New Year’s resolutions for less waste in 2023

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions you could do a lot worse than thinking about what you’ll do better waste-wise next Christmas. 

When I say ‘you’, of course, I mean me, but feel free to join me if the cap fits.

I’m resolving that last year’s festive fails will be this year’s gains if I’m to reduce my family’s contribution to the huge waste mountain created annually at this time of year.

This will be achieved through my being more organised. Those of a certain age might remember the advert that coined the phrase Vorsprung Durch Technik (Progress Through Technology). I like to think of my New Year’s resolutions as Vorsprung Durch List-making. I’m calling it my Christmas Listmas.

 You may make resolutions now but, believe me, you will forget them if you don’t write them down. Christmas turns us all into goldfish brains. A kind of Christmas insanity descends like a thick fog and chokes us all in its suffocating vapours until we can no longer think straight.

  • Write a Memo to Self – I’m writing down all the areas for improvement while they’re fresh in my mind. I’ll be leaving this list on top of the Christmas decorations for the new me to find in December. It was only when I started feeling sick after over-eating a melted camembert with sticky fig sauce that I remembered I had resolved last year never to eat it again. But you see I didn’t write it down and I’ve slept since then. Likewise, if you’re the sort of person who bought next year’s presents in the Boxing Day sales (hello, mum-in-law!), add a note of the presents and their hiding places to the list. You won’t remember where you put Auntie Ethel’s present and you won’t remember who you bought the novelty gorilla slippers for, apart from the fact it wasn’t Auntie Ethel.
  • Make a request – None of us want to become the kind of person that people cross the street to avoid for fear of getting an eco-lecture, but surely we can ask those closest to us to buy eco-friendly Christmas cards for us and to wrap our present in recyclable paper, even if it’s as simple as avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc?
  • Do some research in advance – Check out toy rental companies, such as Whirli, and companies that rent Christmas trees. If you leave it too late you’ll probably forget your good intentions.
  • Avoid Oops, I Did it Again syndrome – Don’t overcook. I read a great article that said no one needs more than two side dishes, three if you must. This was news to me, raised on my mother’s traditional dozen side dishes. But it’s true; there’s only so much anyone can eat. So next year I’ll be going for three. I may let the family vote for what they consider sacrosanct. Are Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner a Yorkshire/Northern thing? I only ask because I noted that Mary Berry didn’t include any in her Ultimate Christmas programme and she is the authority as far as I’m concerned. Making Christmas dinner, my husband got so sick of me saying ‘Mary Berry says…’ that he threatened to rip off his Santa pinny and resign as my sous-chef. 
  • Research other recipes – I think my sons would agree there was a little too much post-Christmas bubble and squeak, so I’ll be coming up with different ways with leftovers. I found a great sprout recipe – Cheesy Sprout Bake – on Beckett’s Farm Shop Insta  Award Winning Farm Shop & Rest (@beckettsfarm) • Instagram photos and videos involving bacon, spices and cheese sauce. I’ll also be trying this Abel and Cole recipe for Boxing Day burritos that I found, alas, too late – Boxing Day Burritos Recipe | Abel & Cole (abelandcole.co.uk) –  as well as one for ragged sprout leaves – shred and toss leaves in batter with spices before frying in oil to make crunchy bhajis.
  • Give away some decorations – You know you have too many and some people have none. Last summer my cousin suffered what we in our family call the Great Christmas Decorations Tragedy, involving her husband clearing ‘rubbish’ out of the garage while she was at work…I don’t think I need to go into the grisly details, but in giving her a box of our decorations it cleared space for us and gave her some festive cheer.
  • Make the break – If you’d like to suggest that perhaps you could stop buying a present for your 35-year-old nephew who’s an investment banker, now is the time. Don’t wait until the run-up to Christmas because you’ll lose your nerve. Remember that Christmas insanity fog? It sets in after Halloween.
  • Get into composting now (if you haven’t already) – then you’ll be ‘speaking compost’ like a native by December. Never again will you suffer Bin Day Anxiety as you wonder how much longer you’ll be tripping over (or smelling) your bags of waste. Instead, you’ll be comfortably composting your food waste, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. Plus, if your council is one of the 50 per cent in England which have yet to switch to separate food waste collections, you’ll be an old hand at separating your leftovers into a kitchen caddy, so the change will be painless.
  • Through the festive fog, always remember what matters – Our induction hob stopped working two days before Christmas. Despite fearing I was going to have a meltdown, in actual fact I came to my senses. While waiting for the electrician, I realised that this really wasn’t a disaster; if we had to eat tuna sarnies for Christmas dinner, would it really matter in the scheme of things? This year’s mishap is next year’s anecdote. Too soon? Ok, whenever.

