By Alice Bullard, Fourth year, Biology
As a country, we throw away an estimated 74m mince pies each Christmas, and a typical UK household sends about three black bags of packaging to landfill. Age-old holiday traditions may bring us Christmas cheer but can negatively impact our environment through overproduction of unrecyclable waste and increased use of fossil fuels.
'Christmas is a time to enjoy indulging with the family, but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of our environment,' says Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister.
'Each year, UK households throw away enough gravy to accompany Christmas dinner for the whole country and last Christmas, we consumed enough card packaging to cover Big Ben nearly 260,000 times.
'Without the support of people across the country, we simply cannot achieve our goal of reducing unnecessary waste and leaving the environment in a better state for future generations. By making a few small changes - buying items with less packaging, cooking up delicious dinners from your leftover turkey, reusing last year’s wrapping paper - we can all enjoy a greener Christmas to help us save money and the planet.'
Here are twelve suggestions to lessen your environmental impact this festive season while supporting others and saving money. Do keep in mind that no individual is the perfect eco-warrior – it’s all about doing what you can!
- Only buy the food that you need
In the UK, we throw away 710,000 tonnes of potatoes, 96,000 tonnes of carrots and 100,000 tonnes of poultry each year. Detailed meal planning, buying loose vegetables and checking out recipes for Christmas dinner leftovers helps to reduce this waste (as well as cut down on plastic packaging!). Any suitable and unused food stuffs can be donated to local food banks to benefit those in need this holiday period.
- Donate unwanted gifts and decorations to charity
Pass on the festive cheer by giving your unwanted Christmas presents and decorations to charity; you’ll be reducing waste, contributing to the pre-loved cycle, and supporting a cause you believe in. Be sure to check out which items your local charity shop accepts before making the journey.
- Recycle or replant your 'real' Christmas tree.
Around 100,000 tonnes of methane are produced yearly from rotting Christmas trees in landfill sites.
Recycling services for Christmas trees are available from many UK councils, where trees are collected from your doorstep and turned into wood chips for parks. Better still, did you know you can replant your Christmas tree and it will be waiting for you next December? Additionally, buying your real tree from a local certified Grown in Britain supplier helps to support local business and reduces transport carbon emissions.
Artificial trees are a bit more complicated - despite being reusable it’s estimated that 14 per cent of artificial trees are thrown out each year. They are usually unrecyclable, so it’s essential to reuse your plastic tree to lessen waste. A fake tree needs to be used for ten years to have a lower environmental impact than a real tree – so reuse is key.
- Turn off your decorative lights while sleeping
This is a no-brainer – switch off your external and Xmas tree lights before bed to lower carbon emissions from electricity usage and save on your energy bill. If you’re forgetful, then consider using timed plug sockets to keep your Christmas lights in check.
- Buy FSC certified crackers, cards and wrapping paper
Paper waste is a huge issue at this time of year, with around 227,000 miles of wrapping paper thrown away yearly, and 1bn Christmas cards sent. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved items ensure that paper comes from sustainable and well-managed forests. Alternatively, use yesterday’s newspaper or spare cloth to wrap presents, or make your own crackers filled with small gifts your family will actually use!
Check out these FSC approved cards from Sue Ryder: https://shop.sueryder.org/products/charity-christmas-cards-xmas-tree-10-pack
- Choose second-hand gifts and Christmas party-wear
Pre-loved gifts are a great way to reuse items already in circulation, and reduce plastic-polluting packaging that comes with brand-new products (almost 12bn tonnes of plastic enter our environment each year). Charity shops and second-hand boutiques are brilliant places to find quirky one-of-a-kind presents that your loved ones will treasure. Buying your work-do Christmas jumper from the charity shop reduces water used to make garments, and will usually cost you less than buying new.
- Car share or use public transport
Around 19.16m separate car trips are made in the UK between 19 December and Christmas Eve, releasing harmful vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. Vehicle emissions can be reduced by car sharing or hopping on the bus or train when travelling home for Christmas this year. Or if you’re staying local, why not walk or cycle to your destination for some added exercise?
- Make your own gifts and decorations
Get crafty this Christmas by making your own presents like baking cookies or knitting a scarf using local and sustainable materials. Enlisting help of friends and family to make orange garlands and paper chains is a brilliant way to connect with loved ones, save money and reduce unnecessary plastic consumption.
- Burn natural-wax candles
Conventional candles made from petroleum-based paraffin wax are harmful to the environment, but using a beeswax or soy wax candle with a natural-material wick reduces candle toxicity to the environment.
- Gift digital this Christmas
Reduce gifting unwanted clutter and packaging that’s destined for landfill by purchasing digital subscriptions (e.g. an online magazine), online vouchers for experiences or adopting an animal for your loved ones. Lower carbon-footprints are associated with digital gifts as there is no need for shipping, most can be emailed straight to the recipient (this also makes them a perfect last-minute gift!).
- Keep a bag for life to hand
125,000 tonnes of plastic waste are sent to UK landfill each Christmas, reduce your part in this by keeping a bag-for-life in your car or handbag rather than buying single-use plastic bags. These bags end up in landfill, or causing harm to local wildlife on land in and water through suffocation and toxicity when swallowed.
- Reduce external lighting to protect wildlife
Nocturnal UK wildlife such as bats and owls rely on nighttime darkness to maintain circadian rhythms. Artificial light from external Christmas decorations can disruption essential foraging that takes place at night. Reducing external light intensity reduces the risk of disruption to nocturnal animals.
Do what you can this holiday season to lessen your impact on the environment so future generations can continue to enjoy the earth and its resources for many years to come.
Featured image: Unsplash / Olesia Buyar
How are you planning to reduce your environmental impact over Christmas?