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:

Christmas eco gifts give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

They’re already keen recyclers and want to do their bit for the environment in an easy way for people in their eighties.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and no stirring or turning is required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps.

Dick will like the fact that they’re in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that heals it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot – that’s Liddy’s motto.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet (which he would love to save if he could only get the staff), Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna hot composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

Green Johanna Winter Jacket

Worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds, as well as at the  community garden where they help out.  

And a useful stocking filler would be a kitchen cooking oil container. George has taken on the job of storing his household’s used oil in various containers to take to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity. But this purpose-built 3 litre container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store and transport the oil.

George has had to stop his housemates pouring their used oil down the sink, which they thought was the right thing to do. In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone?

Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Grandma Liddy says: The little we can do is a lot. And she’s right; there are no small acts.

A present for the planet

For Millie, George’s girlfriend, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze Bokashi Bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin

Millie will be able to feed her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler to break down into compost.

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could give back to Stephen and Jill the flashing-nose Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Spare Parts