less or buy more sustainable, ethical, or locally-produced gifts. Have a read through my guide on 7 Easy to make Sustainable Skincare Swaps for more gifting ideas.
This infographic from Educated Earthling provides some ideas for sustainable gift-giving. Have a read of my guide on which houseplants are easy to look after and make good gifts.
What sustainable gifts to buy for kids
All kids (that I’ve met) love straws, how about buying them reusable straws, bamboo or stainless steel (available in Limerick in DUO or online at Ecostraws) that they can bring with them when they go out to the restaurant or café. Or focus on an experience, a day trip to the cinema or the zoo. Or you could buy a gift of a family pass to local activities. Or how about a gift they can eat? This rice crispy Christmas tree we make looks good and is delicious and a bit of fun. Or how about making cookies or Irish Brown Bread and gifting it to teachers, neighbours or family members.
What sustainable gifts to buy for adults
Most people have too much stuff so think about what would be useful for your friend, brother, mother etc. What about a keep cup that they can bring with them when they get coffee? They’re good for the environment, good for the coffee shop and best of all it reminds them of you every time they drink out of it! Same idea with a reusable water bottle, no more disposable plastic bottles.
Another useful present is a bar of soap (for hands, hair or body) and even better if you buy them the soap holder to go with it. For the house-proud friend what about a nice set of linen napkins (save them from buying disposable napkins). Or you could make something homemade, such as Christmas biscuits, Christmas pudding or mince pies. Just wrap them up nicely, get the kids involved and all misshapen produce will be forgiven! Another idea is to gift some home-made air dry clay decorations.
If you are going to buy something new for them see if you can buy something produced and sold locally to support craft makers (in Limerick we have two great craft shops Made in Limerick and By Design – A Local Story).
A lot of people don’t know but wrapping paper is generally not recyclable and sticky tape is definitely not. If the wrapping paper has foil or metal decorative pieces in it that makes it non-recyclable. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest as to how to wrap using brown paper and string and fresh foliage (dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, rosemary, pine cones etc.) to make a pretty parcel.
Another popular way to wrap presents is to use cloth or material that can be reused by the recipient. It’s the Japanese art of furoshiki. It is very simple and there are lots of tutorials on Pinterest if you want to try it. This beautifully wrapped present is from Angela Liguori.
Christmas Trees for a more sustainable Christmas
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree somewhere in the house. There are lots of options, I’ve seen great washi tape trees stuck on walls or twigs/branches used as trees, seen here in The Wilds, or branches in a vase with baubles hanging from them. Now more than ever you are free to decorate how you want!
Real vs Faux debate
If you do want a traditional Christmas tree there is some debate on which is more sustainable. Because a real tree is compostable and a fake tree is not then from that perspective it is more sustainable. However to have a real tree in your house one has to be cut down and for it to be sustainable then a new one would need to be planted in its place.
The main issue seems to be in how long you use your fake tree for, if you use it for the next 20 years then it is going to be as sustainable as buying a real tree every year, but it will still have to be disposed of. What that means is look after the fake one you have and use it for as long as possible. Take care unwrapping it every year and storing it and you could use it for a long time.
If you’re buying a real tree buy from a sustainable, reputable, local forestry or nursery, make sure the organisation is open about their process of planting and cutting the trees. Also make sure to dispose of it responsibly afterwards, a lot of county councils around Ireland organise drop-off places. One Christmas Tree company pioneering a novel idea is Christmastree.ie based in Cork where you can rent a tree and return it in January and rent the same one every year so it becomes part of the family. A very sustainable option.
Decorating for Christmas
Christmas decorations don’t need to be all tinsel and plastic baubles, not that there is anything wrong with those and if you have them and love them keep using them. But you can decorate for the festive season by just gathering foraged greenery from your garden or nearby parkland.
Use real foliage for greenery
One of the biggest trends that is increasing in popularity every year is installing huge Christmas garlands on banisters or mantelpieces using real foliage. It might be tricky to do but if you get some oasis you can let your imagination run wild with any colours and shapes of foliage. Alternatively you can always go old school and just add holly to the top of pictures and on the mantelpiece.
Below are some of the Christmas mantel display I have created here at No.5. They really weren’t that difficult and just took a few hours to put together.
Home-made decorations for a more sustainable Christmas
Home-made decorations are fun to make and don’t cost much and can be reused every year if you take care storing them. Some things we have tried here are No.5 are brown paper bag stars, paper stars, air dry clay decorations and wooden bead garlands. They are fun crafts to do with the kids and you can find all sorts of tutorials on Pinterest. Also homemade garlands of popcorn and cranberries are fun and easy to make and one festive tradition I do every year is to make dried out orange slices.
Nothing says Christmas like sparkly lights in a window but lighting all these extra lights uses more electricity so be careful in how much you use them. Minimise the amount of time the lights are on, they don’t need to be on from dawn till dusk. Turn off the lights when not in use and plug them out.
Opt for LED lights if at all possible, they may be slightly more expensive than non-LED lights but they will last longer and are better for the environment.
Another festive tradition is lighting candles to give you that atmospheric glow but look for eco-friendly options made from soy wax or beeswax.
Small changes make a difference
I hope some of this has been useful. I think the key thing is to make small changes and every small change will help the environment. Let me know if you have tried any of the above or are planning to this Christmas, in the comments section below.