How to compost Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly glad you’ve got a composter.

Any unused food waste will now be breaking down in the compost bin along with suitable wrapping paper, and after the New Year you’ll have Christmas cards and perhaps a tree to recycle too. It all helps to reduce the gigantic waste mountain of the season, as well as avoiding scenes such as this, below, taken last year as general waste bins awaited post-Christmas collection.

Our family used our food waste in several recipes, including one trying out our new air fryer by making leftover veg fritters. (Mash up your leftovers, form them into fritter shapes, brush both sides with vegetable oil. Air fry at 200C for 12 minutes, turning them over once.)

Leftover veg fritters – no, they’re not burnt, your device’s battery must be running low.

 Keep in mind the following tips for recycling your festive waste.

Food waste

 It’s good to know that after reusing or freezing your food waste, your leftover leftovers can be put to good use feeding the microbes in what I call the Bacteria Cafeteria in the composter.

Regarding composting food waste, we are sometimes asked about whether bones can be added to the Green Johanna. We hear many different stories from customers about this. Some tell us they add chicken carcasses to their Johanna and the bones disappear completely; others say bones have been stripped down but are still visible in the finished compost. This means that the bones need to be picked out of the compost and if you have dogs there could be a danger of them getting hold of the bones. For that reason, we don’t recommend that bones are added to the Johanna. They can be added to the Green Cone, however, which doesn’t produce compost.  

We were fascinated to hear the experience of one customer who found a dead duck by her pond and disposed of the body in her Green Johanna. She said the duck disappeared – the only part that was visible when she came to remove the compost was the bill!

Packaging

Did I mention I’ve got an air fryer? I try to work it into most conversations. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I like to wait until I’m sure some new-fangled thing really does work before I dip a toe in. Once I’m convinced about the air fryer I might move on to that Internet.

A sign of how composting can get under your skin is the joy I felt unpacking the air fryer and realising what great air pockets the craters in the cardboard packaging would make for the composting micro-organisms. The air fryer sat abandoned as I prioritised ripping up the cardboard.

Perfect packaging for the compost bin

If cardboard is being sent to be recycled, flatten any boxes to save space. Keep them dry as they can’t be recycled if they get wet and go mouldy.  

Christmas trees

You’ll soon be turning your mind to taking down the tree – unless you’re like a relative of ours who puts it up the day after Halloween and takes it down on Boxing Day.

The following tips from Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website are useful.

  •  Shred the tree 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’s 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 are tough with a waxy coating and take a long time to break down. Shred them first if you can and avoid dumping a lot of them in a thick layer. Mix them in with something that encourages airflow such as dead leaves or scrunched up newspaper. You could also make the most of their slow decomposition by sprinkling them over muddy paths. Pine needles are acidic when they fall from the tree but after composting they have a nearly neutral pH. (gardeningknowhow.com)
  •  There is increased interest among the eco-conscious in eating (yes, eating) various parts of the tree. I didn’t know until reading an article in The Observer that fir trees can be used in ice-cream, to pickle eggs and vegetables or crushed to flavour gin or vinegar.

Food experts say the needles can be used like rosemary or bay leaves in cooking, creating a flavour of citrus and pine. They’re also a good source of vitamin C. The wood can be burned to make pine ash, which can be used in gardens and for cleaning.

 The baker and food writer Julia Georgallis, author of How to Eat Your Christmas Tree, has been working with Christmas trees for years. “You can pretty much eat the whole thing,” she says.

She recommends wearing gloves to handle a spruce tree, as they can be spiky. She hopes that eating pieces of their Christmas tree will help people to reconsider what is waste and what can be reused.  

It’s important to use only organic trees, grown without pesticides.  Fir, spruce, and pine are the most commonly bought trees and these are safe to eat but avoid cedar and cypress which are inedible. Yew trees are poisonous and should never be eaten.

Christmas cards

  • Compost suitable cards to provide carbon content in your composter. Any cards decorated with glitter, foil, cellophane, plastic or anything laminated can’t be composted or recycled.

Parts of cards such as this, featuring gold ribbon and foil, should be disposed of in general waste, but the plain paper part can be torn off and composted or recycled.

