Top 15 Tips For A Sustainable Christmas

It is becoming much more of a concern for people: how do we avoid adding to the preventable waste that takes place during Christmas? Read our Yes and No tips and you’ll be all the better for it.

1] YES: A REAL CHRISTMAS TREE

You can’t beat this – they smell lovely, for starters, and they look much better than the shiny (and not very environmentally-friendly) plastic trees that come to Ireland on a slow boat from the Far East. Yes, they are more expensive, but the sustainable – as much as the aesthetic – difference they make is worth it. One more thing: if you can’t afford a real tree, why not transform a house plant (or two) into Xmas trees?

2] NO: CRACKERS AND TINSEL

When we think of Christmas trees, we immediately think of tree decorations but think more about durable and (quite likely) personally connected embellishments that are made of wool, wood and/or cloth. Many of these have memories attached, which means you’ll hang on to them year after year. As for Xmas crackers, just think of the amount of packaging that houses tiny plastic and metal objects that within seconds you know you’re not going to use. Seriously – have any of us EVER held on to cracker ‘surprises’?

3] YES: ENDURING GIFTS

While it’s tempting to rush into a shop (or browse far too quickly online) and just grab the closest thing to hand, sustainable purchases need thinking about. It makes sense not to buy too much of anything that will, within a week or three, have to be binned. For a gift that lasts, why not choose an indoor plant? Positives: they look lovely, are relatively maintenance-free, and only need small amounts of water to keep them healthy.

4] NO: CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Yes, we know we’ll be accused of Grinch-like severity for saying this, but can we please go easy on the lights this year? Some people we know very well go gaga for lights being on inside and outside the house for most of the day and night, but the CO2 emissions from such an approach are bad enough for one house let alone thousands. Candles are nicer, too.

5] YES: SAPLING VODKA

How brilliantly sustainable is this: for every bottle of Sapling Vodka produced, a tree is planted. The London-based spirits company works in parallel with local UK communities in their aim to offset carbon emissions, and so far it has been a major success. And what about the actual vodka, we hear you ask? The spirit is four-times distilled from 100% British wheat with charcoal-filtered, de-ionised water. The result is clean-tasting and creamy smooth with herbaceous and citrusy notes. Xmas cheer, anyone?

6] NO: BATTERIES

Difficult, if not impossible, these days to bring anything into the house that doesn’t involve the use of batteries, it is always useful to remember that they are non-biodegradable, contain toxic chemicals, and are (let’s be honest, shall we?) far too easy to chuck them into the bin instead of properly recycling them. Do the best you can to purchase rechargeable products. 

7] YES: REGIFTING

We don’t want to be Scrooge-like about this, but there are more than several occasions when that Xmas present you get could easily go to a more receptive home. You know the ones we mean: giving a book about abstract logic to someone who loves Formula 1 racing, or an expensive face mask set to a man that hasn’t shaved for over 20 years. Three words: pass them on. As for the ultimate regifting procedure? Two words: charity shops. 

8] NO: WRAPPING PAPER

It’s a charmer and it’s a curse: you buy a lovely present for a lovely person and you want them to see it meticulously wrapped in relatively expensive paper that takes minutes to fit. And, of course, outwardly the present looks divine, never mind what’s underneath the paper. Most of the time, however, the gift wrapping is (and yes, we’re looking at you, children) ripped apart in seconds and thrown aside. Remember that wrapping paper, especially the more upscale kind, contains toxic colourings and overlays, which makes it nigh-on impossible to properly recycle. What to do? Our tip is not to be so extravagant. Sometimes, less is more. 

9] YES: BUY IRISH

This year, in particular, we genuinely need to look after our indigenous economy and the only way to do that is to keep the money in the country. It’s easy enough, also, to source sustainable gifts. Some of the best Irish brands we’ve encountered recently include Dalkey Handmade Soaps (100% natural, vegan, fragrances include lemongrass, bergamot, and poppyseed) and VivaGreen (www.vivagreengroup.com), which produce a broad range of chemical-free, plastic-free and biodegradable products for the household and garden. 

10] NO: FOOD WASTE

We know Christmas usually gives us a pass when it comes to over-indulging on food and drink, but did you know that according to official government data every household in Ireland bins about €700 worth of food each year (and Christmas is the peak time). So look: we know you’re in a good mood, but if you write out your shopping list and resist temptation as you sashay along the supermarket aisles it will save you money, food wastage and the feeling in the pit of your stomach that some people call guilt.

11] YES: HOMEMADE CARDS

With children spending more time at home this year, why not introduce the making of cards to pass some of their time? Parents, relatives and (especially) grandparents love the idea of cards made from scrap paper or reused cards from the previous year. If you can’t persuade the kids to get creative, then a zero-waste alternative is the plantable Xmas card. Biodegradable paper is infused with seeds that, when planted in a pot of soil, will grow. And don’t worry about the card itself – they will gradually decay.

12] NO: AIR MILES 

Not necessarily your own air miles (not that there are many of those this year), but rather the miles some food has to travel for it to end up on your plate. Try to choose homegrown vegetables, fruit and dairy, Irish-sourced meats, craft beer and spirits over items that come from halfway around the world. 

13] YES: CHEESEBOARD

A sustainable cheeseboard? Yes, you read correctly. Handmade from Irish beechwood in collaboration between two rural family businesses, every board is unique, with varying grains and shades, and while you can’t eat it (we have tried and it hurts) you can certainly nibble the numerous cheeses that are placed on it. Eco-friendly, and it looks gorgeous, too. 

14] NO: DISPOSABLES

We don’t mean nappies (another time, perhaps!), but rather those convenient yet very wasteful light cardboard plates, those plastic knives, forks and spoons that always break, and those plastic cups and glasses that always leak. 

15] YES: PEOPLE

If you drill down deep enough you know full well that while Christmas is a particularly great time for presents, carousing, over-indulging and doing nothing, the bottom line is that you make it the best time of the year because of people you know and people you love. If that isn’t sustainable in all the good and proper ways, then we don’t know what is.

WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA

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