The overarching themes of sustainability are: using what you already have, reducing what you waste and minimizing what you receive. I have divided this into five sections based on what I think the most important things are at Christmas!
Being sustainable is all about minimizing or eliminating meat (and dairy!)
There are a lot of misconceptions about the environmental impact of food, and there is a general understanding that buying beef from the farm down the road is better then buying an avocado from South America. Clearly grass fed beef from down the road is better than soy fed beef from the USA but is it better than an avocado…?
One of my favourite websites for data based answers to these questions is ‘our world in data’. https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food is their article on the environmental impact of food. Most striking is that 77% of agricultural land is used for livestock – but this only produces 18% of global calorific supply and 37% global protein supply. I could rant on about all of this, but it is an article about Christmas so I probably should spend too much time ranting! I would recommend reading this article, it is easy to follow and really interesting. In summary though an avocado is still lower impact that the beef from down the road.
That said for a lot of people meat is the focus of the main meal so what to do!
Think about going for chicken/turkey rather than red meat – they have a much lower carbon footprint. When thinking about a favourite side like pigs in blankets – why not use veggy sausages and real bacon, or you could even try full vegan pigs in blankets (full disclosure, I have tried these and they are a not that great!)
Think about minimizing the amount of meat and dairy products you have – there are some really lovely vegan puddings and ice creams out there! Rather than a meat stuffing, go for a veggie or vegan one. Make the vegetables a more focal point of the dish, who doesn’t love a good honey roasted carrot/parsnip (or agave syrup roasted for the vegans). If you are feeling adventurous you could try making your own seitan (gluten based, used for a lot of meat substitutes), one year I made a Wellington with seitan, mushroom pancakes and vegan pastry and it was pretty good!
Most importantly of all, avoid food waste! Whatever you plan to make, either plan to make the right amount for the day or have a couple of good recipes for leftovers so that no food goes in the bin, especially not food that has never left the packet!
There are lots of good services now for getting locally sourced veg and meat – think about looking up your local service, or heading down to a local farm shop. This both supports local industry and minimises your food miles. Equally if you have a packageless shop nearby, buy as much as you can from there, this is good for bulk buying dry ingredients.
If you have a plastic tree that has been in your family for years – keep using it, that’s pretty sustainable!
If getting a cut tree make sure its from a place that replaces the trees it cuts down and manages the land. When it comes to disposal – make sure it doesn’t just go into landfill! There are often local places that will take garden waste like a tree and chip it and then compost it to create compost – there is one in Sheffield https://greenestaterecycling.co.uk/compost-products-2/ (though you would need to ring up in advance and check before dropping off – may need to cut the tree down into slightly smaller bits!). There is also this place in Sheffield http://www.thesheffieldchristmastreecompany.co.uk you can buy a cut tree from here and then return it to them for chipping, or they will charge you £10 to chip a tree bought elsewhere.
Think about getting one in a pot, it will likely be much smaller but you can enjoy nurturing it and watching it grow each year. At some point it will probably will have to go into the ground but at that point it could become an outside Christmas tree.
There are also now some places where you can rent a tree in a pot for the Christmas period, then send it back afterwards for its to be cared for my experts ready for the next year.
When it comes to decorating the tree, using what you already have is best. If you are crafty minded you can make handmade decorations, ideally out of repurposed things such as magazines or pamphlets. See our newsletter for how to make an origami star! Another option is edible Christmas tree decorations, gingerbread works really well for this, or homemade chocolates if you are feeling adventurous. Another homemade option is salt dough, this is made with flour and salt (so definitely not edible!! https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-make-salt-dough-recipe), but keep for a number of years once baked and can be painted or coloured on with felt tips for decoration.
If buying new decorations, think about buying decorations which are made of recyclable or biodegradable materials (think wood, glass, cardboard or plastic that can definitely be recycled). Once again an opportunity to support local crafty businesses!
First of all think if a gift is really necessary – quite often we buy a gift for the sake of it. Why not ask people for suggestions so you make sure they receive something they really want/need. Also better to just get one gift that will be well loved, than lots of little ones which may end up not used or end up going straight in the bin. Avoid cheap easily breakable novelty gifts. For kids wooden toys tend to be a lot more hardy than plastic ones. Also think about consumable gifts – for a number of years now my parents have asked for consumable gifts, they don’t want to gather more stuff as they are thinking about downsizing! Good consumable options include alcohol, chocolate, food hampers.
For the last few years with the adults in my family we have either had a no present pact or done a secret santa amongst all the adults, that way everyone gets something and everyone only has to buy one thing.
Think second hand – I have been amazed at what you can buy second hand, often things that have barely been used. It does take a little more time to do but is very satisfying when it goes well! Second hand works particularly well for children – so many toys are barely used, same with clothes. We have a saying in our house for something that is second hand ‘it has more love in it because it has been loved before’
If second hand isn’t an option for a particular gift think about where you are buying it and how long it will last. There are some brilliant companies now providing circular clothes, and websites dedicated to buying something once (will provide lifetime repairs and better quality goods), one example is: https://uk.buymeonce.com/. If thinking about buying electronics there are lots of items that can be bought refurbished, and they almost always come with the same guarantee as a new product.
If you are crafty then you can make homemade gifts, bonus points for repurposed materials for this!
Other options for gifts are experience gifts, I have got these for my husband the last few years, comedy tickets mainly!
If buying new wrapping paper – make sure that it is recyclable (normally written on the packaging), avoid anything shiny or sparkly or that feels plasticy or like foil – this can only go into landfill. If you already have some of this paper, then wrap it and open the present carefully, then the paper can be used a number of times! Back to the good old times of ironing your wrapping paper!
Another option is good old brown paper (either reclaimed from packaging or new) and paper tape. If it that is a bit boring for you, you can always decorate it, I get my kids to do Christmas themed shapes and pictures on a roll of brown paper and use that to wrap things up. If you have kids and get endless ‘artwork’ back from nursery/school some of that always works as brilliant wrapping paper!
If you want to go a bit higher class you could try the Japanese art of Furoshiki – wrapping presents in cloth with beautiful results. Does require some buy in from the people you are gifting too as these are then repeatedly reused and regifted around. https://www.invaluable.com/blog/furoshiki/
Lots of families have a particular family tradition when it comes to activities, just have a think if you can alter these slightly to make them more sustainable! A classic Christmas activity is the boxing day walk – this is a brilliant option, gets everyone out in the fresh air, low carbon and works off the Christmas meal! Think about exploring your local area for your boxing day wander, rather than getting into a car to go elsewhere.
Family board games are a firm Christmas favourite. If you fancy a new one head down to your local charity shops – I am always finding new board games there, along with puzzles for the kids.
Another favourite activity at Christmas is eating out. Similar to eating in, think about going for the vegetarian or vegan option, or maybe just choose less meat. Think about picking somewhere a bit closer by so you can walk there rather than getting in your car.