10 tips for sustainable Christmas celebrations
By Lucie Stepankova
Oh, Christmas. It’s the most unsustainable, materialistic and overconsumption-focused time of the year. A holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and consumerism.
I don’t know about you – but I love Christmas. I like to think that I enjoy the holidays too much to get caught up in a present-shopping frenzy, waste hours on hours by switching up my decorations every year or stress about wrapping gifts in cheesy Christmas-themed paper with snowmen and glitter on it. However, the truth is that I only gained this perspective a few years ago, once I started focusing on making the holidays more eco-friendly on my part.
Therefore, a quick warning is due before we begin – following these tips may include side effects such as enjoying Christmas for what they’re about, spending more time with your family, feeling good about preserving the earth for future generations or becoming allergic to store windows being decked-out with the cheesiest Christmas displays on the 1st of November. Proceed at your own risk.
- Make a wish list
Remember when you were a kid and used to write a letter to Santa/Father Christmas/the Wise Men/Baby Jesus/whomever it is that ‘brings Christmas presents’ where you’re from? I want you to go back to doing exactly that – and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Every year, people in the UK exchange 60 million unwanted Christmas presents, which end up in the back of the closets, piling up as donations at charity shops or, even worse, at the landfill. That is a huge amount of waste which could be prevented if we just communicated better with one another about what it is that we’d hope to find under the Christmas tree.
- Don’t buy an artificial tree
Most of you reading this are probably students celebrating the holidays with their parents. Therefore, you’re probably not the one making decisions about Christmas décor in the house. However, you’ll likely be doing so in the future – and for when that time comes, I want you to remember this: do not buy an artificial Christmas tree.
Artificial trees are made from PVC which, according to Greenpeace, is the single most environmentally damaging plastic. Instead, get a locally-grown cut-down tree, a potted tree you can plant in the garden once it outgrows your home or use a tree-renting service.
- Switch up your menu
What’ll be on your plate this Christmas? Recent findings from Our World In Data show that it’s more important to focus on the types of foods we eat, rather than their local origin, when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint. That is because the farming process, land use change needed to make space for agriculture or production of feed for livestock are all much larger producers of greenhouse gasses than transportation.
Almost without exception, the carbon emissions from plant-based foods are 10 to 50 times lower than those from animal products. I’m not saying that you need to go vegan this Christmas (because you’d probably hate me for doing that). Instead, I’d like to encourage you to try making small swaps, one at a time, and see what works for you.
- Manage your leftovers
When we cook our Christmas meals, we always want to make sure we have enough – and then some. However, this becomes a problem if the food gets thrown away and ends up in landfill, where it cannot decompose properly and releases greenhouse gasses.
The best way to make sure all your leftovers get eaten is to only make an amount you know you’ll eat – and freeze anything you can’t finish to enjoy through January.
- Support small local businesses
It’s easy to buy Christmas gifts or decorations from multinational companies and brands. However, as you could probably guess, their practices are not usually very fair or sustainable.
It’s never been more important to support small, independent businesses in your local area than it is now that they’ve been dealt a heavy hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Even in normal times, choosing to buy from them is arguably the better option, as they usually care more for the local area and therefore adopt more eco-friendly and socially responsible practices than multinational corporations.
- Choose the right decor
Speaking of buying décor, invest in some that you’ll be able to use for years to come. While they may cost you a little more money to begin with, they’ll pay off in the long run – both environmentally and budget-wise.
However, living on a student budget may make that tip good in theory but impossible in practice. In that case, why not try venturing out into nature to gather pine cones, tree branches and other greenery? Or drying some orange slices to use as décor? I don’t know how oranges became so associated with Christmas décor, but it’s one of my favourite budget ideas for the holidays.
- Need Christmas crackers?
As somebody who’s never seen a Christmas cracker before moving to the UK for uni, I’m still puzzled by why they are such a part of the holiday celebrations here. Nevertheless, they’re a tradition many can’t imagine Christmas without.
If that’s the case for you, try switching to reusable Christmas crackers – you can find plenty of options on Etsy, where you also have the chance to support small businesses. If, on the other hand, you don’t hold this tradition dear to your heart, maybe try skipping them.
- Wrap it sustainably
Did you know that most wrapping paper can’t be recycled? Add to that the plastic ribbons, bows and sticky tape and you’ve got yourself a lot of trash that needs to be sent to the landfill after Christmas day. Thankfully, there are other options.
Give recycled and recyclable wrapping paper a try and finish it off with paper tape and natural string. You could also try the Japanese fabric wrapping technique furoshiki or invest in reusable drawstring gift bags. Not in the budget? A newspaper can serve as gift wrap with a rustic feel – just repurpose what you already have.
- Choose soy or beeswax candles
Candles are one of the go-to Christmas decorations. However, many candles you’ll find in stores nowadays are made from paraffin wax. When burned, they release highly toxic substances into the air (benzene and toluene), linked to asthma and lung cancer.
Avoid paraffin candles at all costs – even if that means having no candles at all. Soy wax candles or sustainable beeswax candles are both safe and swapping to them will decrease your impact on the environment and protect your health.
- Send digital Christmas cards
While every Christmas card only contributes a little to your carbon footprint, this can quickly add up if you send a lot of them, regularly. Instead, why not try sending your card digitally?
You won’t just reduce your carbon footprint – you’ll also have an opportunity to create custom ones. There’s no need to be a graphic designer to do this, thanks to free-to-use apps and websites like Canva.
While giving these tips a try, I’d like to encourage you to make one change at a time. That way, you can make sure you’re sticking to them as new habits you’ll carry forward into the future. Trying to do too much at once is rarely a good idea. Hopefully, you’ll be able to try all these throughout upcoming years and share your tips on ways to be more eco-friendly with others (no matter if they asked – just how I like to do it).