How I handle Christmas as an environmentalist

Christmas is a hard time of year to be an environmentalist. It’s a time of needless consumerism, waste and other not so environmentally-friendly behaviours. But it doesn’t have to be that way! An eco-friendly Christmas is easier than you think with the simple mindset shifts we’ll go through today. 

Just before we jump in, I want to let you know about my Eco-friendly Christmas Gift Guide. I’ve spent a week putting it together so you don’t have to spend hours researching gifts, dodging greenwashing or making last-minute stress purchases. Click here to see it now

The plastic vs real Christmas tree sustainability debate

Starting off with one of the strongest Christmas traditions, the humble Christmas tree. There’s a lot of debate about whether plastic or real Christmas trees are more sustainable. And like with most things in sustainability, there isn’t a definite answer. So let’s go through the impact of each: 

Plastic Christmas Trees:

According to the Carbon Trust, creating the plastic used in fake Christmas trees (which comes from oil) accounts for around 66% of their carbon emissions. Another 25% is created by the industrial emissions produced when the tree is made. Their carbon footprint is increased further by the trees typically being shipped from China. If you already own a plastic Christmas tree or have the chance to get one second-hand, the most environmentally-friendly thing you can do is keep using it until the end of its life. This can be a few decades if you take care of it!

Real Christmas Trees:

Real Christmas trees may easily seem like the more sustainable option. After all, they’re plastic-free, natural and compostable. But many commercial Christmas trees are grown using pesticides and synthetic fertiliser which can wreak havoc on the environment. Trees are heavy and, therefore, require significant fossil fuels to transport, especially if they’re going long distances.

The British Carbon Trust has found that a natural tree that is properly disposed of has a carbon footprint of 3.5 kg CO2. If the tree ends up decomposing in landfill, its footprint jumps to 16 kg. So there’s a big difference in the impact depending on how you dispose of the tree. While a real Christmas tree may seem like the eco option, they are single-use after all. 

  • Some other eco-friendly alternatives for Christmas trees are:
    • Find out if you have a local Christmas tree rental service. They deliver real trees in transportable pots and reuse the trees for years before planting when they’re too big.
    • Grow a Christmas tree in a pot that you can use for several years and keep in the garden between Christmas’s. 
    • Decorate a pot plant you already own with eco-friendly decorations.
    • Or simply go tree-free this year.

Eco-friendly gift ideas

Next, we’re onto gifts. Check out my eco-friendly gift guide because it will save you hours of research and allow you to support some great sustainable businesses. 

Christmas gifts are a great way to introduce loved ones to more eco-friendly, plastic-free products that they might not usually buy for themselves. Think about it, if you get the perfect reusable coffee cup for your aunt, you’re potentially helping her save hundreds of single-use coffee cups next year. Or if your sister-in-law loves drinking with a straw, a portable and reusable straw might convert her to leaving plastic behind. The options are endless! 

  • A few more eco-friendly gift ideas are: 
    • Locally-made products – Instead of cheap gifts made in overseas factories, give a gift from a local producer or creator. The carbon footprint will likely be smaller and you’re supporting local businesses.
    • Handmade presents – Depending on your skill set, try knitting, drawing, baking, sewing, painting or crafting presents. If that’s not your jam, try something handmade from Etsy.
    • Vouchers – Let your loved ones choose something they want or need for themselves instead of playing the guessing game.
    • Nothing – Many people ask for nothing because they simply do not want or need anything. Agreeing to enjoy each other’s company or sending good vibes instead of a material gift is something that should be encouraged; because we alright have enough stuff on this planet.
Don’t forget to Pin this guide for later – and follow me on Pinterest while you’re there!
Enviromentalist Christmas: how to have an eco-friendly Christmas that's plastic-free, zero waste, plant based and sustainable

Gift wrapping

The next thing is what we’re going to wrap those gifts in. Most gift wrap is only acknowledged for a few seconds while it’s being ripped open, so it’s pretty wasteful when you think about it. While some can be recycled, any gift wrapping paper that’s shiny or has glitter on it is not recyclable so ensure you dispose of this properly. Instead, some more eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas are: 

  • Eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas:
    • Recycled brown paper: Use as you normally would to wrap gifts.
    • Paper tape: Most tapes are plastic-based. Go for compostable paper tape instead.
    • Old newspapers or magazines: This isn’t trashy (pun intended). Using newspaper and magazines is an aesthetic in its own right.
    • Twine: Ditch plastic ribbons and bows for ordinary, plastic-free garden twine.
    • Fabric gift wrapping (Furoshiki): This is the Japanese art of using fabric or second-hand scarves to wrap gifts using the furoshiki method. Encourage the gift receiver to re-use the material for someone else next year.

Zero waste Christmas dinner

Last but certainly not least, we have the Christmas Day dinner. Christmas is a widely acknowledged time of indulgence and overdoing it. I for one am not mad about it. But one thing that does frustrate me is the sheer amount of food waste that’s accepted each Christmas. In the UK alone, more than four million Christmas dinners are thrown away each year. Meanwhile, in Australia, the average household wastes 25% of the food bought over the festive period. It doesn’t need to be this way! 

  • Here’s how you can easily prevent food waste this Christmas:
    • Plan ahead: Plan according to how many people will be present and how much they can realistically eat. We usually greatly overestimate portions when it comes to the holidays.
    • Freeze leftovers: Meat, poultry and seafood will only last a few days after cooking so it’s best to freeze it straight away in smaller portions if there’s a lot leftover.
    • Reusable containers: While it’s convenient to stock up on single-use items that can be tossed after Christmas dinner, these are likely to sit in landfill for centuries. Keep single-use items to a minimum.
    • Make it yourself: We all know freshly prepared food tastes much better than pre-packaged, convenient options. They’re usually cheaper and less wasteful too.
    • Don’t overdo it: Christmas comes every year. There’s no need to go completely overboard and there is a limit to how much humans can eat in a single day! 
More plant-based Christmas options

Another eco-friendly consideration is to add more plant-based options to your Christmas spread. You don’t need to have a vegan Christmas to make it more environmentally friendly. It’s especially easy to make deliciously plant-based starters, snacks, sides and desserts. Even the most carnivorous of your friends and family will tuck in. 

Eco action step

Your eco action step for this week is to check out my eco-friendly Christmas gift guide. I’m only an Instagram DM away if you need a second opinion!

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