  • If recycling cards at supermarket drop-off points or household recycling sites, remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled, such as decorations mentioned above and batteries that might be in musical cards.
  • Make gift tags: You 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. Save string to use as tags. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Make your own gift tags

  • Make banners or bunting (easy to store, put up, take down) or turn cards into mini calendars.
  • Schools can recycle cards by showing children how to turn them into postcards for next Christmas or festive bookmarks.

Wrapping paper

  • Compost suitable, unadorned wrapping paper.
  • Remember the slogan ‘Scrunch it to sort it’.  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. 
  • Reuse – I know I’m not the only person who goes round picking up wrapping paper as it’s discarded in the unwrapping frenzy. Smooth it out (iron if necessary) for reuse. It can also be used to line drawers.    

Calendars

 I came up with my own recycling idea as I was dismantling last year’s office calendar. It’s a Royal Academy calendar with beautiful pictures that I often use to make colourful wall displays.

The calendar pages have images but also the days of each month, of course. I use the pages as personalised gift wrap with the birthday girl or boy’s name emblazoned on the date.

Corks

  • Cork is compostable because it’s made from plant-based material from the bark of the cork oak tree – it grows back without harming the tree.
  • Use as a carbon-rich input in compost, but not if the cork has been used as a stopper for chemicals.  
  •  Check it’s real cork not plastic made to look like cork. Cut open to check.
  • Break or chop up to compost quicker. You can also rub it on a grater to crumble the cork (although we find this time-consuming).
  • A cork that’s added whole may not break down completely so pick it out and put it back through the composter.
  • Remove plastic or foil or wax coverings.
  • You can send corks to recorkeduk.org – a recycling scheme.
  • Make gardening ‘eye protectors’ by making a hole and putting them on top of garden canes.
  • Use corks to suppress weeds and hold in moisture around potted trees.

Wreaths

Plant materials can be composted once any glue, plastic, glitter and wiring is removed. Holly is best shredded and used to make leaf mould separately.

Julie

Season’s eatings with waste-free recipes

We had a little too much post-Christmas bubble and squeak last year, so I’ve been on the look-out for waste-free recipes to have at the ready.

  Boxing Day Burritos (Abel and Cole – www.abelandcole.co.uk).

Wrap up your Christmas dinner leftovers in a flour tortilla – just add a gravy dip.

 Ingredients

Large flour tortillas.

A few handfuls of cooked veg, such as braised red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, boiled carrots

1 tbsp butter

A few handfuls of leftover turkey

150 ml leftover gravy, plus extra to serve.

A few handfuls of leftover roast potatoes and parsnips

2-3 Yorkshire puddings

2-3 tbsp leftover stuffing

2-3 tbsp leftover bread sauce

4 tbsp cranberry sauce

Method

1. Heat your oven to 100°C/Fan 80°C. Unpack the tortillas and place them in a large square of foil. Lay the tortillas in the foil and wrap it around them to make a loose parcel. Place on the bottom shelf of the oven to gently warm.

2.If you’re using any chunky veg, like carrot batons or whole Brussels sprouts, roughly chop them so all the veg are roughly the same size. Place a medium-sized pan on a medium heat and add 1 tbsp butter. Add the veg and gently fry, stirring often, for 4-5 mins till the veg have warmed through. Scoop the veg into a heatproof dish, cover with foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

3.Roughly chop the turkey. Scoop it into the pan you reheated the veg in and add around 150ml gravy – enough to just cover the turkey. Set on a medium heat and reheat for 4-5 mins, stirring occasionally, till the turkey is piping hot all the way through and the gravy has reduced to coat the turkey. Scoop into a heatproof dish, cover with foil and pop in the oven to keep warm.

4.Roughly chop the roast potatoes and/or parsnips to make small chunks around ½cm across. Wipe the pan clean and place it back on a medium heat. Add 1-2 tbsp oil and, when it’s hot, add the chopped roasties and fry, stirring, for 3-4 mins, till they’re warmed through and a little crisp. Scoop into a heatproof bowl and place in the oven to keep warm.

5.If you have leftover Yorkshire puddings, slice them into thin strips. If you have any cooked stuffing, chop it into small chunks (unless it’s soft and can be easily spooned into the burrito). Pour around 400-500ml gravy into the pan and set on a medium-low heat to slowly warm while you’re assembling the burritos. You want it to come to the boil, then turn the heat down so it stays steaming hot.

