I’m dreaming of a greener Christmas

9 December 2022

Christmas is a joyful and important time for many people. However, in recent years especially, it has become a period of radically increased consumption and spending. It is a time often associated with excess - whether that’s of food, drink, gifts, or decorations.

Unfortunately, these high levels of consumption have a large impact both on the environment and our personal finances. Considering we’re not only in a climate crisis, but a cost-of-living crisis too, the festive period is going to have to look very different for many of us this year.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Having a more sustainable Christmas is a great opportunity to reconnect with the most important part of the festive period: spending enjoyable time with our loved ones. So in this blog, we will explore some ways to have a fun family Christmas, while ensuring we’re as sustainable as possible (and hopefully spending less too).

All I want for Christmas is less!

A recent YouGov survey has shown that 60% of people in the UK are planning to spend less on Christmas this year because of the cost-of-living crisis [1].

Furthermore, a study conducted by researchers at the University of York estimated that the three days of Christmas festivities could result in 650 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per person, which makes up a shocking 5.5 % of our total annual carbon emissions [2].

Currently, Christmas is costing us and our planet, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, sustainability and affordability come hand in hand and there are many fun, easy, and cheap ways that we can have an extra special Christmas this year, whilst remaining eco-conscious.

To help you out, we’ve pooled our team’s extensive sustainability knowledge to come up with ways that you can reduce the impact of your gifts, food, travel and tree this Christmas.

Gifts: Last Christmas I gave you an unwanted gift

We all love receiving presents at Christmas time, but much thought is rarely given to where they go once we are finished with them - or the carbon impact of making, packaging and conventional ways of delivering them. It is estimated that collectively, people in the UK spend several billion pounds on unwanted Christmas gifts every year. Not only is this a waste of money, but it is also associated with an estimated 80kg of CO2 emissions per person [2]. So how can we reduce the number of excess gifts we buy this Christmas?

To reduce unnecessary purchases, we should first think about who we really need to buy gifts for. It might help to hold discussions with friends and family about who is buying what for who. Alternatively, holding a Secret Santa is a great way of reducing the overall number of gifts that people are expected to buy.

If you decide to buy someone a gift, try and think ‘quality, not quantity’. Buying just one thing that will be used for a long time is more sustainable and meaningful than buying lots of gimmicks. Gifting something that is hand-made or second-hand will reduce your environmental impact even further. And remember, there is no shame in regifting!

It’s also worth considering whether a donation to a good cause is a more meaningful gift for a loved one than buying them an unnecessary item. Whether for a charity like WWF or a children’s charity, you can make a significant positive impact in multiple directions by giving to charity on their behalf, instead of spending money on mass-produced products with big carbon footprints. After all, it is the thought that counts.

Food: Now, bring us some vegan pudding

Festive food is one of the most exciting parts of the Christmas season and there is every reason for it to continue to be so. However, in one investigation by Floop, it was estimated that producing a traditional Christmas dinner creates six times more CO2 emissions than the average meal [3]. There is also a horrific amount of food waste produced at Christmas time.

According to CommercialWaste [4], 2 million edible turkeys and 74 million mince pies end up in landfill every year.

But don’t worry - you can still have a delicious Christmas meal without costing the planet! There are three main ways to reduce the environmental impact of your festive food: reducing your consumption of animal products; reducing your food waste and buying organic. Having a vegetarian and low-waste Christmas dinner could reduce the carbon emissions of your meal by up to nearly 40% [2].

Going plant-based could also help you save a significant amount of money: a recent study by the University of Oxford has shown that transitioning to a vegan diet could reduce your food bill by up to a third [5].

Travel: I’m not driving home for Christmas (I’m getting the train!)

We all want to spend Christmas with our loved ones, but that often means driving a long distance. It is estimated that British families travel an average of 302 miles over the Christmas period [6]. When this travel is undertaken by car, the environmental impact can be huge. Travelling by train or by coach can dramatically decrease your CO2 emissions. RouteZero offers a tool which compares the CO2 emissions of different transport options. For some journeys, taking the train instead of driving reduces CO2 emissions by over 80%.

Rockin around the (sustainable) Christmas tree

In terms of your Christmas tree, there is debate on the most sustainable option. Generally, environmentalists believe real trees are more sustainable than artificial ones, but they should be grown as locally as possible and then recycled at the end (most local authorities now offer this service and they shred them for compost).

Our team got creative with their own approaches to ensuring their Christmas trees, decorations and present wrappings had a low impact on the environment - here are a few extra fun examples:

Jade opted not to get a tree this year and instead put lights and baubles on her egg chair. Although it started off as a joke, she now loves it. What better way to start feeling festive than sitting inside your DIY Christmas tree?!

Cleo got extra creative with his Christmas wreath, which he made from Sainsbury’s vouchers and OddBox recipe slips. He even used paper tape, so he could recycle the whole thing afterwards.

Chloe decorated the City Science office Christmas tree with homemade pompoms and eco-friendly tinsel. The tree was also rented, so it will be returned and replanted after the Christmas period.

Simon’s children reuse paper for wrapping presents, decorating it themselves to create their own unique festive gift wrap. They also make their own sustainable decorations!

Finally, one to make you laugh! My housemates and I decided we did not want to spend any money on a Christmas tree and decorations this year. We asked for a Christmas tree that was going to be thrown away and sourced the decorations and tinsel from the recycling. It may be ugly, but it’s very sustainable.

Final words: Joy to the world

Both the financial and environmental costs of Christmas can be quite anxiety-inducing, but we would encourage you to think positively. We all have an exciting opportunity to re-invent Christmas as a sustainable and affordable holiday, which focuses on the importance of spending quality time with our loved ones. We hope you use this blog as a starting point and feel inspired to get creative with decarbonising your Christmas!

And let us know what you’re doing to enjoy a sustainable Christmas.

Bibliography

  1. YouGov, "60% of Britons expect to spend less on Christmas because of the rising cost of living," 2022.
  2. G. Haq, A. Owen, E. Dawkins and J. Barrett, "The Carbon Cost of Christmas," Climate Talk, 2014.
  3. Floop, "What is Christmas dinner’s carbon footprint?," 2021.
  4. The Big Issue, “How to solve Britain’s overstuffed Christmas food waste epidemic”, 2018
  5. M. Springmann, M. A. Clark, M. Rayner, P. scarborough and P. Webb, "The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable," Lancet Planet Health 2021, 2021.
  6. The Independent, "Christmas: British families will travel an average of 302 miles over festive period, study finds", 2017.

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