We asked two of our readers how they intend to celebrate a cleaner, greener Christmas
Rachelle Strauss is a pioneer in the zero-waste movement
Q WILL YOU BE SENDING CHRISTMAS CARDS? Millions of cards end up in landfill every year and many are adorned with glitter and sequins, which do not biodegrade. We’re steering clear of shop bought glitz and making our own creations; getting out the scissors and glue, adding our imagination and seeing what we can create! Adult friends who understand my values will receive e-cards. There is a great site by Jacquie Lawson who provides stunning e-cards at jacquielawson.com. I’m also setting up an online photo album and inviting our loved ones to view up to date pictures of our daughter. Any cards that come into the house will be sorted after Christmas. Some will be kept, others will be reused and the rest will be recycled.
Q HOW WILL YOU MARK THE LEAD UP TO CHRISTMAS? Cheap advent calendars filled with poor quality chocolate have plastic nonrecyclable backing and are designed to be thrown away after use. We have two solutions. A cloth calendar with little pockets is filled with small wooden decorations for the tree. But my personal favourite is an advent angel that I made when our daughter was a baby. The angel is made from sheep’s wool and gradually moves up a midnight blue ribbon towards the star at the top in time for Christmas.
Q BIGGEST BUGBEAR AT CHRISTMAS? Crackers! Personally I hate the things but my daughter loves them! Luckily, I’ve found instructions for making my own at oldenglishcrackers.com and I’ll be raiding the craft box for suitable materials. I’m filling them with fair trade chocolates wrapped in foil, which can be recycled, and small wooden toys. If I fail (origami is not my forte!), then I have a back up plan from biomelifestyle.com . They sell crackers made from handmade seed paper and the gifts range from charitable donations to a fair trade key ring.
Q ANY TIPS ON WRAPPING PRESENTS? We have tried all sorts of ways of wrapping in the past and I’ll be doing some of them again this year. I find that newspaper looks good if you choose a page with an interesting photograph on and is relevant if you choose a story that will interest the recipient! My daughter’s old artwork often becomes wrapping and a gift. I have also used a decorative tin, scarf, fabric bag, tea towel or wooden box to wrap presents, which serves two functions. In addition I’ll be opening my own gifts carefully and salvaging the paper for another time!
Q TREE – PLASTIC OR REAL WITH A ROOT? Well, this year I’m asking whether it’s better to buy a plastic tree and reuse it or more eco friendly to buy the ‘real thing’? Plastic trees don’t involve killing a tree, the use of pesticides or land to grow them, but they are made from non-renewable resources, do not biodegrade and most are made in China. What is an eco worrier to do? I agree with Guy Barter from the Royal Horticultural Society, who says “A locally sourced, locally grown and locally composted Christmas tree is a relatively environmentally-friendly way of decorating for Christmas.” We’re fortunate in that we live in a forest region, so we can get a decent tree with roots to repot and keep.
Q WHAT PRESENT CHOICES ARE YOU MAKING? I’m buying gifts that come with minimal or recyclable packaging. I’ll also be visiting local craft fairs for handmade gifts with minimal packaging and to support my local community. In addition, I’m baking goodies for home made hampers filled with gorgeous treats. If you are looking for inspiration, what are your skills? Do you sew, knit, paint or enjoy woodcraft? Use your skills to create homemade presents for your loved ones. I also like to remember that people want to spend quality time with me - giving of ourselves is the best gift! So instead of being ‘too busy’, I’m going to be emotionally and physically available to those I love. Other zero waste gifts are letting my friends go out for the night while I babysit, treating my girlfriends to a massage or booking cinema tickets for them.
Q ANY AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT? Food and drink; this is definitely an area where I am looking to improve things! We’re going to have our usual food but with a few, minimal extras. Homemade mince pies and Christmas pudding and perhaps some home made truffles. Instead of shopping like I have the entire village to feed (which I normally do), I’m going to really cut down and learn from past mistakes. I’m using our local farm shop as much as possible and keeping away from the supermarkets where aggressive marketing tempts me. Storing leftovers properly means quick and easy soups, stews and casseroles for the rest of the festive season. This takes the pressure off me and eases my conscience too! It goes without saying that tins and bottles will be recycled and scraps composted. Even the cat is having fresh chicken to save on waste. >
Follow Rachelle and her zero waste family’s progress at myzerowaste.com
Andrew Anderson lives in Lier, Belgium with his wife and enjoys the traditions and the chance to spend time with his family at Christmas. He really became interested in environmental issues after moving to Belgium and finds green living easier on the continent than he did in the UK. Recycling is more straightforward and evolved with local collection points for everything from batteries to food packaging.
