Christmas cards and decorations are essential in setting a warm, festive atmosphere, but they can also end up being one of the most wasteful and environmentally-unfriendly aspects of the season. However, with a few tweaks, an open mind and a sprinkle of innovation, you can make your house festive and inviting without the environmental cost. Read on, thou tinsel-clad eco-warriors…
It’s not difficult to find recycled charity Christmas cards, so this is the first, and probably easiest, step in making sure your card-based greetings are environmentally-friendly. At the end of Christmas, either recycle your cards – most supermarkets run card-recycling schemes throughout January – or save them to make gift tags and decorations the following year. Many a December in my childhood was spent finding interesting things to do with last year’s Christmas cards, with some charmingly innovative results.
Buy a real tree if at all possible, as artificial trees are not good for the environment – they’re made of plastic, take huge amounts of fossil fuels to make and are non-biodegradable. When buying a real tree, make sure it’s sustainably sourced – either buy from a small-scale local grower, or look for the FSC accreditation symbol. Ensure you dispose of it sensibly as well (most councils run tree-recycling schemes) or even better, buy a living tree that can be kept in your garden and used year after year.
Two words: home-made! Home-made decorations are fantastic for the environment AND you get to show off your amazing artistic skills. For me, one of the best things about the run up to Christmas is taking over the kitchen in a riot of old cards, glitter and gold paint and emerging hours later with a whole new set of (unbeatably unique) decorations. A John Lewis snowman decoration won’t have bizarre creepy eyebrows because someone got carried away dancing to Last Christmas whilst painting the face. Mine will.
However, if covering yourself in various craft materials for an afternoon isn’t your cup of tea, fear not: many shops now stock a whole range of recycled Christmas decorations. The best ones I’ve come across are decorations made from old CDs and computer circuit boards, which are quite impressive – see http://www.nigelsecostore.com/.
Solar-powered fairy lights are becoming more popular, and they’re a great idea because Christmas lights do gobble up energy. Whether your fairy lights are solar-powered or not, remember to turn them off when you’re not in the room or at night – it might sound obvious, but it’s an easy and painless way to save energy.
Using natural decorations – such as sprigs of holly, fir cones, twigs etc. – is much better than using artificial ones as you can simply compost or recycle them afterwards – and you get to irritate other people by singing about the fact that you really are decking the halls with boughs of holly (fa la la la la, la la la la).
Recycled Christmas crackers aren’t the easiest thing to come by, but if you can get hold of them they’re a great idea. They can often be found on specialist websites such as Uniquely Crackers (http://www.uniquelycrackers.co.uk/) and aren’t usually any more expensive than normal crackers, which is a bonus.
Candles are usually made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum and definitely not good for the environment. It’s possible to buy candles made from substances such as beeswax, soy wax or other vegetable-based waxes, which take much less energy to manufacture, are biodegradable, and produce much less icky smokey stuff than paraffin candles do.
OK, I know this doesn’t count as ‘decorations’, but I didn’t know where else to put this paragraph, so here we are. Feasting on environmentally-friendly food is so much more satisfying than any other kind. Intensive factory farming is never good for the environment, so try not to add to the huge amounts of suffering and environmental pollution that come as part and parcel of intensive farming methods. Buy your meat from local farmers where possible, either through a farmers’ market or your friendly local butcher – buying this way is usually cheaper than buying organic meat from the supermarket, and you’ll have a much better idea of exactly where your meat’s come from. If you don’t know where to start looking for local food in your area, the Soil Association (http://soilassociation.org/christmas) has a directory of food and drink producers – and also advent calendars, Christmas trees, hampers…
One final point: Christmas jumpers. They’re amazing, and they allow you to keep the heating at an environmentally-sensible level. Enough said.
A very, very Merry Christmas from everyone here at EnviroSoc!
Emma Lock, Education Officer