6.Take the flour tortillas, veg, turkey and roasties out of the oven, but leave the oven on. Place 1 tortilla on your work surface. Spread 1 tbsp bread sauce (if using), then 1 tbsp cranberry sauce down the middle of the tortilla. Top with a handful of the roasties, then the veg and then the turkey, making sure it forms a strip down the middle of the tortilla, leaving a gap at the sides. Top with a few strips of Yorkshire pudding and some stuffing.

7.Using both hands, fold the sides in over the filling, then use your thumbs to pull the bottom of the tortilla up and over the filling to create a pouch. Fold the top corners of the tortilla over the filling, so you have something that looks quite square. Roll the burrito to enclose the filling. Transfer to a heatproof plate, seam-side-down, and place on the bottom shelf of the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and fillings.

8.To serve, pour the hot gravy into small serving bowls and halve the burritos. Serve them with the gravy for dunking.

Yeo Valley’s Sweetcorn and Turkey Chowder (www.soilassociation.org)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 sticks of celery, diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 400g potatoes cut into cubes
  • 5 litres of chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 350g sweetcorn, tinned or frozen
  • 400g leftover turkey cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 200g crème fraiche
  • Small bunch of parsley, chopped

    Method:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the celery and onion. Cover and sweat over a medium heat for 5 mins.

Pour the stock into the pan along with the potatoes and bay leaves and simmer for 10 mins until the potatoes start to become tender.

Add the turkey, sweetcorn and a good grind of black pepper. Cook for another 5 mins. Check the vegetables are cooked and adjust the seasoning.

Stir in the crème fraîche then divide between 4 bowls and top with the parsley.

Cheesy Sprout Bake (Becketts Farm – www.beckettsfarm.co.uk)

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

5 slices back bacon, diced

3 tbsp butter

1 small onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1kg Brussels sprouts, halved

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

300ml double cream

50g Cheddar, grated

50g gruyere, grated

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 190°. In a large, shallow frying pan or oven-safe dish, melt the butter and fry the bacon until crispy, over a medium heat.
  • Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon keeping as much of the cooking fats in the pan. Fry the onion, garlic and sprouts together, stirring well to combine. Add in the dry seasoning and spices then stir. Cook all together over a medium heat until tender and gently browning (approx. 10 minutes).
  • Remove from the heat and pour over the cream. Top with both cheeses and the crisped bacon.
  • Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.

Sprout Leaves Pesto

(Conor Spacey, Wasted)

Place outer sprout leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds, then refresh under cold water.

Squeeze dry and add equal quantities of the leaves with basil to a blender.

Add toasted nuts and Parmesan cheese and blend, slowly adding rapeseed oil and salt and pepper until it becomes a paste.

 Merry Mince Pie Tiffin (Abel and Cole – www.abelandcole.co.uk)

A great way to use up any last mince pies that have gone a bit stale by turning them into an easy fridge cake.

Ingredients

  • 150g milk or dark chocolate
  • 125g butter
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 100g agave syrup
  • 2 clementines
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 300g mince pies
  • 30g white chocolate
  • Method:
  • 1. Line the base and sides of a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper. Roughly chop the chocolate and dice the butter. Scoop them into a heatproof bowl. Add the agave syrup[ and cocoa powder. Finely grate in the zest from 2 clementines. Squeeze in the juice.
  • 2. Melt the chocolate in your preferred way – bain-marie or at a low setting in the microwave.
  • 3. Toast the flaked almonds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring often for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Add them and the dried cranberries to the melted chocolate. Crumble in the mince pies, breaking them into small chunks. Stir in until everything is coated and combined.
  • 4. Spoon them into the baking dish and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours till set.
  • To decorate – roughly chop the white chocolate and melt it. Using a fork or spoon drizzle the melted white chocolate over the tiffin. Return to the fridge for 1 hour.
  • 6. To serve – lift the tiffin out of the dish and peel off the paper. Slice into squares.

