December 21st, 2011
by Peter Jones
If only everything at Christmas could be as green as the Christmas tree. But for most people, the environment is a pretty low priority over the festive season. After all, everybody’s having fun and letting their hair down – there’s nothing very Christmassy about worrying over waste. So even for those who usually recycle, the high volume of waste can overwhelm the containment they have available – and if relatives come to stay who don’t understand the local recycling arrangements, the potato peel can quickly end up amongst the wrapping paper.
But it has never been easier or more convenient to tackle the remnants of Christmas responsibly. Local authorities recognise that extra waste and reduced recycling means additional costs for them. Recycle for London has said that “If we recycle everything possible over Christmas, London’s councils could save £2.7m that would otherwise be spent on costly landfill.” The same picture is no doubt replicated across the country.
Recycling is not just for Christmas
One unlikely indicator of progress is that the Woodland Trust has ended its annual Christmas card recycling scheme, which it has run since 1998. Card recycling is now simply too widespread for the scheme any longer to be needed.
Given that they have the logistical and financial challenge of tackling our leftovers, it isn’t surprising that many local authorities’ websites have a dedicated page on dealing with waste at Christmas – ranging from a basic list of helpful council services to a whole page of ideas that green-minded residents might want to consider to reduce, reuse and recycle more. That said, despite with the council’s encouragement, I’m not sure how many people will be persuaded that Boxing Day is the right time to start up a compost heap…
Even certain supermarkets are getting in on the act – perhaps a manifestation of the Courtauld Commitment at work, and certainly an encouraging sign. However, there remains much that we can do to make Christmas less wasteful. I’ve collected a few of my favourites here.
Present and correct
A low-waste Christmas can start with the presents you choose. This year, some of my lucky family members will be receiving some home made gifts from garden produce – including windfall apples that might otherwise have gone to waste themselves. Others will be receiving antique and retro gifts with bags of character – but no shopping bags or packaging to worry about. Although it is unlikely that many of us could tackle the whole of our Christmas lists without buying new products, it all helps. The ambitious recycler can even try the Japanese furoshiki style of wrapping in cloth, which allows wrapping paper to be avoided altogether
Making decorations can be a lot more fun than buying them – especially for those with kids, who need distracting from thoughts of presents and chocolate. Perhaps not all of us would want a giant Christmas tree made of old bicycles, but there are lots of ideas around for creative ways to make your home festive.
The big day
When it comes to Christmas day, the key thing is to make it as easy as possible to avoid waste. Have a bag handy for wrapping paper, which can be tied up and kept separate for recycling once the presents have been opened. Gift bags, especially those for wine, can easily be reused if looked after. Keep a separate bin in the kitchen for recycling, and label it if you’ve got guests coming. Those with kids may benefit from having an eager recycling workforce on hand – it can be a great way to get them involved in something they’re likely to care about.
A lot of the waste at Christmas is food – after all, nobody wants to stint on the Christmas lunch, and it can be difficult to keep leftovers when the fridge is full to bursting. We’ve always looked for ways to maximise the cold storage – fortunately, with Christmas falling in the winter, you only need a storage box and somewhere unheated (a garage, shed or conservatory) to provide loads of extra space for the things you want to keep cool – leaving shelf space for leftovers. And since you know you will have some leftovers, have in mind some interesting recipes that will use them up.
Give it, don’t throw it
Many local authorities remind residents that there are reuse schemes for items such as furniture – which many people buy in the sales straight after Christmas. But much more innovative is the approach in Maidstone, where a dedicated Green Santa Sleigh appears at the local mall to collect unwanted gifts and other items for reuse, which are donated to local Age UK shop.
Obviously, the most important thing is that we all have a very happy Christmas – but I think there’s a lot that can be done to reduce waste without any great effort. If you get the chance, let me know of any ideas you have to make your festivities greener. Maybe I can reuse them on Isonomia next Christmas.