We like a bit of thought provoking stuff so where better to start than with an article questioning the whole of the consumerist Christmas construct; or how we can’t buy our way out of trouble because conscious consumerism is a lie and how the only way to cure us is to be satisfied with what we already own which is down to changing the culture & messages we receive!
The reality is that we can’t ethically consume our way out of climate change – we need to drastically reduce the amount of (in Gerald Ratner’s words) cra*p we are all implored to buy this side of December. Joke toys are no joke when the impact of their production lingers far longer than the 30 seconds enjoyment on opening.
So, what to do (now that I’ve put the weight of the world on your shoulders?!) Below is a set of practical tips to make your Christmas this year more sustainable. Some of them are easier, some of them harder to implement but try and do something. Whilst I agree with the article above that there’s no substitute for systemic change, I do think that individual actions have a wider ripple effect so do as much as you can this year, and a little more next year – that’s how change happens.
Changing your Family’s Culture
This is obviously the ideal but might be too much of a stretch to start with – so think of this as the ultimate goal. But seriously, can you do things differently in your family? We now do a (not so) Secret Santa. Everyone buys one gift for someone else, drawn out of a hat. Everyone still gets one really-nice present but it makes it all a bit more restrained and we just focus on spending the day together.
Replacing Gifts with Experiences
Instead of buying a thing, why not offer an experience – vouchers, a day out, sharing a skill (babysitting vouchers go down a treat, hint hint!), be creative and think about the best experience you could offer someone – the gift of time, in our frenetic world, is a rare thing indeed.
Or could your gift help someone else? There’s a wealth of charity gifts so why not have a think about what the receiver loves & buy something that fits – my Mum helped me set up Unpackaged, so one year I passed it forward by making a donation in her name helping women set up micro businesses in the developing world, she loved it.
And what can you make yourself? The internet is awash with ideas – Pinterest is probably your best friend BUT only make things that people want – we’re not replacing ill-conceived shop bought items with terrible home-made stuff here people!
If you do need to buy gifts then can you support small, independent creative businesses? The UK is a nation of shop keepers after all so – on the high street, or online – support a small business who will have put their heart and soul into designing your present and it will be much better because of it.
And remember, if you’re giving any gifts that involve batteries – invest in a rechargeable set and remember to charge them up before the day!
It would be a bit miserly to get rid of all vestiges of Christmas so here’s our list of swapping out bad for better in the home:
The Tree (& Wreaths)
The debate rages on between real vs. artificial trees (which are ultimately reusable). Some companies have tried to rent them but we’ve never managed to find a viable one (we wish Paul a speedy recovery!). If you have the time/ energy, you could make this amazing pallet Christmas tree or just decorate up a pot plant. But if you are going to buy one - the science shows that both real and artificial have an impact so if you’re buying real, make sure it comes from a responsible grower, if you’re buying artificial, buy well and reuse it for years and years to get the best value out of the plastic used.
Once again, Pinterest is amazing for those who have time. How’s about some fun kids ideas? popcorn garlands, homemade paper snowflakes etc. If you don’t have that much time, then focus on the box of baubles you already have, it’s all about decorating with friends and family, not whether it matches this year’s tree at Claridges. And Christmas fairy lights – remember when your Dad would go through and check each bulb?? You can still do that, reuse & repair, do not buy new cheap lights!
More plastic, more things you don’t need, but all kids (and big kids like us) love an advent calendar.
Options here - buy or make a reusable advent calendar, another a great activity with kids or how about a reverse advent calendar where you donate to your local food bank? If you still need a chocolate one – go Organic & Fair Trade – and if you don’t know why, watch The Dark Side of Chocolate.
Now this is something to invest in – everyone remembers the stocking they had as a child! You can go all Martha Stewart and make your own or buy a delightful one off an independent designer, they’re everywhere at the moment.
Crackers seem to be EXTREMELY important to my family but if I get another set of mini nail clippers… so this year we’ll be getting the ultimate in reusable crackers, made in York, although these from Asos are mostly recyclable and very cute.
Your best bet here to be super eco is to go digital and donate the money to charity. But it’s hard if, like us, you want to take the time to put pen to paper to distant friends, which is a beautiful thing. So, you could make your own from scrap (yes Pinterest again) or buy charity cards.
Old paper – newspaper, pages from design magazines, reused wrapping paper that your gran insists on carefully flattening each year – this is where it’s at. Or get involved in the Japanese art of furoshiki – cloth present wrapping. Vintage silk scarves from charity shops are ten a penny so get creative. The wonderful Wallace & Sewell sell amazing offcuts from their cashmere scarves which work for gorgeous ribbon that no one will want to throw away.
Christmas Food – 3 Steps to Zero Waste
- Plan in advance – we all want to be generous, but simple planning in advance will stop you over producing food, and throwing it away.
- Make your own - this year, it’s all about making what you can – all your favourite chefs have recipes galore so get inspired. If you don’t want to lose your mind doing it all then why not divvy it up and ask each guest to bring one homemade item? It takes the pressure off you, spreads the cost and reduces waste.
- Shop in bulk – if you prepare in advance, you can buy as many ingredients in bulk as possible – check out our range at Unpackaged, shop at the farmer’s markets and ask your local independent stores to help you shop unpackaged, check out our handy guide in last month’s blog post.
It’s not glamorous but you need to get a handle on waste management before the day. Presents, food, the tree – they can all be recycled but someone needs to be in charge on the day to ensure that everyone doesn’t just get drunk (what us?) and throw them in the bin. Get the children to be in charge… (they can’t drink!)
- Food – ensure you have enough food waste bags so that everything goes into your food waste bin/ compost. If you don’t have a doorstep collection, find your local communal food waste bin here.
- Wrapping Paper – it’s complicated! Hopefully if you’ve taken the steps above, you won’t have any dodgy glittery wrapping paper but, if not, do the scrunch test - simple paper wrap can be recycled, but foil or glitter-decorated paper cannot and needs to go in the general waste.
- Cards – keep and make into other cards, tags etc. for next year. If you know you won’t, then just recycle them at supermarkets, they will all have bins in January.
- Tree – your council will collect it, just check which day to leave it out.
And finally, when it’s all over, what about a gift to the world? Instead of giving yourself a hard time about losing weight in 2018 (yes, we all do), why not make this New Year’s resolution one to get involved? Whether it’s campaigning or volunteering, the world would be a much better place if we all got out there and became active citizens, rather than passive consumers.
Happy sustainable living and we’ll be back in January with the aforementioned ‘On The Go’ feature, ready to help all your New Year’s Resolutions to live a more minimal life ;)