.And other tips:

  • Portion-wise 200g of cooked turkey is enough for most people. Factor in 250g of potatoes per person and 80g of other vegetables, such as sprouts, carrots, cabbage and parsnips.
  • Most items from the dinner can be frozen afterwards, including turkey, cranberry sauce and cooked vegetables, as well as cake and chocolates.
  • Turn veggie peels and ragged sprout leaves into crisps. Scrub and peel your veg, then fry in oil, toss with salt and rosemary and serve.
  • Scoop up leftover veg and whizz in the blender with veg stock for instant soup.
  • Create meat stock from your turkey carcass. Add it to a pan of cold water, simmer with onions and bay, then strain after 3 hours.

Our 12 tips of Christmas

Are you struggling to convince your family that green doesn’t equal mean when it comes to Christmas?  We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you along the way.

1. Buy to recycle – If Christmas isn’t Christmas for you without cards – and a message on Facebook just doesn’t cut it – then buy with care and an eye on recyclability.

This means avoiding cards decorated with glitter, foil, ribbon, cellophane etc. It’s incredible how many cards feature these in abundance. Manufacturers, please stop using glitter to create the illusion of frost! Customers, stop buying these cards and perhaps manufacturers will take notice.

Support small businesses who have taken the Naked Cards pledge. This is a campaign by designers and illustrators to stop wrapping cards in cellophane. Millions of cards are sold this way. Cellophane is a single-use plastic that takes a long time to degrade completely in landfill. The campaigners hope to cut down on plastic one card at a time by keeping cards ‘naked’ – either sold in paper bags or with small peelable stickers keeping card and envelope together.    

Also look for cards that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so you know the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced. FSC certified means the card is generated from well managed forests.  

2.Decorate with cards – Christmas cards make great free decorations. I save my favourite cards and reuse them every year. Yes, it does make me look as though I have hundreds of friends. Beautiful cards are small, cheap works of art. Why would you throw them out? Keeping cards from loved ones who are no longer here in person keeps them close at Christmas.

A few years ago a friend showed me an idea on Pinterest that I just had to copy (this is why I never go on Pinterest). It was a wall display using Christmas cards arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. It looked fantastic, or so I thought.  It was only when I was taking the display down in January that my husband asked wonderingly, ‘…Are those cards shaped like a Christmas tree?’

The card tree took quite a long time to make so I haven’t repeated it; I came up with my own lazy version instead. The large picture over our mantelpiece depicts an African landscape. It’s fine for 11 months of the year but, of course, it doesn’t exactly scream Christmas, so to make it festive for December I create a display on top of the frame’s glass by blutacking Christmas cards onto it. 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 it’s Christmas, chill out.

DIY decorating with cards

3.Save your stamps – Don’t forget you can save stamps – including new or used, first or second-class and foreign – for many charities. 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.

4.Give pre-loved – Not long ago, giving a second-hand gift risked giving offence. In some quarters it still might, but times have changed. To more and more people, giving a gift that’s ‘pre-loved’ doesn’t mean you don’t care and couldn’t be bothered.  It looks like you do care and you are bothered – about the planet as well as the person.

 As someone who has always shopped in charity shops, I would be delighted to receive a second-hand gift, but I would only gift second-hand to people who feel the same way. It depends on the recipient; with some people it’s a no-no, but there could be others who are open to the suggestion, especially the young. Why not have the conversation?   

Keep up to date with the second-hand choices available – the market is expanding rapidly as supply keeps up with demand. I only discovered recently that the second-hand site Vinted is not just for clothes but includes toys, homeware and books.

Steven Bethell, co-founder of the used clothing chain Beyond Retro, says second-hand shopping is booming as people try to save cash and live sustainably.

‘I think there is a category shift, in sensitivity and understanding of the environment, you can’t go back from, ‘ he says. ‘You can’t uncare that the planet is burning up. ‘

Also look out for church fairs throughout the year.  Parishioners are generous with donations and save their best things and lovely but unwanted gifts for the church’s summer and Christmas fairs.  

I read that Nigella Lawson doesn’t give gifts to adults. This strike me as very sensible. It’s too late for me this year – that ship has sailed – but perhaps I’ll start sounding out family members next summer. That’s still early enough for everybody to be free from the gravitational pull of the emotional blackmail that comes with Christmas. People are still able to think straight in July and the words ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Grinch’ are on summer holiday.

