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This Christmas we’ll receive nearly 60 million unwanted gifts, and on December 25th we’ll waste the equivalent of around 4 million dinners.
We’ll discard 108 million rolls worth of wrapping paper, and when it’s all over we’ll be wondering how best to dispose of 7 million real Christmas trees.
If, like us here at DEN, you are keen to make your festive celebrations more sustainable, you might like to look at some of our favourite ideas below.
Christmas Present ideas
Consider re-gifting, buying second-hand (it’s vintage, darling) making your own gifts or giving ‘experiences’ or subscriptions to wildlife organisations. Here are some more eco-friendly gift ideas…
- consumables, palm-oil free, of course;
- grow your own mushroom kit (the best one we’ve found grows the spores on recycled organic coffee grounds they collect from cafés around Brighton www. espressomushroom.co.uk/);
- home-made beeswax wraps made from local beeswax and a bit of coconut oil;
- a subscription to a local organic vegetable box scheme; plant-based recipe books (second-hand preferably) such as “The Green Roasting Tin” or “The Seasonal Vegan” by Sarah Philpott.
For Book Lovers, magazines and website subscriptions:
- “Resurgence and Ecologist”,
- “Positive News”,
- “Ethical Consumer”;
- “Wilding” by Isabella Tree,
- “How Bad are Bananas?” by Mike Berners-Lee, “Drawdown” by Paul Hawken,
- “A Life Less Throwaway” by Tara Button;
- “The Hunt for the Golden Mole” by Richard Girling.
For nature lovers/gardeners:
- native hardy plants, ideally cuttings or divisions taken from your own garden;
- native trees (what about a Deddington Pippin apple tree?);
- solitary bee houses;
- bird/bat nesting boxes;
- a book of local walks.
Christmas Cards, wrapping paper and decorations
If you do send Christmas cards try and make sure they are made from recycled paper, but consider emailing or phoning people instead. In terms of bedecking the halls, Pinterest has some great ideas for more sustainable alternatives to conventional Christmas trees and ways to decorate the house.
If you buy wrapping paper make sure it is not coated in plastic but think about using newspaper, pinecones/seed heads and string for a rustic look or re-using old wrapping paper (you can iron most paper on a low heat), sewing/sticking wallpaper offcuts or strong magazine pages into bags or envelopes that you can holepunch and tie with string or ribbon and re-use multiple times, or wrap presents in vintage scarves or fabric.
These sites have some great sustainable wrapping ideas…
The Real Tree Vs Plastic Tree Debate
The Carbon Trust has found that real trees have a smaller carbon footprint that artificial ones, partly because they absorb carbon as they grow. Artificial ones need to be in use for over 12 years and then need to be properly recycled (if that is possible) for them to compare favourably.
Not only are they made from Petroleum products, but they are likely to be manufactured in countries that rely on coal-generated power and then transported halfway around the world. Some have also been found to obtain worrying amounts of lead.
However real trees without roots that end up in landfill still have a carbon footprint of around 16kg while, if you remember to leave it out for the collection but the council for composting it will be much lower at 3.5kg. Trees with roots that can be planted in the garden are also available.
Here is a link to a site that lists local Christmas Tree growers….just type in Oxfordshire in the search box.
Although food waste has fallen by 7% in the last three years, we still throw away a massive 4.5 million tons of food a year in the UK that could have been eaten. It’s hard to plan meals not knowing how many people we’ll be able to meet but if you do have a surplus remember that a lot of food can be frozen – see below for details. To reduce food miles and plastic packaging buy as much as you can from local producers and shops that allow you to refill your own containers.
Try to use up the food in your freezer in the run up to Christmas so you’ll have more room to freeze leftovers. If you don’t have much room in your freezer and do end up with lots of spare food, you could try taking a picture of your left overs and posting them on the Olio app which shares your location with other Olio users to come and collect it.
Freezing tips for leftovers
You can freeze just about anything, although the texture can often be affected, so somethings will be best used in cooking after defrosting, or, like milk, will need a quick whisk before use. The longer you leave things in the freezer the more likely the texture will deteriorate so try to use up leftovers within a couple of months. Don’t forget to label, we have had many disappointments thinking we were going to have soup for lunch only to find it was a pint of milk!
Sliced turkey, chicken, beef, lamb and pork and deli meats like ham and salami freeze well if covered and tightly wrapped to avoid freezer burn. If you put greaseproof paper between the layers you can just take out what you need and defrost for 24 hours in the fridge or less at room temperature. If they are a bit soggy for a sandwich, try patting them dry with kitchen towel or turn them into a pie/risotto/curry when you have a bit more time to do so.
Most cooked veg and also cheese freezes well, as does most dairy with the exception of sour cream which separates. Even left-over roast potatoes can be frozen and then put in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so another day.
Raw orchard fruit like pears, apples, peaches and blueberries can be washed well, sliced and laid out separately on a baking tray and put in the freezer for a few hours til hard and then transferred to a freezer bag or box. They are great used in smoothies, pies, crumbles and cakes. The exception is bananas, avocado, pineapple, mango and any other fruit that needs peeling. Peel and cut them up before freezing, although bananas can be frozen whole.
Citrus fruits can be frozen, but the texture is definitely affected so unless you plan to cook with them once defrosted, it is best to freeze the juice and the zest separately.
Raw root vegetables are traditionally blanched before freezing but if you are in a hurry you can skip this and just peel, slice and freeze them. They won’t be as crisp when defrosted but are great for soups, casseroles and mash.
Some greens, like cabbage and kale, can be quickly stir fried and then frozen, the exception is lettuce which just turns into a soggy mess, but you can use it in soups like the classic French lettuce and pea soup.
Even eggs can be frozen although not in their shells, which will crack as the liquid expands in the freezer. Egg whites freeze well on their own, the problem is more with the yolk. Either whisk the white and yolks together and freeze or freeze the whites and yolks separately, sprinkling a bit of sugar or salt on the yolks to avoid gelation, which renders them unusable when defrosted. Bread, either whole, sliced or rolls, cakes, pizza dough, cookie dough and pies all freeze well, as do nuts, cooked pasta, rice and pulses.