A Conscientious Christmas (or a good go at it)

Astrid considers how we can have the most eco-friendly little Christmas possible this year – despite Coronavirus

Some shops may be shut, and we might have let ourselves go a little this year, but most of us are already running round like headless… turkeys… planning our Christmases. However, fast-forward to January 6th, and Christmas is being thrown out onto the street, begging a visit from the council.

The waste amassed during the festive period is shocking. According to Wildlife and Countryside Link, around 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging are thrown away in the UK and not recycled at Christmas. When I flashback to a blurry lesson in school in which I learn that some plastics can take up to 1000 years to decompose, I shudder. And it’s not just plastics – according to Good to Know, the quantity of Christmas cuisine scraped into the bin in 2018 was enough to constitute 4.2 million Christmas dinners. Try to fathom the unfathomable amount of money we’ve happily scraped into said bin.

“Eyes bigger than your stomach” is certainly a pearl of wisdom I’m familiar with, but (contrary to what your stomach might believe) it’s not always our fault. David T. Courtwright, author of The Age of Addiction; How Bad Habits Became Big Business, suggests we are living in a “limbic capitalism” – which means companies excel at targeting our natural instincts for profit. “I feel so used!’, you might think. That’s because, unfortunately, you are.

So, what can we do to protect both our pockets and the planet?

It’s Prime time to kiss Amazon goodbye

Corporate giants don’t need your money. Small businesses do.  COVID-19 has blown a cold wind of change through our towns, slamming the doors of many a beloved local shop shut, and flinging the ‘OPEN’ sign to ‘CLOSED’ in one blow. They need our financial support more than Amazon does this year.

If you’re planning on spending lots on gifts from big conglomerates this year, ask yourself: do you want this to be personal? You’re likely picking from a selection that most of the country was sat scrolling through this lockdown. God forbid you picked something for Nanny Babs from ‘Bestsellers’. Shame on you. Just imagine George Michael among the local carol singers at your door belting out a lovely rendition of “Last Christmas, I gave you reindeer socks but the very next day, you gave them away” …unlikely – but you get the message.

Gifts that require a touch of extra thought feel far more special and small businesses can offer those very same things, but better. We want our stuff to last, right? If your budget for Babs is big, then you’re away – but if not, you can still give great gifts at low cost. With that golden £5-10 budget, you can find a multitude of special somethings that are local/hand-made/re-useable/organic/plastic-free/vegan/any other eco-warrior box-ticker- all at your disposal (although preferably not, remember?).

Online shops like Etsy are something of a treasure trove. Etsy sellers are mostly small businesses and creatives selling their own product. This is a great way to redirect support when physical shops are shut. Buying less but buying better – while supporting small businesses – can save you money and save the planet valuable resources.

Please MTV, Pimp my Yuletide

Giving presents to friends and family is broadly a ‘non-negotiable’. So, where else can we reasonably cut back? In 2020, it’s not just about being frugal. There are choices we can make that will ease the strain on Mother Nature, too. Why not get the whole house involved in these DIY delights?

A good deal of us have a trusty bin bag of baubles that makes an appearance once every Noël, but homemade decorations are a top alternative if you find your halls are a little under-decked this year.

  • Pinecones found in your local park or woods make perfect decorations. Whether they’re on a table or hung on the tree, they prove themselves just as good as the shop-bought stuff with a little flour or icing sugar sprinkled on top.
  • Homemade wreaths are easy to fashion from cuttings of evergreens like holly, ivy, and other firs with some twigs and twine. This type of plant is best found in woodland too, so a day out foraging could be the perfect thing.
  • Dried orange slices are my favourite of all (and require minimal effort). Simply cut a standard orange into thin slices and make a small hole in the centre of each. Put them on a cooling rack in the oven for three to four hours at the lowest temperature, turning them every so often. When they are done, you can thread cotton or twine through the centre and hang them wherever you please.
  • Another easy-going alternative is to adorn just about anything in your home (although not the dog, maybe Nanny Babs) in fresh herbs and twine. Instant festive feeling.

If you would like to extend your eco-friendliness to gift-giving too, here is my favourite edible offering:

  • Chocolate shards are a tasty and creative way of DIY-ing possibly the most classic Christmas present of all: chocolate. Simply melt dark or milk chocolate in the microwave, then melt white chocolate in another bowl. Pour one onto a lined baking tray first, and then trickle the other on top. You can even create a marbled effect by making swirls with then end of a spoon. Leave to cool and set, then cut into shards. Easy.

Santa, Stop Here!

While these tips are great for a lot of us, there are many that will rely on foodbanks throughout this Christmas, throughout the pandemic, and throughout 2021. Doing what you can for the environment will only become even more important by that time, but so many people are not allowed that opportunity. It is a privilege to worry about waste.

Perhaps a new year’s resolution could come a month early. When you go out to do your next shop, pick up few items for your local foodbank, or donate a few pounds. There are often donation points near the checkouts, which make helping out easy. Look up foodbanks near you and find out what they need.

Christmas should not centre material objects but love and care, especially after such a whirlwind of a year. Every day we are learning how to make better decisions financially and ecologically, and we know how to make better decisions morally. Now is the perfect time to get going. Let’s make this Christmas a conscientious one.

Will you be doing your best to limit your waste this Christmas? Let us know how in the comments.

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