Q WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GOING GREEN AT CHRISTMAS? Well firstly, the statistics are startling. It is estimated that over Christmas as much as 83 sq km of wrapping paper will end up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey. And up to one billion Christmas cards could end up in UK bins (that’s 17 for every man, woman and child). I knew that with just a little thought, we could greatly reduce our impact on the environment.
Q HOW ARE YOU GOING TO REDUCE YOUR IMPACT BETWEEN THE AISLES? Try shopping naked - this isn’t what you think it is! I look for items with minimal or no packaging. That way, I can pick out the best fruit and vegetables too. If packaging is unavoidable, I choose materials which can be recycled in my area. And I compost the fruit and vegetable peelings. I have started to SNUB – Say No to Unwanted Bags. I use a reusable shopping bag where possible. And I won’t accept bags that I don’t need. I try to buy drinks in large containers rather than several small ones; it’s more economical and results in less waste. Best of all, I buy drink concentrates which can be diluted. I recommend supporting your local dairy, and I order any extra milk from the milkman in returnable bottles to avoid plastic bottles or cartons.
Q HOW ABOUT GIFT GIVING? I think that some of the most unusual gifts can be recycled ones, such as recycled jewellery, glass tableware, even cosmetic bags made from juice cartons! ( recycledproducts. org.uk ). I’m going to look for presents that are environmentally friendly or produced in a sustainable way. I will support my local charity shop, buy gifts from charity catalogues and look for Fair Trade products. I like the idea of buying an event rather than an object, like theatre tickets or sponsorship of an animal.
Q WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST BUGBEAR AT CHRISTMAS? One of the biggest waste items in our house every Christmas is wrapping paper. Buying recycled wrapping paper is a good start, but this year I’m going to focus on reusable Christmas gift bags or boxes and stockings. I tend to use string or ribbon to wrap presents rather than tape.
Q HOW MANY CARDS WILL YOU BE SENDING? A lot of people advocate electronic greeting cards to cut down on the waste, but I feel that this is not in the Christmas spirit, so I am going to reduce the number of cards I send and pledge to donate the money saved to charity. The cards I get given will be taken to local charity shops, which also collect old stamps from the envelopes. The Woodland Trust run a Christmas card recycling scheme ( woodland-trust.org.uk ). I keep some of my favourites and we use them to make gift tags.
Q TREE – PLASTIC FANTASTIC OR REAL WITH A ROOT? It’s a common misconception to think that buying an artificial tree is better for the environment. Artificial trees are made from non-renewable plastics and petroleum-based products, and although claimed to last a lifetime, most are thrown away after nine years, and remain in landfill sites for centuries. I think the best option is a live, uncut tree which can be planted in the garden after Christmas. When buying a real tree, look for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association label. This guarantees that the tree has been grown using the best environmental and sustainable practices. I like the fact that most local authorities offer recycling programmes after Christmas, even in the UK! Trees can be chipped into biodegradable mulch, which can be used for playgrounds, gardens and animal stalls. On average three new trees are grown for every one cut down at Christmas. On the subject of trees I also use a timer to control the lights on the tree, which can greatly reduce the energy costs.
Q WHAT OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD YOU MAKE FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GREEN UP THEIR CELEBRATIONS? Maybe you and your family can set yourself a challenge this Christmas. Think about how you can reduce the amount of waste at home and at work. Perhaps you could try and keep the amount of rubbish to no more than you would have in a ‘normal’ week. Think of your local recycling centre when having a clear out over the Christmas period, but make sure you plan journeys to recycling facilities around other trips such as shopping. This will help to minimise the environmental impact, and save you time as well. It’s customary to cook too much food over the holiday period, leading to large amounts of waste, so try and cook only the amount of food necessary. If preparing food for large numbers, consider using crockery and silverware rather than paper napkins, plates and disposable utensils.
Q AND LASTLY, WHAT’S YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION? I’m going to resolve to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible and more often. I also want to buy recycled goods wherever possible. I believe that the future of recycling ultimately depends upon there being a market for recycled materials.
DID YOU KNOW: Facts about Christmas Waste
• Although around 7.5 million Christmas trees are bought every year in the UK, only around 17% of these trees are recycled.
• About 20-30% more glass and cans are collected over the Christmas period compared with the rest of the year. • In just a fortnight over the holiday season, we each throw away five glass bottles or jars, six cans, seven plastic bottles and three kg of paper and card.
• Although 60% of household waste could be recycled, only about 23% actually is (find out more at wasteonline.org.uk)
• In Christmas 2007, 73.6 million cards were collected and recycled enabling 17,000 new trees to be planted.
READ Recycled Christmas Cards: Eco Craft Projects and Ideas to Repurpose Cards with 45 templates