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Ten ways to have a more sustainable Christmas

Dr Pamela Yeow is Reader in Management in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics whose research currently focuses on ethical consumerism. She shares ideas to celebrate Christmas more sustainably in 2021.

In the run-up to Christmas, consumers are bombarded by Black Friday sales, tear-jerking adverts and a seemingly endless parade of stuff on our social media feeds.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t even started to think about Christmas shopping and gift-giving yet! This is particularly so in the aftermath of the COP26 climate summit and the twelve-day marathon of presentations, debates and negotiations.

COP26 has brought home to us the importance and utter urgency of the climate emergency. Even with the agreements in place, more needs to be done to reverse the negative impact of decades of neglect of our planet.

My colleagues and I have been doing research on single-use plastic for a while now, and recent research has demonstrated that the inconsistent messaging and confusion around what and how to recycle means that householders are not recycling as much as they would like.

Of course, recycling is not the only thing we can do. Reducing consumption of single-use plastic, as well as repurposing or reusing single-use plastic is also key to helping our planet survive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of all the upcoming festive consumption, here are ten ideas to help you have an enjoyable and more sustainable Christmas.

1. Instead of buying a tree, plant a tree

A two meter Christmas tree is equivalent to 16kg of carbon dioxide if it ends up in landfill. Why not plant a tree instead this Christmas? Websites like MoreTrees and Dedicate a Tree make this easy to do, and you can even gift a tree to others.

2. If you can’t imagine Christmas without a tree, rent one instead

Rented Christmas trees are a growing trend. For the rest of the year, rented trees are re-planted, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and providing a home for local wildlife, before brightening up your living room for the festive season.

3. Give a pre-loved gift

Want to give your loved ones something truly one of a kind? A thoughtful second-hand gift for someone who loves vintage, antiques or collectibles will be very much appreciated.

4. Give experiences

Often it feels like we have to spend a particular amount of money on gifts and sometimes that is justifiable. Rather than giving people things that might not be appreciated or even used, treat them to a memorable experience, such as a trip to the theatre or zookeeper for the day experience – the possibilities are endless!

5. Make a sustainable swap at the dinner table

Research tells us that eating a plant-based diet can help with climate change. If you can’t face cancelling that turkey order, consider swapping a side dish or starter for a vegetarian or vegan alternative. The planet will thank you.

6. Use recyclable wrapping paper

Avoid plastic glitter wrapping paper that can’t be recycled, or better still, use recycled or plain brown paper to wrap gifts. Whilst you’re at it, why not use paper tape as well.

7. Make do and mend your Christmas decorations

With a bit of extra care, Christmas decorations like tinsel will last for several years. If you’re feeling crafty, why not try making your own decorations out of things lying around the home?

8. Wear your old Christmas jumper

If you need to wear a Christmas jumper, try to re-wear your old one, swap or buy second-hand as it’s been found that most Christmas jumpers in the UK are made using plastic!

9. Shop locally

Reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas shopping by opting for local retailers where possible. It also saves on packaging compared to a mountain of deliveries (Amazon boxes, we’re looking at you).

10. Go plastic-free where you can

Christmas crackers are another source of hidden festive plastic, but plastic free alternatives are becoming more popular. In 2019, John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose announced that its Christmas crackers from 2020 will no longer include plastic toys or be decorated with plastic glitter. Other large retailers quickly followed suit.

Finding ways to make Christmas more sustainable this year not only helps the planet, but can be lots of fun! Let us know your sustainable swaps in the comments below.

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