PS. The electrician saved the day but the lesson I learned still stands.

 I may write an inspirational book called ‘The Woman, the Turkey, the Hob and the Meltdown’ in time for next Christmas.

Julie Halford

Our 12 tips of Christmas

Still on the topic of sustainability at Christmas, here are a few more tips to add festive joy without waste to landfill.

  • Borrow Christmas

If you have ever wished it was possible to ‘borrow Christmas’ by renting as much as possible, check out this article in the Observer Christmas for hire: shoppers turn to renting for trees, toys and outfits | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian with ideas on renting toys, bikes, clothes, tables and sofas to cope with an influx of guests, as well as table decorations.

  • Buy sustainably

 One of my favourite things at this time of year is Christmas cards. Controversial, I know, to those who would ban them if they could. But I believe it’s possible to buy carefully, sustainably and recyclably, (avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc) and buying cards that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so you know the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced. Greetings card companies know that consumers increasingly want products that are as sustainable as possible and are raising their game as a result.

Recycle cards

  • Remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled – glitter, foil, ribbons, batteries in musical cards. Many supermarkets and household recycling sites have card drop-off points.
  • Make gift tagsYou don’t have to be creative to make gift tags from old cards – both Christmas cards and ordinary birthday cards – so you never have to buy them. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Recycle wrapping paper

  • If your wrapping paper stays in a ball when you scrunch it up it can be recycled (providing it’s not covered in glitter). If it unfurls itself, it can’t. Remove plastic tape. If you retrieve paper as people discard it you can smooth it out and reuse it. 
  • Save your stamps

Don’t forget you can save stamps for charities.  Most charities accept all stamps, including new or used, first or second-class and foreign.

Stamps are sold by weight so the more the better for raising much-needed funds.

 Cut the stamp off the envelope making sure to leave roughly 1cm of envelope bordering the stamp.

  • Compost at Christmas

Where suitable, our cards get recycled or torn up to provide valuable carbon content in our Green Johanna and Compost Tumbler compost bins, helping to keep the composting process going throughout the winter months.

At Christmas, composting really comes into its own. We know that when it comes to food, reducing waste is best but if you have unavoidable waste, it’s great to put it through the composting cycle to return as soil food in the spring. For great advice on reducing food waste see the Kitche food waste app at kitche.co and Love Food Hate Waste.

Composting your food waste and biodegradable cards and wrapping paper also means not having the annual problem of storing growing piles of black bin bags while anxiously awaiting the first refuse collection in January.

Anything you could wish to know about composting can be found on Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website. The following tips from the website are especially useful for Christmas:

  • Composting Christmas trees – shred them first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes to speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available, branches can be cut into thumb-size pieces but these will be slow to compost and it is easier to donate the tree to the local authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points in January.
  • Pine needles can be composted or turned to leaf mould but they will be slow to decompose and any significant quantities are best treated separately from deciduous leaves.

Here are a few more tips from my go-to green bible – Jen Gale’s The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

  • Rent a real tree for Christmas. More and more places are offering this service – you return the tree for them to look after the rest of the year.
  • Use reusable crackers – (keepthiscracker.com). They slot together for you to fill yourself and can be used year after year.
  • Check Freecycle or charity shops to pick up items donated by people who are having a clear-out. Julie Halford

Christmas joy – and sustainability – to the world

Does an eco-friendly Christmas mean nibbling on foraged roast chestnuts and trimming up with last year’s holly?

Right now many of us are once again trying to find the middle way between a bleak midwinter season and one that sends tonnes more waste to landfill.