5. Use reusable crackers – (keepthiscracker.com) – These crackers slot together for you to fill yourself and they can be used year after year. In reviews, customers say they are easy to put together, a good size to fit things in and the designs look good on the festive table.

This is also a fun activity to do with children, especially if you write your own jokes! All you have to buy new is the snaps that make the bang. You can also get low-noise snaps for those who don’t like loud noises.

6.Buy ethically – Support charity websites, B Corp companies and small businesses that prioritise sustainable ethical practices. Look for gifts made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp and recycled materials. Check out peacewiththewild.co.uk/  goodthingsgifts.co.uk/ greentulipco.uk/ sustainablecards.com. Cards that contain seeds in the paper are a lovely idea – you plant the card in a garden with just a bit of water and it grows into flowers (eco-friendlycards.com).

Look into Green Grads – a scheme that supports makers using recycled or waste materials.

Visit craft fairs and makers’ markets – these are popular with people who want gifts to be handmade, not mass produced.

7.Make presents – If you can sew, knit, cook, bake, draw, grow or make stuff then apply these skills to making your own gifts. It’s a way of saving money but no one can argue that you haven’t made an affort; it requires a lot more thought than a click. Home-made gifts used to be fairly unusual but they are becoming increasingly popular as a way to show you care but don’t want to give unwanted presents.

These are the gifts that people remember. Last year a neighbour, remembering that I had told her my dad would much prefer spicy food to the traditional turkey, came round on Christmas morning with plates piled high with freshly-made samosas. She’s of Pakistani heritage so they were delicious. Samosas go great with roast turkey dinner, we discovered. The thoughtfulness of this homemade gift really made our Christmas.

8.Offer your time – Adults love the offer of baby-sitting or gardening services, for example. Earlier this year a friend who wanted to thank me for something said it with flowers – no, not a bouquet; she came round to our house with some cuttings from her garden and, knowing I’m a rubbish gardener, planted them for me. All summer long I thought of her every time I looked out at her colourful handiwork. So much nicer than a box of chocolates.

You can also buy experiences as opposed to gifts A friend told me that earlier in the year she had filed away a comment made by her daughter-in-law that a certain restaurant was her favourite place to eat. My friend then phoned the restaurant to buy a meal voucher as a gift. This has the added benefit of showing that you really listen to people!  I’ve also gifted vouchers for a local beauty salon – this keeps money circulating locally, boosting the high street.

9.Borrow Christmas – The rental market has expanded dramatically. As well as clothes you can also rent toys and bikes and, if you’re expecting an influx of guests, you can rent tables, sofas and even table decorations.

10. Avoid food waste – We know that when it comes to food, reducing waste is best. For great ideas see the Kitche food waste app at kitche.co and Love Food Hate Waste.

The key to reducing waste is planning meals. This involves knowing how many people you’ll be catering for and how you’ll be using any leftovers. Love Food Hate Waste has a handy portion planner to help you avoid over-buying.   

Reasons why people end up with so much waste at Christmas include: wanting to indulge, worry about running out of something and the feeling that everybody else is doing it.  

Planning is important so map out the meals you’ll be serving, checking in your cupboards, fridge and freezer for what you’ve already got.  

Think of batch cooking dishes you can easily scale up, such as curry or chilli. Do a shopping list and stick to it.

Don’t feel the need to stick to tradition by making things that family members don’t really like – perhaps that means turkey, sprouts, Christmas pudding, parsnips, mince pies? If it does, find alternatives.

11.Compost what you can – if you’re reading this you are probably a composting enthusiast so enjoy the fact that in putting your organic waste through the composting cycle it will return to you as soil food in the spring.  

You also won’t have the problem of storing growing piles of bin bags while awaiting the first refuse collection in January. Our family got notice this week that our first collection after December 22nd will be January 8th – that’s a long time to store mounting rubbish.

12.Dial it down – I’ll sign off for Christmas with my biggest tip, one that comes from the lived experience of many Christmases some more successful than others and a few consigned to the waste bin of family history: Focus on what matters.

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. Don’t believe the face of the cook as he/she smiles serenely, feeding the 5000 sitting expectantly at the table – they’re models and actors.

Also 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, Fatty.

