This week’s instalment is all about reducing waste over Christmas - from food, to presents, the tree, and beyond.

Following on from the first week's article on reducing bathroom waste, the follow-up deep-dive on the same subject, the third instalment in which we took a look at how to reduce waste when it comes to feminine careand the fourth instalment which brought us into the realm of kitchen waste and the fifth which delved further into food waste, this week we'll be looking at masses of waste generated over Christmas. This article contains links (of the non-referral kind, so no kickback, no sponsorship) to some of the products discussed, but other brands and options are available - and will usually be carried by zero-waste shops, such as Ouni. Many can also be found in regular shops and supermarkets.

Now that it is officially December, Christmas is fast approaching and with it enormous amounts of waste. The average family creates approximately 30% more waste during the festivities than during any other time of the year. However, more and more people are aware of the negative impact this has on our environment and are looking for alternatives to make their Christmas more sustainable.

Advent calendars

© Congerdesign / Pixabay

In the days leading up to Christmas, children but also adults enjoy opening a door on their advent calendars in the mornings. Amongst the most popular are advent calendars filled with chocolate, but they create a lot of waste compared to how little chocolate you actually get.  A reusable advent calendar is the better option in this case, not only can they be used over and over again but you can also choose what you put in them, assuring that you actually like the content. They are often made out of cloth bags or wood, but you can also easily make your own out of recyclable brown paper bags, for example. If you also try to reduce waste when filling it, by being aware of unnecessary packaging and maybe by opting for homemade fillings, you are on the right path towards a more eco-friendly Christmas.

Gifts and wrapping paper

© Nathan Lemon / Unsplash

Most people associate Christmas not only with spending time with their families and eating nice food, but also with exchanging gifts. Unfortunately, gifts are one of the main factors contributing to the huge amount of waste accumulated over Christmas. First, wrapping paper might look nice and hides what the present is, but it is thrown away immediately after the present has been opened and might therefore be the least sustainable thing about Christmas. Moreover, shiny wrapping paper with patterns and glitter on it, often contains plastic and cannot even be recycled. In order to avoid huge piles of wrapping paper in you bins after Christmas, you can opt for reusable wrapping paper, made out of cotton.  These can be folded and put away for the following year. Some of the joy of opening presents comes from ripping the wrapping paper open, unfortunately this is not possible with the reusable paper but there are more options. You can use old newspapers to wrap your presents, buy wrapping paper out of recycled paper or simply wrap your presents in brown, recyclable packaging paper. To avoid the use of tape you can simply use some string, which is tied around the wrapping paper and keeps it in place.

Not only the wrapping paper but also the gifts themselves create a lot of waste. Everything starts with buying them, instead of mindlessly buying a ton of presents for everyone just because you think you have to for the sake of Christmas, reduce the number of presents and ask what people what they actually want. One nice present you actually want is better than a lot of presents that might be nice but still not quite right — moreover, the number of presents you have for someone does not determine how much you love them.

A good way to reduce the number of presents within a family is to either fix a number of presents everyone is "allowed" to get or organise a Secret Santa, where everyone draws one name and then only gets a gift for that particular person. The latter is especially fun because you don’t know who has drawn your name and the surprise and excitement on Christmas Day is even greater.

When shopping for gifts, a good way to reduce waste is to opt for an experience as present instead of something materialistic. These experiences can vary from something small like a voucher for an online streaming service to bigger things such as a nice dinner or for the more adventurous, a hot air balloon tour. These do not create as much waste but just as much, or even more, happiness. Alternatively, you can try to find second hand gifts or  make something yourself.

Try to shop locally for presents and avoid online shopping, as this does not only involve loads of unnecessary packaging but also a lot of carbon emissions that could be spared.

The old Christmas tree - and greeting cards

Another essential part of Christmas is the Christmas tree with its decorations. If you already own a fake tree, reuse that one as long as possible - but if you don’t own one it is better to get a real tree.

Real trees are obviously biodegradable and a lot of the time communes organise special collection days during which you can get rid of your tree. An even better alternative is renting a tree, which will be delivered to your house and be recollected after Christmas. In this scheme trees do not go to waste and are not only grown to be enjoyed for a couple of weeks. More information about renting a tree can be found here.

In terms of decorations for the tree and around the house, it is advisable to resist the urge to buy more decorations each year, as the ones you already own can simply be reused. Another option is to make your own, preferably out of natural materials such as pine cones and the like. This is also a great activity to do with your kids on the cold weekends leading up to Christmas.

If you have put up Christmas lights, do not forget to turn them off during the night and opt for energy-saving lights.

If you like sending Christmas cards, see if you can find cards made out of recycled paper, these often come without the usual plastic wrap. Even more eco-friendly are e-cards, as these don’t use any paper at all but still deliver Christmas wishes.

Food waste at Christmas

© Todd Ruth / Unsplash

Finally, food waste is also a big issue over Christmas, a lot of people buy way more food than they actually need just because it is Christmas and they think they have to treat themselves. I am not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to treat themselves, but you can treat yourself while thinking about the environment. The rules for food shopping don’t suddenly change over Christmas, so you still have to be aware of how much you buy and look out for unnecessary packaging. If your Christmas meal is rather meat heavy, it might be worth thinking about replacing some of the meat with vegetarian or vegan options as these are often more eco-friendly. In addition, you can easily make a lot of Christmas treats, such as biscuits or cakes yourself, instead of buying them.

If you plan your meal, you can reduce the amount of wasted food, and even if you end up having too much, you can live off the leftovers for a couple of days and prolong the Christmas feeling for a bit.

No matter what you do to make your Christmas more sustainable, remember that no one is perfect and that you should still enjoy the festive season without bad conscience  even if there is some waste that could possibly have been avoided.

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Questions? Comments? Further suggestions for living an eco-friendly lifestyle? Leave a comment below!