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If school report cards were handed out to everyone, to grade them on their green efforts to look after the planet, I suspect mine would say: C-
And I reckon it would be accompanied by the phrase that I saw on my actual school report cards more than once: Could do better. At school, I could always have done a bit better, I could always have listened a bit more, paid more attention, worked a bit harder.
As a grown up, I put a lot more effort into learning and doing better, than I used to. But one of the areas I know I could do better in, is living sustainably. We’ve always been good at recycling our rubbish, and in the last couple of years, we’ve made some more changes in our home – we have reusable water bottles and travel coffee cups so that we don’t buy plastic bottles and cups when we’re out. We no longer use single-use plastic bags to store food. I carry around a couple of fold-up shopping bags so that I don’t have to use plastic carrier bags. All very small things, but things that have just become second nature to us now.
Of course, there are still things I could be doing better, so I’m always looking around for ideas and suggestions, but I’m also a firm believer in not being put off something just because I’m not perfect at it. I might not be an A-student when it comes to this, but the numerous small changes I do make? They make a difference.
Same goes for Christmas – there are lots of small changes we can make. Here are some ideas of ways to look after the planet a bit, this Christmas…
1. Buy a real Christmas tree. Did you know that you need to have an artificial tree for 12 years before it has the equivalent carbon footprint of a real tree? So if (like us) you already have one, use it and use it until it falls apart! But even real trees often end up in landfill and can omit harmful greenhouse gas as they deteriorate, so if you do get a real tree, you can look locally for places (garden centres/farms/your council) that will take your tree at the start of January and turn it into wood chip, to be reused. Another REALLY great option is to rent a Christmas tree – some places deliver a ready-potted tree to you, you water it over the festive period and then hand it back to them to replant. Genius!
2. Keep an eye on how much energy you’re using. Unsurprisingly, energy use goes up over Christmas – on average, our gas and electricity bills increase by £50 in December. Lots of us whack up the heating, we’re using more electricity and gas for cooking and extra lights, watching more TV. I’ve been trying out some very nifty prototype Christmas baubles, created by E.ON, which change colour depending on the room temperature. If the room is between 18 and 21C (the ‘energy efficient’ zone), the baubles will be green. If the room is below 18C, they’ll turn blue and if the temperature goes over 21C, they’ll glow red. It’s such a clever way to keep an eye on room temperature. Even without the baubles though, an easy way to save energy is turning down the thermostat when you have lots of people over or you’re doing lots of cooking. Or get yourself a smart thermostat! We have a Tado which keeps our heating at 19C when we’re in the house and cooler when we’re out.
3. Wrap presents in recyclable paper. Often Christmas gift wrap is sparkly or has a plastic-coating which means it can’t be recycled. This Christmas, 83 square kilmetres of wrapping paper will be thrown out – which is enough to gift wrap the island of Jersey. Seek out recyclable wrapping paper, or use brown paper – something I’ve been doing for a few years – which you can then decorate with festive stamps and fabric ribbons. I also love this idea spotted on Rev Kate Bottley’s Instagram, of gathering pretty scarves and tea towels from charity shops throughout the year, to use as gift wrap.
4. Shop sensibly. I’ve started paying a lot more attention to the amount of plastic toys I buy. I’ll opt for wooden, if I can, and if I do buy plastic, I weigh up how much use we’ll get out of it and go for things that can be passed on – like Lego. Buying second hand is a great idea too. But I’m also a fan of giving consumables, experiences or charity donations as presents too. A beautiful plant for my mother-in-law, theatre tickets for my mum, cinema vouchers for my nephew, and food and drink gifts I know they’ll use and love.
5. Get creative with crackers and cards. We’re making our own Christmas crackers this year – there are lots of recyclable kits available or go old school and use toilet roll tubes, brown paper and then decorate them! It’s a really brilliant pre-Christmas activity to do with the kids. You can also reuse last year’s Christmas cards as gift tags and if sending Christmas cards feels like a huge waste (it’s estimated that 1billion Christmas cards could end up being thrown away after Christmas), then send an individual Christmas email to people instead, to catch up and ask how they are (or post on social media, but you risk people not seeing it!)
Do you have other suggestions of how to have a more sustainable Christmas?