 Last year our induction hob stopped working on December 23rd.  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.

In the end the electrician saved the day but the lesson I learned still stands. Time for a reality check. However you choose to spend Christmas, just enjoy it in your own way. It’s allowed.

Julie

Can you love Christmas and the planet too?

What would your dream green Christmas look like?

 I recently joined a ‘Crap-Free Christmas’ webinar (online session) hosted by Jen Gale, author of the Sustainable(ish) Living Guides and website, and all of us taking part were asking ourselves this question.

You know the waste hierarchy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Jen has added another layer that’s especially relevant for Christmas – Rethink.  As in, let’s rethink Christmas. We had a go at this during the session.

The problem

  • Twenty per cent of gifts are unwanted. One in 10 go to landfill.  
  • £220m is spent on Christmas jumpers every year. A quarter of these will be worn only once.
  • £280m is spent on office Secret Santas.
  • The miles of wrapping paper used at Christmas would almost reach to the moon.
  • A third of festive food is wasted – 250,000 tonnes; that would make 4.2m Christmas dinners. Two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies go to waste.
  • Council waste collections rise by 30 per cent at this time of year.

Some solutions

 First ask yourself, what do I want Christmas to mean to me and my family?

We are made to feel we should want a festival of excess and consumption. But when asked that question in the webinar most people answered:  down time, daft games, shared times, rest, relaxation. If your ‘love language’ (the way you express love) centres on presents, try to imagine alternatives, such as offering experiences, home-made gifts or volunteering your services.

 We discussed how to take away some of the tension that builds up at this time of year.  One suggestion was to slow down and avoid panic buying.  Then start a conversation with the like-minded souls in your life about how you might do things differently.

And start small – aim to change just one thing this year.  

Gifts

  •  Don’t guess, ask!  Why buy random things in a mad spending rush just to get it out of the way when you could find out exactly what a person would like?   And play your part too by having suggestions ready when people ask what you or your kids would prefer.  

In her blog about the (Festive) Waste Hierarchy, Jen gives the reminder that the last stage of the hierarchy – Rot – also includes composting. She advises those who don’t yet have a council food waste collection to ‘consider asking Santa for a hot composter to go in your garden.’ We couldn’t agree more!

  • Make a pact to keep receipts so gifts can be exchanged.
  • Do a family Secret Santa (someone suggested Elfster – the online Secret Santa gift generator). Or a second-hand Secret Santa – get a second-hand book, for example, or give a book that you’ve enjoyed. Try WOB (World of Books) – the second-hand online book shop.
  • Resist novelty gifts – they’re usually wasted.
  • Try charity shops for stocking fillers and Christmas jumpers.
  • Buy locally and ethically. Make a pact that 50 per cent of gifts will come from local shops.
  • Make treats as gifts and look out for containers throughout the year to present them in. (This is especially good for pupils to give to teachers). Jen recommends her favourite fudge recipe which can be adjusted with festive flavours.  I tried this out last week as a thank you gift for some work colleagues, one of whom is vegan. So I made a vegan version by using coconut ‘double cream’. I’ll admit that something went a bit wrong with the consistency – I don’t know if it was me or the coconut cream. Let’s blame the cream. To avoid accusations of fudge fraud, I renamed the treats vanilla drops. They were still delicious, even though I had to issue a health and safety warning to suck rather than chew or they’d superglue themselves to unsuspecting teeth. They were greatly appreciated, especially by the vegan recipient. It’s the thought that counts, I told him.

It’s the thought that counts – festive vegan ‘vanilla drops’.

Wrapping

  • Use gifts bags and keep recirculating them.
  • Babipur and Cascayde sell paper-based tape that can be recycled.
  • Furoshiki is a Japanese custom of wrapping gifts in a square piece of reuseable cloth. There are methods online that take seconds to learn.
  • Use fabric samples to wrap gifts. The recipient can reuse the fabric afterwards for crafting.
  • For larger gifts, use wallpaper samples, which can also be used to make gift tags.
  • Tie up presents with co-ordinating jute twine, cotton ribbon, or long thin strips of fabric.

Cards

The carbon footprint of cards comes not just from the card and paper but also the postal service.  Could you send an e-card or make a phone or video call instead to loved ones, especially those in far-flung places?

