Between the thousands of tonnes of wrapping paper, discarded trees, and fairy lights adorning every surface, Christmas isn’t exactly famed for being green. So here’s a list of simple eco-friendly changes you can make to your holiday season to put you at the top of AUBSU’s nice list.
Switch out any old lights for newer LEDs
Older style incandescent light bulbs are so inefficient compared to newer LEDs that they’re being phased out entirely in shops in the UK, but just because you only have LED lights up around your home doesn’t mean you’ve already done your bit for the environment. LEDs use far less power (and cost far less to run) than their older counterparts, but if you’re going to have them lit up 24/7 you’re still using up far more energy than is necessary. Turn off Christmas lights when you’re not in the room to appreciate them, or invest in a couple of timers to automatically switch off your lights to avoid using unnecessary energy.
Make your own wrapping paper
Despite the misleading name, a lot of wrapping paper actually isn’t paper and therefore isn’t recyclable. Christmas wrapping paper is often dyed and laminated, or contains non-paper additives such as glitter, foil, and plastics that won’t be accepted at paper recycling mills. Most people also don’t remove the sticky tape when throwing wrapping paper away, causing it to be rejected.
To prevent so much material going into your general waste/landfill collection, try making your own wrapping paper – use leftover paper/posters, old magazines/newspapers, old sheet music, maps, scraps of fabric, or repurposed boxes. If you do have wrapping paper that can’t be recycled, try saving some of it and reusing it again next year to avoid so much single-use material going to waste.
Before putting anything in your recycling bin, make sure you remove any sticky tape, bows, ribbons, or decorations. If your wrapping is made out of paper then it can be recycled, but if you’re unsure then give it the ol’ scrunch test – if you try to scrunch it up in your hand and it bounces back into shape un-creased, then it ain’t for the recycling bin.
Make gifts and decorations
To reduce the amount of plastic wrappers used this Christmas, consider making your own Christmas decorations and gifts.
Tinsel and baubles are particularly bad for the environment, despite how pretty they may look on your tree. Many people simply toss them out each year with their tree, which takes years to break down, not to mention is harmful to any animals or wildlife that may come into contact with it. Consider switching to Raffia tinsel – which is still just as shiny but is made from plant matter, meaning it’s biodegradable and won’t have such a negative effect on the environment. Paper garlands, origami stars, and dried orange and clove baubles are other great decorations that can be easily recycled or broken down once Christmas is over.
Homemade Christmas gifts such as candles, flavoured spirits/liquors, painted mugs, knitted clothes or keychains, home-baked cookies, cosmetics and body care products, prints/artwork, and much much more are inexpensive ways to give gifts whilst avoiding all of the excessive plastic wrap that stores plaster all over their Christmas wares.
…and whilst you’re at it, make your Christmas cards too
Most people simply chuck their Christmas cards away in January, but using them to make Christmas cards for next year is a far more environmentally friendly idea. Combine cuttings from old Christmas cards with your own artwork and drawings to make unique cards for friends and family that will last more than just one Christmas period.
Buy organic, buy locally, and buy Fairtrade
It really wouldn’t be Christmas without all the food, but if you can buy at least some of your feast from local/independently owned grocers and butchers you’re helping out local businesses and suppliers, as well as reducing the number of miles your food has to travel before it reaches your plate.
Buying Fairtrade is a great way to ensure that not only are you getting top quality food, but that you’re making a real difference to the farmers and workers behind your food. Many large and independent retailers stock Fairtrade chocolate and goodies (including Fairtrade chocolate advent calendars, or this great online advent calendar where you can win great Fairtrade treats each day), meaning you can actively contribute towards an equal and sustainable industry whilst indulging in delicious snacks.
… and if you buy too much, why not donate some of it
Food banks and homeless shelters are always in need of food donations, especially during the winter months. With food bank use in the UK already at an all-time high, food banks are having to pull out all the stops to make sure people aren’t left hungry this Christmas. Head to the Trussell Trust’s website (they’re the good folks who run lots of the food banks here in the UK) to find out where your nearest donation point is, as well as the items they’re most in need of at this time of year.
Give gifts that give back
Think of it like a gift-within-a-gift – something that also benefits charities and organisations working to make the world a bit of a better place.
A quick Google will show you plenty of gift guides aimed at helping causes in need, and there are tonnes of options to choose from: Fairtrade wine, chocolate, and flowers are all great ways to gift safe in the knowledge the workers and suppliers behind each product are paid and treated fairly; LUSH’s Charity Pot donates its proceeds to organisations who work on environmental conservation, animal welfare, and human rights; TOMS donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair bought; and Change Please Coffee reinvests its profits into helping people out of homelessness by training them to be baristas.
To tree, or not to tree?
Christmas trees are tricky business if you’re trying to be as green as possible over Christmas. Studies have shown that real trees have less environmental impact than artificial ones – artificial trees need to be reused for at least 20 years if they are to compare favourably with natural trees. Sounds promising, huh?
Well, it’s only kind of promising. The trees we buy at Christmas are usually industrially farmed - which in this case is actually kind of a good thing, as they’re not contributing to the deforestation of natural forests and are profitable for the farmers growing them. However this also means they’re usually covered in all sorts of potent fertilisers and herbicides – which isn’t exactly great for local biodiversity, as well as all of the Christmas workers handling them. Some real trees are also transported in – sometimes even from outside of the UK - meaning your ‘eco-friendly’ tree is actually racking up a fair few non-eco-friendly miles. The best thing to do? Buy as locally as possible, and buy organic (The Soil Association has a whole list of places you can buy organic trees here), or consider whether you even need to buy a Christmas tree for your student flat if you’re just going to be abandoning it when you go home for Christmas.
Try giving gifts that will encourage the recipient to live a slightly greener lifestyle. A nice reusable coffee cup, reusable glass or metal drinking straws, a plastic-free safety razor set, supplies to make their own soap or bodycare products, and many more are great ways to encourage friends and family to think more about their environmental impact – especially in regards to single-use plastics.
Secret Santa can actually be a great way to avoid excessive gifting, thus less waste, as only one person is buying for you. Reduce the amount of unwanted gifts even more by attaching a Christmas list of ideas/things that you’d actually like to receive, making that person’s job easier in finding a gift you won’t want to chuck in the bin as soon as Christmas is over.
Fill an eco-brick with your Christmas wrappers
Eco-bricks have been doing the rounds on the internet lately, and they’re a great way to reduce the amount of waste plastics and wrappers going to landfill – we’ve even got a couple of them on the go in the AUBSU office. With the amount of plastic wrappers and packaging on sweets, chocolate, and other holiday snacks, it should take no time at all to pack a bottle tightly ready for it to be reused. While there are several places in the UK that accept donations of eco-bricks, it is far better to keep them and create something with them yourself, or pool together as a community to collaborate on an eco-brick project. This article on the eco-bricks website outlines just how great an initiative they are – and will point you in the right direction in terms of things you can create out of your waste plastics.
I want to keep up this whole green thing after Christmass too. What next?
AUBSU just so happens to have a thriving Green Team who are always on the hunt for new members. They meet weekly to discuss green initiatives that they want to be implemented here at AUB - covering everything from coffee cups (you lot drink a hell of a lot of coffee, and those cups have gotta go somewhere!) to bees and wildlife. Head on over to the Green Team's Facebook page and get involved!