Christmas is going to be a little different for most of us this year. The recent Covid-19 lockdowns have given many of us a chance to think about how we can save money, reduce waste and be more intentional with our spending. Now that the festive season is upon us, I thought I’d put together some ideas for how we can keep the momentum going. So, here’s my little guide on how to have a greener Christmas in 2020 without spending the Earth:
We throw away one billion Christmas cards each year in the UK. The least expensive, most eco-friendly alternative to sending Christmas cards is to send e-cards, post a festive message on social media or inform friends and family that you are donating to a charity instead this year.
I confess I haven’t sent Christmas cards in years, mainly because I never seem to get round to it in time, but if you enjoy the ritual of writing and posting cards, look out for charity cards that are glitter-free, FSC certified and recyclable, or even, compostable.
Eight million Christmas trees are bought, decorated and ditched every year. However, artificial trees aren’t an environmentally friendly alternative due to the high carbon footprint of their manufacture, plus the fact that 14 percent of people using them throw theirs away each year. You can reduce your tree’s environmental impact by choosing one from a local retailer that has FSC certification to show that it has been sustainably grown.
Sadly, where I live many people just dump their tree on the pavement. I spend January slaloming in and out of them with the pushchair. You can dispose of your tree by taking it to the local recycling centre or arranging for the council or a local recycling service to pick it up so that it can be turned into bark chippings or animal bedding.
We burn our Christmas tree in a chiminea to keep the Christmassy smell going and then put the ashes in the compost. But if the roots are still attached, and you have the space, you could plant your tree in your garden.
Britons use an astonishing 227,000 miles of wrapping paper at Christmastime. Sadly, most of it cannot be recycled because it contains plastic. You can check if wrapping paper is recyclable by doing the ‘scrunch test’ – scrunch it up into a ball and if it doesn’t unfold then you can pop it in your recycling bin.
Brown paper is an easy eco swap to make for the plastic version. It’s cheap and readily available from the Post Office. Affordable versions baring eco-friendly festive prints are available this year from various websites including Hobbycraft and Barnardos. Or you could try jazzing up your brown paper with a Christmassy wooden stamp – just make sure that the dye doesn’t render it unrecyclable.
The most eco friendly option is to secure brown paper parcels with string, ribbon or eco twine but if you use sticky tape, just remember to peel it off before recycling the paper, or use a biodegradable sticky tape like one from Ecovibe or &Keep. Green People also recommends ditching disposable plastic bows in favour of a festive sprig of holly or yew.
Every Christmas for as long as I can remember, my mum has made her own Christmas gift tags out of the previous year’s Christmas cards. She simply cuts the picture or pattern out with a pair of crinkle cut scissors. You could punch a hole in the corner and thread a piece of string through it or just stick one corner of the tag directly onto each present.
Making these gift tags is a fun, mindless activity to do in the evening in front of the TV with a glass of wine and means that each present comes with a unique tag. Plus, you will save on the packaging from buying a set of new gift tags.
The most eco-friendly option when it comes to decorations is to use the same ones every year. Or else buy handmade ones from sustainable materials or make your own.
Admittedly, in our house we have a lot of tinsel – but it gets reused every year. Greener, less bling and infinitely nicer Christmas decorations are foliage and berries such as ivy and holly. If you don’t have anything suitable in your garden then I’m sure it would be possible to carefully prune a piece from a bush growing in the local park without doing any harm, just as long as you leave plenty of berries for the birds and be careful not to bring anything poisonous inside if you have small children.
A staggering 500 tonnes of fairy lights are discarded every year. If your Christmas lights are on their last legs then replacing them with LED lights, which use less energy and last longer, is definitely the right eco option.
According to the recycling company Business Waste, British youngsters chomped through 16.5 million advent calendars last year – enough to spread from London to the North Pole! Unfortunately, modern advent calendars are made of a mix of cardboard, foil and plastic – rendering them extremely difficult to recycle.
A better option is to use a refillable advent calendar filled with your own treats. Both sets of my children’s grandparents have been very naughty this year and sent us disposable advent calendars. I’m expecting refillable hand-knitted ones next year in recompense!
