Charlotte and Anna, former Birmingham City University students and experts in zero waste, share their tips for reducing your waste this Christmas, and how small switches can build up to make a big difference.
For us, the term zero waste, simply means living without the need for a bin. We aim to reuse, reduce, repurpose, recycle and regenerate any waste that we come into contact with. If you want to join us on our zero waste journey, here's some ideas to try and send less to landfill at the most wastefull time of year.
If you’ve already got a whole heap of decorations, it's best to reuse what you've got, rather than buy new, even if the newer ones are better for the environment.
If you really want new decorations, get crafty and try hand-making them. Drying out orange slices in an oven makes cheap, biodegradable decorations. Gather friends together for craft nights or a decoration swap party. Christmas markets for local producers often have handmade decorations which will typically come with less waste.
The food and drinks
The simplest way to cut down on any food and drink waste is to simply buy less - we don't mean to go without, but just try and avoid over buying and having so much waste.
Plan before you even buy food and drinks what could be left over after the celebrations end. One year, my brother made the most epic Thai green curry with the left over turkey on Boxing Day. Think creatively about what could be frozen for later consumption or if you can make new meals or snacks to avoid waste or a dreaded week full of cold turkey meals.
Don’t forget the great habits you’ve already got in place which reduce waste. If you get a Christmassy coffee, ask for it in a reusable mug. When you do the shopping try and put your brussel sprouts and carrots straight into your own bag or a box so they're plastic free.
Avoid disposable cups, plates and cutlery when having people over by using your normal dinner wear, or asking people to bring their own - after all, if they’re eating food at your house, they won’t need the plates at their house that night!
Overall, the idea is to still indulge, but consciously!
If you want a certain type of food or drink and can’t get it waste free, why not try and find a recipe for it, or think about what the packaging could be reused for afterwards? For instance, all those corks from Bucks Fizz could make some great Christmas decorations for next year!
Decorate a house plant you already have, reuse a fake tree or if you use a real one, ensure you compost it after.
If your natural tree drops some needles, gather them up and compost them. Keep it well watered to lessen the number of needles which drop.
A friend of mine keeps her Christmas tree until the summer. The dry tree makes great fuel for summer BBQs!
Think about the full cycle of what you buy- would it have been manufactured in a wasteful way before it got to you, and how might it be used after you have finished with it?
A nice way of avoiding wasteful processes is to make presents yourself, or buy from local small producers, where you can discuss their making process with them.
We often give consumables in our family to cut back on waste. Ideas such as making jams, chutney and cookies are great. If you’re not much of a baker, you could always weigh the dry cake ingredients into a jar, then write up the recipe explaining what additional ingredients need to be added.
Other great zero waste presents are to give an experience, rather than items. A visit to a fancy heritage site, a balloon ride or a nice meal out are great fun, make memories, avoid packaging and stop yet more things heading off to the charity shop.
For my birthday one year, I asked for money for courses I wanted to go on. I learnt how to crochet and did a beginners’ pottery class - I doubt I’d have justified spending the money on these courses if I didn’t get the money or vouchers for the course. It was great that I could think of certain family member’s contribution to these courses as I was molding a pot or crocheting a scarf!
If you think giving and receiving items is still the route you want to go down, buy what people need, not what you think they want. I used to be the worst at doing this and seemed to buy things I liked, not really what the person wanted! Asking what people need or want before hand gives you time to research if you could buy it locally or second hand.
Physical presents, or vouchers for experiences can be made to look unbelievably adorable without any waste. Try and avoid buying new sticky tape by using strings and ribbons which can be reused, or buying a paper-based tape. Furoshiki is the beautiful Japanese tradition of present wrapping in fabric. If you wrap things in a nice scarf or tote bag, that could make up an extra part of the present. Decorating your own wrapping paper with stamps or freehand designs can add a lovely charm to your gift, you could do this onto brown paper, or newspaper. Or go full minimalist, and don’t use any wrapping paper!
You could also do no presents! It seemed like a big sacrifice, and one that took a little while to get used to, but me and my friends decided to stop exchanging presents. They know how much of an ethical pickle I can get into when gift giving, so it’s so much easier for us just to enjoy time together instead and use the money we save on a meal or drinks.
Everyone has their own lovely Christmas traditions, whatever they are, have a think about a simple way to lower their waste. If you always burn an advent candle, can you find one without the shrink wrap plastic? If you make stocking up for friends or family, could you put the presents into mini drawstring bags, rather than individually wrapping them? How about ensuring the veg peelings make it to a compost heap, or even making them into crisps, with a little oil and salt and baking them in the oven?
And you can always make new zero waste Christmas traditions! Last year we started having Christmas light walks in December, where we pick a new road each evening and enjoyed their outdoor decorations. I heard of a family who purchased 25 Christmas books from charity shops, wrapped them in newspaper, and their children would open and read a new Christmas book each night in advent. They bought the books years ago, and redo the tradition each year.
So, we wish you a very happy festive season, hopefully with a little less waste than last year. Remember zero waste is a journey, if you slip up on things this year don’t let it ruin the festivities, just make notes of what you can improve on next year.
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