Christmas signals the most wonderful time of year – full of carols, hearty food and a thankful atmosphere. Despite it being one of the most exciting holidays of the season, we generate tonnes of waste over Christmas. In the UK alone we discard 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, 74 million mince pies, over a billion Christmas cards, 6 million Christmas trees and 2 million turkeys. This is incredibly problematic since not only do many of these items end up in landfills, which damages the environment, but plastic waste also pollutes our seas and oceans. However, not all is lost! Here are five ways you can reduce your household waste this Christmas and be more mindful of your carbon footprint.
1.Gift experiences over presents
One of the biggest changes you can make this year to reduce your waste is to gift experiences over physical presents; a meal out, a cinema ticket or a day trip out are just as good to show that you care but removes unnecessary packaging waste. This is important since the UK spends a staggering combined total of around £700 million on unwanted presents each year. Alternatively, if you are buying presents you can think about avoiding novelty gifts that won’t be used and may be quickly discarded or consider switching to home-made gifts for a personal touch.
2.Use recyclable, non-shiny wrapping paper
As tempting as it is to buy all the shiny, foil or glitter paper with matching ribbons and tags, this poses a significant environmental problem since these cannot be recycled. The average household will get through four rolls of wrapping paper a year, with much of this going straight into landfill. To test whether or not your paper can be recycled if you aren’t sure, you can scrunch it into a ball. If it holds its shape, it can be recycled, but if it unfolds it cannot. In addition to the problems of shiny wrapping paper, sticky tape cannot be recycled. This is a key concern because if it isn’t removed from wrapping paper it contaminates a whole batch of recycled paper, meaning it will go into landfill anyway. To reduce your contributions, buy recyclable paper and make sure to remove any sticky tape before you put it into your recycling. If you want to go the extra mile, consider using newspaper and reusing old gift bags rather than purchasing new wrapping paper, recyclable or not.
It takes one tree to make 3,000 Christmas cards, meaning that the one billion discarded cards previously mentioned equates to 33 million trees. This is a significant amount of waste solely for cards that are often only kept for less than a month. By going card-less, not only does this save you from spending out on cards, it reduces what will be sent to landfill once the festivities are over. If you explain why you’re no longer choosing to send out Christmas cards, not only are people likely to understand but they might start to consider whether they could follow your lead and go card-less next year!
4.Food waste: Buy less, Use more
Since the UK throws away more than 4 million tonnes of edible food during December, food waste is a substantial concern due to the vast range of resources used to grow and transport food before consumption. The annual emissions from food waste amount to 3.3. billion tonnes (2016 figure), which if produced by a single country would make it the third-largest polluter in the world. Since food waste has such a detrimental impact on the environment, it highlights the shockingly high, and unnecessary, amounts of squandered food in the UK.The best way you can help reduce food waste is to buy less of it in the first place! This isn’t necessarily easy to do if you aren’t in charge of the Christmas food shop, so the next-best alternatives are to use up leftovers, freeze items like mince pies and roast potatoes and to use a food-waste caddy if you have one (availability varies depending on postcode). When food is sent to landfill, it rots and generates more greenhouse gases so using up your leftovers, or disposing of them properly, will make a real difference this Christmas.
5.Donate what you can
This is one of the busiest and most difficult times for food banks and charities across the country; with the Trussell Trust using December 2018 figures to estimate that more people than ever will need the help of a food bank this Christmas. Already between April – September 2019 there has been a 23% increase in the number of food parcels provided compared to the same period in 2018, demonstrating the increasing reliance of UK families on food banks and support.
This Christmas you can help by donating non-perishable goods to food banks, or by donating unwanted clothes to Shelter or The Salvation Army. By donating unwanted items, you reduce the volume going into landfill, and can help those most vulnerable in society this time of year. From hats and gloves to old coats in the back of your wardrobe, the items that no longer hold value to you may really mean the world to somebody else – so make mindful decisions this Christmas about what you choose to discard, keep or donate.
These five tips all serve different methods of reducing your waste this Christmas; be aware of what you’re contributing and take forward these ideas for future Christmases, birthdays and events. Environmental concerns will only become more prevalent over the forthcoming years, and these are some of the simple ways you can help to reduce your own contributions to further environmental damage. Share these tips with friends and family in the hope that the UK can move towards a less wasteful, more sustainable approach towards a traditional Christmas.
By Charlotte Beardwell