Can we make Christmas more sustainable?

And just like that, Christmas is here. It’ll be as merry and full of best wishes as it is always is – but is the way we celebrate Christmas really sustainable?

Studies have shown that the average spend made by families increases by up to 60% at Christmas – and that is accompanied by an increase in waste of 30%. We definitely all fall into the excessive consumption trap at this time of year and that means the season to be jolly is also rather environmentally unfriendly. Does this mean the Christmas spirit and sustainability are incompatible? Absolutely not! We can continue to enjoy the most magical time of the year and yet also add a touch of sustainability to our Christmas recipe for happiness.

If we can also put into the mix a little creativity and a good dash of faith and family affection, we can really enjoy Christmas in the most intense, fun and authentic way!

Yes – a sustainable Christmas full of light, colour and gifts is possible!

01. Stop the present madness

There’s no doubt that Christmas is a time to receive, but it’s also much more about giving. We all like to buy presents for family and friends, but our budget often doesn’t match our ideas, and sometimes the latter are hard to come by too: what to get for your parents if they’ve got everything they need? How can we spread the money around so that everyone gets a present? Well, sometimes less is more, and so here are some ideas about how you can show your loved ones the love they deserve, but without forgetting about the rest of the planet and society.

  • Give sustainability: This might be a good opportunity to look for more sustainable alternatives to traditional brands and products. Natural cosmetics, organic textiles, and products which are not tested on animals: you don’t need to look far to find gifts which are different and very meaningful!
  • Give experiences: Try giving services rather than products, especially for adults. What about a trip to the spa for your father, an online photography course for your sister and a subscription for you, as an opera lover?
  • Avoid batteries: You can always go for a classic gift and stay away from the passing fads. Board games and toys made from wood or metal can stimulate children’s interest in mechanics and their creativity, while avoiding the use of batteries.
  • Set up a Secret Santa: this is a great way to give gifts without excess and it can be a lot of fun for family and friends: sometimes the person who you least expect might get you the best possible present!

02. Consume less and better

And not just at Christmas either, but throughout the year. It’s always a good idea to plan your purchases to minimize waste: only buy what you need or what you’re really going to use at this time.

Many of us overdo it with food at this time of year, but don’t forget to have some fruit and vegetables. And most especially, don’t waste food!

So, if you’re going to host guests at your home over Christmas, you might want to reconsider providing the traditional Christmas fare – admittedly delicious but not always very healthy. Why not surprise your loved ones with new recipes with more vegetables and less meat, more fruit and less sugar. And, of course, shop local and buy freshly made sweet things – indeed, buy fresh whenever possible. Buy loose items, rather than pre-packaged ones, and in stores near where you live – not only does this mean you’ll get better quality, but you’ll also be helping the local economy and reducing your carbon footprint.

Remember: Christmas is special for the memories we create, rather than the objects we give or receive. Spending a morning at the local market with family or friends to buy ingredients for that special meal – which you could cook together – can be a wonderfully fun and totally Christmassy experience.

03. Light up Christmas… sustainably

There’s no doubt that Christmas wouldn’t feel like Christmas without lights, nativity scenes, decorations and, of course, the tree. But when you’re decorating your house or wrapping your gifts, why not go for a more sustainable approach?

Use LED lights for your decorations – they don’t contain mercury or tungsten and so have a lower impact on the environment. They may well be a bit more expensive, but their price has been coming down and they have the advantage of using less energy, they last longer, and, when they do give out, they’re recyclable.

ACCORDING TO THE US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, 40% OF SALES OF BATTERIES OCCUR OVER THE CHRISTMAS PERIOD

Do you still send out Christmas cards? We’re not going to convince you to change to electronic messages, but think about this: just in the USA the amount of paper used to make Christmas cards every year is equivalent to 300,000 trees. Choose hand-made or recycled options to give your Christmas message a more personal and authentic touch. But if you still want to go out and buy cards… choose those that support charities at least!

And what about the presents? Unfortunately, wrapping paper, adhesives, cellophane and glitter typically contain plastics that have a significant impact on the environment. There are, of course, greener options: you could use recycled paper or even newspaper to wrap your gifts. But a great way to make your wrapping both impressive and environmentally friendly is to use the Japanese Furoshiki technique. You’ll need some colourful cloths (they could just be strips of cloth or scarves you no longer use), a bit of time to spare and a touch of artistry. But the result is well worth the effort.

04. Give to those who are most in need

Christmas is for everyone, not just for those who we’re closest to. There are many families and children in difficult situations who won’t have the opportunity to enjoy this time of year like we do. That’s why now is the time when we should be especially aware of how lucky we are and of the fact that we can share some of this good fortune with others.

Move away from plastic: wood, metal and organic fibres are the materials that can make Christmas sustainable.

There are so many ways to give someone a present at this time of year, and it’s not difficult to find gifts that we can all give. You could make a gift out of your time, talent or resources and there are many ways to do this. At the University, for example, you could get in touch with the Chair of Solidarity and learn about their campaigns for toy collection, befriending, and collaboration with a range of foundations and charity organizations. And don’t let the pandemic stop you: there are still safe ways of making a contribution to others’ happiness which are just a click away. What about making your gift a charity donation?

There’s no doubt that this is a season of excess, in which there is a glut of everything. But this year, let’s make it a glut of love, solidarity and of environmental conscientiousness. Have a very happy (and sustainable) Christmas!

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