Traditionally, Christmas is all about giving. It’s true that our loving acts of kindness still form the framework of the festive season, but these days it seems we’re a lot more concerned with getting our hands on as much as possible, as often as possible. Not only do we give too much but we’ve also become obsessed with taking, and spending, eating and drinking. The obvious outcome of all this consumerism is a whole load of waste at the end of it. If this month’s material overload is weighing on your mind, here are some planet-happy ideas to counterbalance the Christmas consumption.
Test out your Furoshiki skills
This Christmas’s trend is the art of Furoshiki, an eco-friendly and beautifully simple way to wrap your gifts. You can dispense with acres of tacky (and expensive) wrapping paper by using this Japanese style of present giving, which is a bit like origami but considerably less fiddly. Using a large piece of cloth – pashminas, silk scarves and the like – you simply fold the material around the present, knot it on top and hey presto, a stylish gift disguise. It’s easy to do and the fabric you use can be reused again and again. Here’s how to do it.
‘Why recycle when you can upcycle!’ cry the people responsible for the eco-friendly website, Upcycling. Rather than disposing of objects and materials which will then be recycled, the idea behind upcycling is that we hold on to unwanted items and turn them into entirely new products. Its proponents believe upcycling is often more sustainable than recycling, as less extra resources and energy are needed in the process. It can require a little creativity to find a new purpose for old items, but if you’ve got the imagination it’s a great way to end up with unique new possessions and gifts. A personal favourite from Upcycling’s idea bank – the genius suggestion of turning a book into a fully functional clock.
Offload recycling to far-flung family
A bit complicated, but well worth the effort. You’ve probably come up against the ‘not round here, mate’ spiel from your local council, thus rudely preventing you from recycling this or that type of plastic in your area. Other councils will have developed different schemes, so it’s worth checking whether your family can recycle materials where they live. You can always check council websites for up-to-date information about their recycling schemes and details of exactly what you can put in your blue and green boxes.
Recycle your tree
For those who prefer the natural look, make sure you recycle your Christmas tree once it’s given up the ghost and started shedding needles left right and centre. Instead of dumping them, contact your local council to find the nearest designated drop off points. Once collected, old trees will be chipped and composted rather than ending up in landfill. That way, you’ll help to create more biomass which will perk up the soil and let lots of other lovely things grow in 2013. Or, buy a living tree with roots – more of a long-term investment, buying a living tree with roots means that you can re-use your tree for several years. You can then plant it in the garden and add one more tree to the carbon dioxide equation.
Don’t bin it, give it!
This is the philosophy behind the website Snaffle Up, where unwanted gifts can end up loved in a better home. Once you’ve signed up, you can easily get rid of any unnecessary or just plain bizarre presents by advertising them online. All items go for free, but if you’re happy not to get any money for them you’ll avoid the bidding faff of Ebay and suchlike, and be doing an environmentally good deed into the bargain. Try snaffleup.co.uk or Freecycle which is all about ‘keeping good stuff out of landfills’. People are encouraged to find items in their own towns, to reduce the environmental impact of travelling too far.
Other easy ways to reduce your waste:
Get a compost bin
This will depend on what your council has set up, but if you’ve got the available facilities you can now compost pretty much all food waste, rather than effectively scraping it into a landfill site.
Be careful with supermarket offers
Those tricksy corporate food giants lure you into buying more than you need, disguising their game with tempting discounts and ‘spend less’ (but actually more in the long term) incentives. Don’t fall for it, people! You can visit the Love Food Hate Waste website for tips on how to make the most of the food you buy, including a ‘Save Time and Money’ section for the hard-up and hectic amongst us.
Buy veg loose, not packaged
Obvious, really. You’ll use less, create fewer leftovers and save on unnecessary packaging in the process. Head to Unpackaged in Hackney for the ultimate in package-free shop
Give back your Christmas cards
Big chains like WH Smiths and Tescos have card and paper banks where you can drop off your mountains of greetings cards (aren’t you popular). The creative folk amongst you could try to reuse the images for gift tags or next year’s handmade cards.
Wash out all jars and tins
Useful for storing all manner of things after their original work is done. Also a good decoration idea – just add tealights for a foolproof mood lighting trick. Meg Pruce