December is a time of celebration for many people. Pagans look to the Winter Solstice as a sign that the wheel of the year will start turning back towards the warmer, brighter days of summer. Christians have the Christmas to look forward to whilst followers of the Jewish faith have eight days to observe Chanukah (also known as Hanukkah). Even if you don’t believe in one of these religions many people will still swap gifts, take breaks from work, meet up with friends & family, eat, drink and be merry.
With the celebrations often comes increased consumption. Those of us that want to minimise our footprints have to think and plan carefully over the winter festive period to minimise our impact. Here’s a few hints and tips that you might find useful if you want to have a greener holiday period.
- Don’t buy too much food. These days many shops only close for a day or two over Christmas, yet many people still buy huge amounts that will last for weeks. Buying little and often means that you’re less likely to have things going off in the fridge before New Year. It also means you can take advantage of some of the bargains offered by shops after 25th December as they try to sell remaining stock. For some there is the added benefit that a shopping trip can get you out of the house – some may want that excuse!
- Consider how you wrap gifts. Choosing different types of wrapping paper can affect how the paper waste after the presents have been opened can be dealt with. Shiny or metallic wrapping paper can not be recycled as easily as simple paper wrappings can. However the really keen green folk often open their presents as carefully as possible so that the paper can be reused. Alternatively gift bags can be useful and can also be reused year after year.
- Choose local, natural materials or home made gifts. If possible aim for presents that have been made locally, using natural materials such as wood, or which have been lovingly crafted at home. Lots of plastic is used in toys and packaging, and that plastic mostly comes from fossil oil sources. A home made or locally created product also has less carbon associated with shipping it half way across the world. Also consider gifts that aren’t “things” and can help charities such as adopting animals or sponsoring education of children in the developing world.
- Pick the right Xmas Tree. A natural Christmas tree consumes 3.5kg of CO2 in its shipping if it is subsequently used for wood work, or burnt as firewood next year. This rises to 16kg if it gets put in the landfill in January and it decomposes in the tip. A plastic tree has a much higher footprint of around 40kg of CO2, so only makes more sense from an eco-friendly point of view if you’re prepared to wheel it back out every year for over a decade. Of course there’s also the option of a living tree which can be planted out into your garden and keep absorbing carbon dioxide as it grows!
- Make your own decorations. There’s an awful lot of plastic involved in the decorations you can buy in the shops, yet it is easy and fun to make your own decorations. For example willow tree twigs are easy to gather and then bend & tie into rings which can then be covered with evergreen sprigs, berries, rosehips, fir cones and ribbons to make a door wreath. Rather than tinsel streamers, consider sitting down with your children to make paper chains – you can even reuse glossy colourful magazine paper for a really low impact. And for a real blast from the past, how about making this classic 1980’s Blue Peter snowman? If you do buy tinsel, remember to pack it away carefully so that it can be reused next year – don’t just put it in the bin on 12th Night. Real holy, mistletoe and fir branches can be chopped up and composted.
- Have plans ready for using left overs. Many of us cook large meals at some point over the celebration period and inevitability this means left overs. Whilst the use of turkey left overs is something of a tradition of British Christmases (and often the butt of many Yuletide jokes!), don’t overlook reusing other things like vegetables, cream, nuts and cheeses. If you know what sort of things you are likely to have in the fridge on 26th or 27th December you can be prepared by looking up suitable recipes to make use of them.
- Get your home insulation up to scratch. Before guests turn up for meals or parties, you can cut down on draughts and bills by doing some simple and cheap insulation DIY improvements. Things like thermal curtains, draught excluders for doors and letterboxes, and secondary double glazing can make your home warmer and more inviting, as well as cutting down your bills. If you can, don’t heat rooms that you aren’t using. Try not to put the tree up in front of radiators if possible – it will absorb more of the heat which can push your bills up as well as cause it to drop needles sooner.
We hope these will give you some ideas for having a pleasant, low impact festive season. Best wishes to all Transitioners and we’ll see you again in the New Year for Potato Day 2016 and our annual seed swap!