The ultimate guide to a low-impact Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us and, although Covid-19 is having a good go at wrecking our most important holiday, UK consumers are getting ready for the season of good-will.

In this guide, Emma Oddie shows how you can have a low impact Christmas, with all the – much needed – fun included.

During the first lockdown, as news stories indicated that pandemics like Covid-19 could be the result of our unsustainable consumption practices, many of us made resolutions to change our habits. Veganism soared and people made pledges to walk more, reduce consumption and shop local. 

As we go merrily along into the Christmas period, it’s time to come through on those promises.

The perfect low impact gift

When we think of Christmas, we often think of presents. In fact, the average Brit spent over £300 on Christmas gifts in 2019. With many households time-rich and cash-poor this year, it might time to explore some alternatives to the traditional Christmas gift.

Get crafty

Getting fully involved in a good hobby is an excellent way to pass the long nights and raise the spirits. Why not turn your craft into presents? Crochet a blanket or bag, make a scrapbook full of shared memories or hand pour beeswax candles into old cups or pots and infuse them with your own essential oil blend. Simply swap the beeswax for soy flakes for a vegan alternative. 

Go full out and make your own vegan hampers from old wicker boxes and wrapping paper and fill them full of home-made chocolate brownies, chutneys and even soap.

Give your time

You don’t have to spend money to show you care. Make a promise to help an elderly relative clear out their attic or garden. Volunteer to babysit for stressed-out new parents or pledge to wash your spouse’s car for a month or two. Depending on restrictions, you could even just give someone a regular call if you can’t visit in person.

Give an experience

For a gift that lasts, give a precious experience to share with a friend. If you can afford the risk, buy tickets for a show and support the arts as they struggle through months of closure.

Get inventive and plan a trip, design an itinerary and fill it full of fun. Many of us have rekindled our love for the great outdoors so a membership for your local nature reserve could make a great present. The Woodland Trust have many excellent gift membership options and your support helps the Trust work to protect and increase woodland in the UK.

Give new life to an old item

Presents don’t have to be new. There is something special and unique in a carefully chosen second-hand or vintage item. Why not re-gift a favourite book and share the story with a friend. World of Books has a huge range of used books, including many recently released titles. For an extra special gift, why not find a vintage copy of an old-favourite or search for a special signed edition?

For clothing and accessories with a twist, visit Beyond Retro for a huge range of quirky pieces or check out Oxfam online.

If you’re looking for technology at Christmas, choose much cheaper and more sustainable used or refurbished models.

If you need to buy new, buy ethical and buy local

So, it’s got to be new but where do you go to find a gift that is aligned with your values? Retail is an industry riddled with issues: unethical supply chains, polluting factories, waste and carbon emissions, to name just a few. Amazon will be looking forward to particularly big profits this year as they cash in on consumers stuck at home. Resist Black Friday style deals and don’t support tax-avoiders and people-exploiters like Amazon this Christmas.

There are plenty of ethical brands and retailers out there blazing the way to a brighter consumer future. Check out the Ethical Consumer website for a full list of guides on everything from fashion to food and mobiles to make-up. Look out for our Best Buy ratings and companies with high scores on our ethical rating system. Many retailers have online stores so you can get your shopping started during lockdown.

And, of course, buy local wherever you can. Many local independents are feeling the pressure of the lockdowns and although many are trying to take online orders, it’s almost impossible to compete with the big brands through these channels. Look for small ethical companies that take the time to understand their supply chains and focus on sustainable, plastic-free gifts.

All the fun with none of the glitter

decorations

It’s hard to make it through your local garden centre or supermarket at Christmas without being blinded by the dazzling lights and glitter - so much glitter. As fun as it is to marvel at the bright displays, resist buying a whole new set of decorations this Christmas. 

So many decorations are made from cheap mass-produced materials and are covered in shiny microplastic glitter. Yes, glitter is a microplastic and is already being removed from schools, supermarkets and make-up brands due to its links to ocean pollution.

You probably have a whole attic full of decorations and, if you don’t, you can be sure someone nearby is looking to clear some out. Make do with what you have and ask around if you need to stock up. 

Your tree might not look like a page out of a designer home magazine, but remembering old, treasured childhood decorations and handmade baubles makes a slightly mismatched tree all the more charming.

Wrap it up eco-style

Go all out and ban glitter from your wrapping paper too. Choose recycled wrapping paper that can be easily recycled again. Watch out for foiled and glossy patterns or plastic-coated paper, many of these designs can’t be recycled. Try to resist the rolls in plastic packaging too. Wearth London offers a whole range of beautiful wrapping paper and reusable fabric wrap.

Perhaps this could be the year when you ditch the wrapping paper altogether. Why not save up magazines and newspapers and use this to wrap your presents. Tie the parcels with recyclable paper raffia or use paper sticky tape.

