Updated: May 3
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Ever since I can remember, Christmas has been my favourite time of year. It was never because of receiving gifts, more the general feeling of positivity and love that goes with most things associated with the season.
This year though I found myself in a bit of a conundrum, using cloth nappies had introduced me to a new level of sustainability I had never previously considered. Now hearing facts like the UK will use around 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, and 40 million rolls of sticky tape this Christmas, made me stop and think - I no longer wanted to be part of these figures. and thought long and hard about how I could be more eco-friendly this Christmas.
I was already aware that most wrapping paper is not recyclable and have been performing the scrunch test for a while (scrunch your paper into a ball, if it unfurls at all it cannot be recycled, if it remains balled up it can), but I now know that recycling is the last step to leading a more sustainable lifestyle.
Following the popular phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, firstly I wanted to reduce the amount of waste I was producing. This ended up being quite an easy and fun task, a few of my gifts had been delivered in lovely brown boxes which ordinarily I would have covered in wrapping paper. This year, I just added a ribbon and a couple of festive stickers I already had (in future years, I will either invest in a festive stamp, or have H decorate them). I even wrote the gift note directly on the box so no tag was needed.
Next step, Reuse, I have always kept every gift bag I’ve ever been given, so this one was easy. Anything which didn’t come in a suitable box went into one of my many gift bags accumulated across the years. This year I will also be keeping the Christmas cards I received so any suitable ones can be cut down to tags to be used on next year’s gifts.
Finally Recycle, in place of plastic sticky tape, this year I purchased some gorgeous elephant paper tape from Babipur. Printed with eco-friendly soluble ink, it can be recycled along with our other paper waste.
Not only were my new choices of gift wrap environmentally friendly, they were economically friendly too! Next it was time to really think about the gifts we were giving.
Eco-Friendly Gift Giving
It’s very hard not to fall into the toy trap when buying for children, with most advertising leading up to Christmas for the latest and greatest toys. H is into everything right now, so it’s also hard not to tell yourself ‘Oh but she’ll love it’. But if I really think hard, she is into everything right now, meaning she is as happy with the wrapping paper as the gift within it.
With her birthday only two months before Christmas we were already bursting at the seams with toys which still held her attention, she really didn’t need anything new. Then at the beginning of the month we took a family trip to Longleat for the Festival of Light and the perfect idea struck me. Daddy H and I had already discussed not buying each other big gifts, just something small and needed to open on the day, and to organise a day out together instead, but why not take that one step further? Our new tradition was born, from now on each year we will buy a family membership or arrange a trip for us all to do together in the new year, giving the gift of family time and memories instead.
We expanded this idea to the wider family too, either asking for things we needed (a new washing up bowl) or experiences, and were kindly gifted a National Trust membership by my Dad and a day out to Chester Zoo by my Mum. As I wasn’t seeing my brother this year we agreed not to do the annual pointless gift card exchange, however he did still wish to get something for H, so I asked him to gift his time instead, and join us at the zoo when we visit.
With the gifts we were receiving covered, I thought long and hard about the gifts we are giving. Our friends and family are all very fortunate in that they can generally get what they need as they need it so want for very little at Christmas.
The first step was to ask them, yes it is lovely when you hand over a gift with no prompt and the recipient has no knowledge of what is inside, however whilst it may be lovely and thoughtful, how much use will they actually get out of it and is it something they even want?
Eco-swap gift boxes
For some of my family who have shown similar interests to me in the environment and our sustainability I decided that a box of eco swaps would make a great gift. I did worry that this gift may seem a little mundane as it is mainly household items that previously you would never dream of gifting, however, I decided to stay strong.
Looking around at some pre-made boxes you could buy they all contained something that one of the recipients either already had or I knew they wouldn’t use. So I decided to make up the boxes myself, which allowed me to add the personal touch.
To create each gift, I firstly found a cardboard box I already had, mainly boxes which some of the items had been delivered in. Then I packaged together a selection of the following items:
Ecoliving dish brush and replacement heads, the heads can be composted after use
Eco Coconut scourers, which can also be composted after use
A linen scourer
A solid vegetable soap
A soap bag or eco bath puff
For my mother-in-law I knew she had recently made the move across to loose leaf tea and was struggling with cleaning the teapot, so I also added some reusable tea bags and a bag of loose chamomile tea.
In addition to ensuring my gifts were ecologically friendly, I wanted to make sure they were ethical as well and really consider where my money was going. I vowed this Christmas that not one gift would come from Amazon and that the majority would come from small/family business, or where that wasn’t possible a high street store.
I’m pleased to say this is one area I wholly succeeded in, and while it may have taken me longer to complete my shopping it was so much more fun. I got to build relationships with the owners, received beautiful handwritten cards of thanks, and many came so beautifully packaged I didn’t even need to wrap them!
Supporting small businesses may not be the easiest way to shop, or even the cheapest, however because of that, it’s helped make me more sustainable. That extra level of friction means that I am thinking harder and longer about my purchases to ensure I’m buying the right things from the right people. Ultimately it also meant I was buying fewer things, spend more, buy less. ,
A small but significant one, when you think that most chocolate advent calendars are a sheet of non-recyclable plastic encased in single use cardboard. For the first year in my memory, I decided not to buy any single-use advent calendars for our home.
As H is too little to really understand I opted for a re-usable advent calendar from Flamingo Paperie this year. Our calendar starts as an empty train and each day you add an extra animal or picture to the scene. H loved it, and kept pointing up to have it brought down for her to look at, at the end of the month we'll pack it all away for next year.
Finally, I looked at my Christmas Tree. For years I have had an artificial tree, but last year I decided I wanted to make the move over to real. After reading The Guardian’s report on which option is more sustainable I was torn. I still had a perfectly good artificial tree in the shed but loved the festivity of a real one. Thankfully, my work were looking for a new artificial tree as the previous one had been discarded during an office move, so I donated mine to continue its life and fulfill its Christmas destiny, and decided to buy a potted real tree to hopefully use for years to come.
Rather than heading to our local B&Q for the tree, where it would likely have arrived here on a plane, I looked for a local Christmas Tree Farm instead. We chose Oxenford Farm, because not only was it the nearest but they had farm animals and a lovely Christmas Shop, meaning we could make a morning of it and another lovely family memory for Daddy H and I to treasure.
When I first decided to attempt a more sustainable Christmas, I did worry that it would impact on the enjoyment. I worried I would lose out on the things I loved about the season, but in reality I found many new things to enjoy and knowing I am doing my little bit to support the war on plastic has given me a whole new level of warm and fuzzies I could never have anticipated.