How to have a Sustainable Christmas?


Christmas is just around the corner, lights are embellishing the streets flooded by shoppers trying to find last-minute gifts and kids are feeling the excitement over Santa Claus’ imminent visit.
Are you ready to experience the best Sustainable Christmas of your life?

For many, Christmas is a time for family fun, scrumptious meals and of course to decorate the classic Christmas trees. It’s said to be the most wonderful time of the year, yet we can argue that it’s also the most wasteful. As we’re swept up in the excitement of the celebrations, perhaps we should take the time to consider the impact our Christmas traditions have on the environment.

If you follow us on Instagram you might already be aware of some of the things to look out during Christmas preparations, if you don’t already, you’re missing out on our sustainable advent calendar with a new Christmas fact every day! 

Christmas trees

Learn their origin and choose the best type

Trees are the first thing we picture when we think of Christmas, with their large branches and majestic structure they’re a traditional part of this holiday. They were initially used in 1419 in Germany in a play about Adam and Eve. An evergreen fir tree with apples hung on it was used to mimic the tree of knowledge from the garden of Eden.

Nowadays many households have replaced the real tree with a fake, plastic version. It might seem more environmentally friendly to keep an artificial tree for years instead of buying a new one every year, but that’s only the case if the artificial tree is used for at least 10 years. In fact, a 2 metres artificial tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg, which is more than 10x that of a real tree that’s burned after Christmas.

Artificial trees are usually made of PVC, one of the worst plastics that’s polluting to produce and difficult to recycle, they often end up in landfills where they release GHG gases as they decompose and leach dangerous chemicals into the soil. If you don’t have the option to buy a real tree try to buy a good quality artificial one that can last you for at least a decade or find one secondhand!

When it comes to real Christmas trees, it’s definitely a better option to support small farmers if there’s some that grow Christmas trees near you – so you reduce shipping emissions and support local businesses. As well as being biodegradable, Christmas trees also absorb CO2. A top tip to ensure your tree is super sustainable is to look out for farms that don’t use pesticides, that sell FSC-certified and even better if they take your tree back to compost it when you’re done with it! Finding a tree on a farm and cutting it yourself can be a fun experience especially for kids and is a great way to get into the festive spirit!

Eco-friendly tree decorations

When it comes to decorating it, choose vintage pieces or natural ornaments! Get creative with what you find in nature – dried fruit for example can look really nice if hung. Charity shops are great places for tree decor, you can find lots of unique pieces to hang on it.

If you’re buying new tree ornaments make sure they will last you – find something you love that you’re excited to put out year after year. You can also organise a Christmas swap with your friends where each of you brings some decor or ornaments they don’t like anymore and you can all exchange them with each other to give them a new life! Sharing is caring and making other people happy is the whole spirit of Christmas!

Gift mindfully

Wrapping paper waste and unwanted presents

If you’re in the mood to do good, a great initiative is the Mosaik Christmas shop, which is an NGO focused on helping refugees access education. With their gift offering, with items from small businesses, they donate a portion of the proceeds to help student refugees achieve their dreams. Christmas gifts are also very wasteful and often just a waste of money considering 1 in 7 Europeans were unhappy with the presents they received in 2016.

Physical gifts also come wrapped, adding up to 227,000 miles of wrapping paper waste every year for Christmas. That’s enough to wrap around the equator 9 times! These numbers are scary and it might seem like the problem is too big for an individual or a family to fix, but your actions make a difference and you can lead by example if you raise awareness about these impacts and spread the word with those around you!

A great alternative to classic gifts is hand-making something, depending on your skill this can range from baked goods to knitted items. Nothing says caring more than something unique you spent time making for someone. Your efforts are guaranteed to stand out. If you’re short on time, something meaningful like a card can also go a long way, or perhaps gifting an experience instead of a physical present. 

The options are endless and considering alternative gift ideas can give you peace of mind if you haven’t yet completed your Christmas shopping. Instead of rushing from store to store trying to find the perfect thing, you could also ask for a Christmas wishlist to avoid unwanted gifts! Wrapping paper is also not necessary, you can get creative with your packaging and either use an old scarf, fabric scrap or newspaper to wrap your presents.

Christmas meals

Avoid food waste and store leftovers properly 

It wouldn’t be Christmas without food, we can all picture the Christmas table filled with seasonal dishes and warm plates to feast on. What we often don’t see is all the food waste that’s created through the festivities. In the UK during Christmas, 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings, and 74 million mince pie get disposed while still edible, causing almost 270,000 tons of food waste in total during this holiday. The numbers are scary, something needs to be done.

Simple switches can go a long way when it comes to food waste, plan ahead if you’re cooking, it also helps you be organised and save time! You should also try to avoid falling into retail offers that drive unnecessary purchases. There are endless deals around Christmas time but really ask yourself if you need all that food. Finally learn to store the food properly, make the most of your freezer and get creative with leftovers, some foods taste even better the next day!

Lights all around

Reduce energy use at Christmas

What’s also widely used during Christmas is lights, just consider that 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be attributed to Christmas lights in France alone. Christmas is truly an energy intensive time, just consider your home; Fairy lights in every room, heating turned up, toys charging, music playing… To reduce your impact you can choose LED fairy lights. LEDs use 90% less energy than incandescent lights. You can also turn off the television when you’re not watching, turn down the thermostat (a couple of degrees makes all the difference) finally, switch off the lights during the day. These are small changes you can implement all year long that are money-saving, sustainable habits to take up!

Dress sustainably

Christmas sweaters add to plastic pollution

Christmas time often means retail stores start stocking a myriad of Christmas sweaters, in all different styles and colours. They’re fun to wear and match with your relatives, but they’re also not harmless. Research by the environmental charity Hubbub showed that most new sweaters contain plastic. Out of 108 garments on sale in 2019 from 11 high street and online retailers, 95% of the Christmas jumpers were made entirely or partly of plastic materials. They’re often worn a couple of times and quickly end up in landfill. If you want to avoid cheaply made low quality jumpers from fast fashion stores and cannot handmake one yourself, you can still embrace the colourful look and festive style by checking Charity shops that at this time are full of fun sweaters perfect for Christmas. They’re cheaper and often better quality too. Do good for the planet and give an old Christmas jumper a new life this year!

Embrace the Christmas spirit

The power of positive habits this festive season

Taking up sustainable habits in this busy time of the year can seem difficult, with a holiday full of traditions it can feel wrong to do things differently, yet there are so many reasons why it’s worth it. First of all, Christmas is a time of community, family gatherings and heartfelt connections with those relatives we might have forgotten, so what better time to talk about sustainability than this? Having conversations and opening a dialogue around environmental issues can be very powerful as it helps to raise awareness and make people think, which is the first step towards change.

We can all influence some people and leading by example is a great way to drive collective action. The culture of excess, overconsumption and consumerism not only creates so much waste but also steers us away from the meaning of Christmas.

Instead of being generous, helping each other and caring for our community we often run around chasing the best deals and rushing to presents to buy presents. If we are more intentional with our time and money, think about our impacts and slowly make changes to reduce them, we can enjoy our holidays knowing we’re doing good and encouraging others to do the same. Enjoy your eco-friendly festivities and have a merry (green) Christmas!

Keep following Eco Change for more news, updates and initiatives around sustainability and the climate. You can also find us on Instagram where we engage with companies and communities looking to improve the environment and build a sustainable future.

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