 This is obviously the most challenging time of year if you’re attempting to live sustainably. It’s especially hard for parents of young children who are trying to find planet-friendly ways of providing festive joy as well as keeping their heads above water financially.  

Can Christmas ever be sustainable?

If you look at what like-minded people are doing, you’ll find you’re far from alone.  

One of my favourite composting influencers (yes, it’s a thing), Compostable Kate, usually buys her children’s toys second hand, but she admits it’s a constant balancing act as you don’t want your children to feel excluded from what they see going on around them.

And I laughed out loud reading Jen Gale’s account of the time her young son saw her online post about not buying so many presents, and shouted ‘Presents are the whole point of Christmas. They bring the joy!’

 Is there a child who would disagree with him?

 Jen’s book The Sustainable (ish) Living Guide has some great tips which I’ve incorporated into our family traditions.

Make presents

Play to your strengths by sewing or baking gifts to give.

These are the best presents (depending on the skill of the maker…) Last year an Asian neighbour, remembering that I had told her my dad would much prefer spicy food to the traditional turkey, came round on Christmas morning with platters piled high with freshly-made samosas. Samosas go great with roast turkey dinner, we discovered. The thoughtfulness of this homemade gift really made our Christmas.

Reverse Advent calendar

Jen’s suggestion of a reverse Advent calendar is absolutely on-trend with the Christmas message.

 Put an item of non-perishable food into a box each day of Advent and then donate to a foodbank. If that isn’t teaching your children the true spirit of Christmas I don’t know what is. And when you think about what Jen’s son said –  ‘Presents bring the joy’ – he didn’t say it was only receiving presents that brings the joy.

Offer your time

Adults would love the offer of baby sitting or gardening services, for example. You could also buy experiences as opposed to material gifts, or arrange for the family to do a Secret Santa.

Dial it down

My own tip is to focus on what means most to your family at Christmas. You don’t have to dial everything up to the max just because that’s what the adverts show. In fact, tread carefully with all those ads. They are lies and damned lies. I feel the stress-ometer mounting with every female face I see smiling beatifically as she feeds the 5,000 sitting down to dinner. It’s not just the feeling that I haven’t bought enough, won’t have cooked enough and it won’t be good enough, it’s also the sickening thought that much of what does get cooked over Christmas will end up in the bin.  

And that’s another thing – remember that no one’s stomach expands magically like Mary Poppins’ bag just because it happens to be December 25th. Let’s not forget that those ads will change on the stroke of midnight, as fast as Cinderella’s ballgown, from encouraging you to gorge yourself silly to suggesting it’s high time you joined a slimming programme and a gym, Fatty.

Reusing Christmas cards:

Make them part of the Christmas decorations – The large picture over our mantelpiece shows an African landscape at sunset. It doesn’t exactly scream Christmas, and I’m afraid it is important to me that our house in December should scream Christmas. So, to get that Screaming Christmas feeling, I now create a display on top of the picture’s glass by blutacking cards onto it. This works so well I started doing it to all the glass-covered pictures all over the house. With a bit of creative manoeuvring you can’t see the original picture underneath. Ok, you might be able to see the odd bit of original picture but this guide is not meant for perfectionists, whom I would direct to the safe, loving attentions of Kirstie Allsopp instead.

Top lazy cheat

As a great fan of lazy cheats, I’m proud to have found one of my own. A few years ago I bought a lovely glass Christmas candle lantern decorated with a wooden reindeer. I decided it was too nice to keep only for Christmas, but I didn’t want the reindeer staring at me all year long. I reasoned that if I turned it round, no one could see the reindeer and would be none the wiser.

Then I applied this logic to cushions. Last Christmas I sewed some scraps of fabric onto plain cushions in the shape of holly leaves. I was planning to unpick them in January, but then thought, why bother? Why not just turn them round too? Granted, this isn’t a method for everyone; some people might get the vapours if an untrained family member happened to inadvertently turn a cushion round to expose (gasp) holly in July, but this guide is only for the very lazy and seasonally-liberal. Life’s too short, isn’t it?  You’re welcome.

Now if only I could work out a way to keep the tree up for the other 11 months of the year…

However you choose to celebrate – enjoy. It’s Christmas!

Julie Halford

Spare Parts