Christmas may be the loveliest time of the year, as so many songs have sung about – but it’s also the time of over-consumption. In the UK alone, an average household spends a whopping 811 euros more in December than in normal months: on gifts, treats and other Advent extras.
As consumption increases, so does the mountain of rubbish. In the USA, for example, the amount of household waste increases by 25 percent during the Christmas season.
But don’t worry, there are many tips to make the best time of the year a little greener.
Of course, giving and receiving presents is part of Christmas. Anyone who gives cleverly can also make the environment happy at the same time.
All you have to do is think about it before you buy it, such as looking for locally made things made from sustainable or recycled materials. Or making sure gifts are durable and reusable, rather than putting the latest gimmick on the gift table that will only be used a few times and then gathers dust in a corner or ends up in the trash.
If you get something yourself that doesn’t suit your taste, you can simply give it away or donate it. A poll by pollster YouGov found that more than half of people in the UK receive at least one unwanted gift at Christmas. Most found the gift-giving acceptable.
According to a study published in the journal Nature in 2020, the prodigious amount of things made by humans now exceeds all living things on earth. So instead of piling up this mountain of material from the Anthropocene, i.e. the geological era shaped by humans, even higher, it is worth visiting vintage or second-hand shops. Real treasures can be found here, such as unique pieces of jewelery and much more.
For those of us who can make fun crafts or cook reasonably well, there are plenty of online guides to making clever gifts, from photo albums to delicious preserves. Less artistically talented can also give away vouchers for concerts, theater performances and other events.
The annual overflowing of the garbage cans at Christmas can be prevented if you do without excessive gift wrapping. Around 50,000 trees are felled each year to produce the more than 365,000km of wrapping paper used each year in the UK.
Even though it looks pretty – most wrapping paper – especially if it’s decorated with glitter or something else, contains plastic so it’s not recyclable and ends up in landfill. There is a simple trick to find out whether wrapping paper is really just paper. To do this, crumple it up into a ball. If this remains in its crumpled form, it can go in the waste paper bin.
To avoid waste and save trees, you can also reuse old wrapping paper or wrap gifts in newspaper. Another good alternative are reusable cloths or cloth bags.
The Christmas season is also the time of food waste. Of the more than 930 million tons of food thrown away in 2019, more than 60 percent came from private households.
In order to protect your wallet and the environment, you should not cook more than you can eat. It is enough if you consider beforehand how many people are to be fed. The required amount of food can then be determined using a portion calculator. And if something is left over, there are many good recipes for tasty leftovers to be found on the Internet.
Meatless recipes reduce CO2 consumption
The best way to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of Christmas dinner is through vegetarian, and even better, vegan recipes. Poultry such as chicken or turkey does have a lower carbon footprint than the worst carbon sinners, beef and lamb. But legumes, grains and vegetables clearly have the edge in this race.
There are tons of delicious and exciting vegetarian and vegan recipes just a click away.
And if you don’t want to do without meat entirely, you can reduce your meat consumption and buy it regionally and free-range. The same goes for buying vegetables. Locally or regionally grown products that are in season avoid emissions because transport is not so far.
One’s own traffic emissions when shopping in stores further away can be reduced by carpooling with acquaintances or neighbors. When shopping around the corner, a shopping trolley is easy on the shoulders and back, the “Hackenporsche” is not only a helpful companion for older women and the occasional gentleman. Of course, you can also use it to do other bulk purchases throughout the year.
What would be the loveliest time of the year without Christmas decorations and fairy lights brightening up the gloomy winter? LED lights are the green alternative and also easy on the wallet: They are more energy-efficient, safer and more durable than old light bulbs and ensure a bright Christmas day.
Instead of buying new Christmas decorations every year, you can stick to traditions and simply reuse the old ones. Tree ornaments can also be made from whatever material you have lying around at home: why not cut chic new stars out of old jeans for a craft afternoon with family or friends? But if you want new tree decorations: they are also available used or made from recycled or sustainable materials.
Finally, a word about the Christmas tree. Which is better to buy a real coniferous tree or an artificial one? According to the environmental organization WWF, buying an artificial tree only makes sense if it will be used for at least 10 years. Because plastic Christmas trees cannot be recycled, and plastics are made from fossil fuels.
If you want a real tree, WWF advises buying it from an FSC-certified forest and making sure it’s processed after the festival.
But there are other alternatives, such as a growing number of tree rental services. The rental Christmas trees come in a flower pot and are returned and replanted after Christmas.
If you want to be creative yourself, you can also decorate with a few spruce or pine branches or make an individual “tree” out of a ladder, branches or a stack of books. There are also many ideas on the Internet for this.
This text has been translated from English.
Autor: Jennifer Collins
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The original for this article “Five tips for a sustainable Christmas” comes from Deutsche Welle.