Christmas crackers are good fun round the Christmas dinner table but their remains and contents usually end up in the bin soon after pulling. You could consider investing in reusable ones or else find ingenious ways of recycling them. For instance, the little plastic toys could become bath toys or presents to go between pass-the-parcel layers at children’s parties, while the colourful packaging could get snipped up and used in collages.
According to Love Food, Hate Waste, we chuck out two million turkeys, five million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies each Christmas in the UK, equating to 5.4 million platefuls of food. All that waste food rotting in landfill emits methane, contributing towards climate change.
Trying to ignore two-for-one offers and only buy what you and your family will realistically eat is key to creating less waste. This year’s smaller gatherings should at least make estimating food quantities a little easier. But if you do end up with lots of leftovers, Love Food, Hate Waste has loads of inventive ways for using them up.
Ten million turkeys are consumed in the UK each Christmas, and according to Greenpeace, it takes an area the size of the city of Glasgow to grow enough soya to fatten them up – contributing to deforestation on a mass scale.
But does anyone even like turkey? A more sustainable, (tastier) option is to cook up a vegan nut roast. Traidcraft recommends this scrumptious one from the BBC website, which contains mushrooms, grains, hazelnuts, fresh herbs and parsnip crisps for a satisfying crunch. Or if this sounds like too much work and your guests prefer the taste of meat, you can find vegan alternatives to a wide range of traditional dishes such beef wellington or glazed ham at most supermarkets. Don’t forget to use vegan gravy or learn how to make your own.
For dessert, Traidcraft suggests creating an indulgent vegan fudgy chocolate cake, using vegan chocolate, avocado, soya milk, and muscovado sugar. This cake is so moist and rich that non-vegans will be completely fooled and it only takes an hour to prepare.
An estimated £42 million worth of unwanted Christmas presents end up in landfill each year in Britain alone. The simplest way to reduce this waste and to spend less at Christmas is not to give so much. I agree with Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, that gift-giving can cause stress and anxiety because it puts pressure on recipients to give back, whether they can afford it or not. To cut costs you could try making a No Unnecessary Present Pact (NUPP) with friends and relatives or agree to do a Secret Santa instead of buying for everyone.
As parents, there is the added pressure to make Christmas special for our children. But this needn’t mean forking out for the latest must-have toys. Kids are much more likely to cherish experiences, such as an evening walk to spot twinkly lights or the ritual of leaving out a mince pie and sherry for Santa, while younger children will probably prefer playing with the Christmas wrapping paper and boxes than their contents on Christmas morning. For inspiration, here are some free or cheap ways to sprinkle some Christmas magic.
It may not sound very romantic, but you could consider giving your spouse a useful gadget that can help you save money in the long-term. One year I received a bread maker from Mr Rixon. Now we wake up to the smell of freshly-baked bread twice a week without having to put any effort into making it. It didn’t take long to recoup the cost of the bread maker as we now rarely buy bread and the basic ingredients are cheap.
Accessories to support a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that will help you to save money and reach financial independence (FI) are another good present idea. When Mr Rixon took up cycling and running, I kitted him out in the right gear at Christmas. But I bought everything from Decathlon – no expensive, branded stuff allowed!
If this all sounds a bit boring you can always make up for it by giving something smaller and more personal too. I simply love notebooks – and charity shops always seem to be full of lovely brand new ones, obviously donated by people who don’t share my enthusiasm. If anyone wants to buy me a gift, I always say they can never go wrong with a good notebook!*
And if I’m short on present inspiration for others, I think it’s nice to support local businesses and friends with lovely things to sell at this time of year. For example, my friend Pip Jones is a talented author of children’s books; my brother Ed Church pens gripping detective novels; my friend Nina makes gorgeous children’s toys, clothing and accessories and my neighbour and friend Charlotte has just opened an Etsy shop with this lovely squirrel mug.
Over to you! I bet you have a gazillion hacks for having a greener, thriftier Christmas that I’ve not thought of. Please share!
*Mr Rixon did once ‘go wrong with a good notebook’. He purchased me a beautiful handmade one from a local craft and vintage fair. However, its pages had been sprayed with a heady perfume, making it unusable to me, so it ended up in a charity shop. He has never dared buy be another.