Extend the eco-theme to your Christmas crackers too. Rather than buying a box of throwaway plastic-filled crackers, why not make your own from recycled material. Paper raffia is an excellent alternative to ribbon and you can fill the crackers with personalised gifts for each person. 

Mini bottles of spirits, bamboo socks or homemade chocolates make thoughtful fillings. If you want to skip the waste altogether, why not make reusable hats and pop the cracker gifts into decorated jam jars for your guests to take home.

Time to bring out the food

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the full belly as you struggle to stay awake through the seasonal TV programmes. If you’re experiencing your first Christmas as a vegan or looking for new ideas on meat-free options, check out our vegan Christmas guide from guest blogger Monsoon of Random.

10 ways to avoid food waste this Christmas

As well as being a time of plenty, Christmas can also be a time of waste. Guest blogger Zoe Morrison gives her 10 top tips for food waste reduction at Christmas.

We all look forward to eating special foods over the festive season and it is lovely to have fun and enjoy yourself. However, when you buy more food than you need and can’t eat it all, it is a waste of resources and money. Plus, if the food is thrown in the bin, it contributes to climate change. So, I’ve written these 10 top tips to help you keep your food waste low this festive season: 

1.Avoid food waste

If you are going away, make a plan to run down or freeze the fresh contents of your fridge, fruit bowl and cupboards before you go.  

2. Draw up a meal plan

If you aren’t going anywhere, buy food in the quantities that are right for you. Before you go shopping, do a meal plan. That meal plan can include snacks as well as main meals. I think it is a good idea to include snacks because it is really easy to get carried away buying festive treats and end up with too many. Factor in if you think people will give you some as gifts too.

3. Write a shopping list and stick to it

Writing a shopping list doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But if you write a shopping list and stick to it, you can avoid food waste. Plus, it will save you money. Check your cupboards before you go and make sure you know what you need. It will stop you buying things you already have and getting side-tracked and buying things you weren’t planning on getting.

4. Don’t be tempted to shop early

Festive food is available from October, but buying it too early might mean it goes off before the big day. Or more likely you will end up eating it before you intended to and then end up buying more.

5. Before buying, make food back up plans

If your plans change, what will you do with the food that you are going to buy? Can you freeze it? Would you be happy to give it away? You can give excess food to people you know, perhaps to your local food bank (check with them first, they usually only want long-life food) or via the food sharing app Olio [https://olioex.com/]. Will it last long enough to be used on another day?

6. Don’t forget about food left out to cool

One of the most upsetting ways to waste food is to leave it out too long.  If you cook in advance, batch cook or have leftovers, you need to leave the food to cool before putting it in the fridge or freezer. My tip is to set a timer to remind yourself to put it away.

7. Freeze leftover turkey

You don’t need to eat turkey every night for a week after Christmas, put it in the freezer and it will keep for ages.

8. Make a use-it-up plan

After the big day, write a list of all the food that needs using up and come up with a plan for how you’ll incorporate it into your meal plan.

9. Ask for help with any food you aren’t sure what to do with

You could ask a friend or family member. Another option is to join my Facebook group [https://www.facebook.com/groups/reduceyourfoodwaste] dedicated to helping people reduce their food waste.

10. Compost

Where possible, put any food that can’t be used up in a food waste collection bin or compost it. Food gives off methane in landfill which is a powerful greenhouse gas. When it is composted it can be used to grow plants.

As you can see there are loads of ways to reduce food waste this festive season and hopefully, save yourself a bit of money along the way too. One final bonus tip: if you want to take things further, challenge yourself to a zero-food waste festive season and see how low your food waste can go.

Christmas cards – to buy or not to buy?

Many of us have given up Christmas cards in recent years in the quest to reduce paper waste or save time and money. Sending e-cards or calling or visiting friends and family can be a welcome alternative and pledging to give saved money to your favourite charity is a great way to do good without the waste.

Why not use the money to give the gift of clean water through Unicef or even feed a child for a year with a Mary’s Meals gift card. Be sure to let people know where you are sending your money, by email or through social media, giving much needed free advertisement for the charity – perhaps your idea will catch on and prompt others to do the same.

Whilst Covid-19 is keeping us isolated from our friends and family, many are reinvigorating card giving this year. If you’re looking to send those special messages of goodwill and encouragement, many sure you opt for recycled and recyclable cards without the plastic wrapping. If you’re buying charity cards, buy direct (rather than from a supermarket) so as much profit as possible goes to your chosen cause.

Low impact, high fun

As we enter the Christmas season, it’s time to take a good look at our traditions, to evaluate which ones we cling onto through habit, to know which ones serve us and our families well and to think about which conflict with our values. Low impact doesn’t mean low fun. It’s about being intentional about our purchasing behaviours, being thoughtful and creative.

Goodness knows, we need our fun this Christmas but let’s step into the festive season with purpose. Let’s live out the pledges we made to create truer, more ethical and sustainable lives.