The modern custom of pupils giving cards to everyone in the class uses two trees’ worth of card and paper per school. Start a conversation about this – suggest the children send one card to the whole class and put them on display or have a Card Secret Santa. This would of course also alleviate the stress of getting kids to write 29 cards or giving up and writing them all yourself. Yes, I’ve been there. Madness.

Food

  •  Beef and lamb have the biggest carbon footprint as a Christmas dinner. Turkey has three times the carbon footprint of chicken. My son who moans every year ‘Why can’t we just have chicken?’ will be delighted to hear this.
  • Have an ‘Eat me first box/shelf’ in your fridge to avoid food waste.
  • Use the Olio app, which helps you to beat waste by sharing and finding things in your local area. 
  • Make a meal plan for the festive fortnight.

Christmas outfits

  • How about suggesting that your children’s school holds Christmas jumper swaps (or Buy a Jumper for £1 stall)? You could also swap other dressing-up outfits, such as Halloween, or World Book Day.
  • If you already have a Christmas jumper, you don’t need a new one. The one you’ve got will last for, oooh…..life.

Rudolph’s return – you can wear him next year – and the next….

Tree

  • If you have a fake tree already, the most sustainable option is to keep on using it and pass it on if you decide you no longer want it. We’ve had our fake tree for years and – humblebrag alert – we bought most of the decorations when we moved into our first house in 1990. We don’t do fashion when it comes to Christmas. Because it’s Christmas.  
  • Rent a tree – look up local firms that offer this service: you rent a tree in a pot and return it after Christmas to be replanted.    

At this point in the discussion Jen showed us photos of her alternative trees – there was the green-painted egg-box tree (don’t try this at home) but also the more successful and lovely pom-pom tree that all the family had a hand in making, using freecycled wool. Her husband has also made an impressive pallet tree, which I think has a cool Scandi vibe.

During the webinar, it was great to see people sharing their own easy wins in the chats.  One commentator said she cooked most of the Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve to make the big day easier.  Hearing other people’s ideas opens your eyes to what’s possible.

To finish off, we all made commitments for ourselves. I decided that our Christmas Day meal should only include three vegetable side dishes. Yes, I am aware of how pathetic this sounds now I’ve written it down but don’t judge me, I’m resisting decades of family conditioning here – my mother never met a vegetable she didn’t serve up on Christmas Day. Jen suggested that we could have a family vote about which dishes should be included. This is such a good idea because if anyone complains I can blame Jen. It stands to reason that the more side dishes there are the more waste there will be.

As we signed off, I felt cheerful and optimistic. Crap-free Christmas, I think I’ve got this.  

Update

Since the webinar, I’ve done the following:

  • Asked people for their gift preferences: My mum, a war baby eco-warrior, asked for bokashi spray for her bokashi bin. I will take her at her word but also give her a voucher for a meal at her favourite local restaurant. My sister-in-law asked for her favourite perfume and told me how long it usually lasts (I’ll take that as a hint). My adult sons were offered a choice between boxer shorts and socks, bought from the Impact Positive company Bamboo Clothing).
  • Taken the jam jar idea a stage further by filling them with an ‘I owe U’ for each of my sons, who love eating but not cooking, promising them a meal of their choice cooked to their faffy specifications (without complaining).
  • Sought everybody’s opinions on the turkey/chicken question and there were no objections to having chicken.
  • Tried furoshiki – this is a revelation. It’s so easy and looks nice. You could buy square scarves from charity shops or just use remnants.

A gift wrapped furoshiki-style, above – so much easier and prettier than how this gift came to me from my son last Christmas, below. Before you reproach me for being harsh to a child, can I point out he’s 29?

  • Had a side dish vote – oh my word, why was this so hard? My phone kept pinging with questions – Are potatoes included in the three, or are they assumed? Can two forms of potato – roast and mash – count as one vote? Can’t we just do a long list in order of preference? Are two pea choices – mushy and garden – one choice? This is an ongoing process. I should have started it at Halloween.
  • WOB – another revelation. I bought second-hand books for my husband, sons and myself. (I came across Cold Comfort Farm, which I’ve always wanted to read. I’ll regift it afterwards.) Julie

For more ideas check out:

Spare Parts