Yay, Christmas! It’s a fantastic time of year, but it does come with massive helpings of excessive consumerism and material waste. However, with a couple of easy tips and tricks, it’s possible to make the festive season as fun for the planet as it is for you…
Perhaps the greatest show of materialism at Christmas comes from the exchange of presents. You could, of course, argue until the ethically-reared cows come home about whether it’s even right to give presents at all – but I think most people would agree that giving and receiving presents is fun, and refusing to buy people presents as a ‘statement against consumerism’ is unlikely to result in much festive cheer coming your way. So, how can you survive the strains of Christmas shopping without damaging the planet?
Charity catalogues and websites sell a variety of interesting gifts, and are run by many organisations including Friends of the Earth (http://www.foeshop.co.uk/), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) (http://shop.wwf.org.uk/) and the National Trust (http://shop.nationaltrust.org.uk/).
The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) (http://store.cat.org.uk/) also deserves a mention here – they sell a huge variety of environmentally-themed products, with the proceeds going towards CAT’s work on alternative sources of energy. You may also unwittingly end up converting someone to the eco-warrior cause with a cleverly-chosen present, which can only be a good thing! However, choose carefully: they do sell quite a few books about radical ideas such as compost toilets (including the charmingly-named How to S*** in the Woods) which might scare some people off. Or start a toilet-based revolution. Who knows?
Another idea is to take part in one of the many ‘adopt an animal’ schemes run by conservation organisations such as WWF (http://www.wwf-adopt-a-animal.co.uk/) and WDC (http://adopt.whales.org/). The recipient receives regular updates on ‘their’ animal as well as a welcome pack and a variety of other perks depending on the scheme. The WWF adoption pack comes with an unbelievably cute cuddly toy of your chosen animal, which I think is enough to persuade anyone that conservation is a good idea.
Of course, you don’t have to buy specifically from a charity or campaigning website in order to make sure your present is environmentally-friendly – the high street is a gold mine of ethical gifts, if you know where to look. One tip is to make sure items such as clothes, beauty products and chocolate are Fairtrade – look for the easy-to-spot logo or check out the Fairtrade Foundation website (http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/) for details of retailers selling Fairtrade products. Lots of other environmentally-themed gift options are available, such as the plethora of solar-powered items now becoming widespread – from the huge array of solar-powered lighting to interesting little gadgets that do odd things.
So, you’ve bought the present – but what about the wrapping? The huge waste of wrapping paper at Christmas is enough to send any environmentally-conscious soul into a hopping rage, particularly if recycling facilities are fussy or inadequate. So, firstly: buy recycled wrapping paper if possible – it’s becoming more and more widely available on the high street, or can be bought online from sites such as Re-wrapped (http://www.re-wrapped.co.uk/). Councils can sometimes be difficult about recycling wrapping paper as it is often heavily laminated and dyed, and usually comes attached to huge amounts of sticky tape, which makes it difficult to recycle. The important thing here is to check with your local authority as the rules differ widely between different areas – some will be perfectly happy to accept wrapping paper with your kerbside collection, others will require you to go to a paper-recycling bank, while a few won’t recycle wrapping paper at all. Sadly, there’s not a lot you can do about this, unless you come up with some incredibly imaginative use for old wrapping paper or start your own paper-recycling mill (now don’t say we don’t make practical suggestions).
When wrapping your presents, be sparing with the sticky tape. If you’re incredibly clever and can wrap your gifts with ribbon instead of sticky tape, I have the utmost respect for you. If, however, you’re not blessed with these magical skills, don’t worry – just try and go easy on the sticky tape, or use those über-convenient gift bags that can be used again and again (and also remove the stress and irritation of trying to wrap awkwardly-shaped presents).
And finally, what happens if you don’t like a present someone’s given you? If you’ve found yourself on this website and got to the end of this article, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to just chuck it in the bin. Giving to charity shops is an easy way to get rid of unwanted items, and you’re helping to raise money for a good cause; or alternatively, re-gifting is a good idea and saves you money. Just make sure the person you’re giving the present to really will want whatever dubious item you’re passing on to them, otherwise the chain could go on…
Emma Lock, Education Officer