Episode 6: A Low-Impact Christmas (Part 1)

Welcome to 3 Changes a Week: your weekly update on how to save the planet!

I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s mid-November. Halloween is a distant memory; Christmas jingles are haunting all the shops and – believe me – some people are even thinking about buying presents (gasp!). As students, we will actually be putting up our tree at the end of November, as that only leaves us two or three weeks to enjoy it before we go home.

Therefore, I am afraid that this article, and the next will be discussing how to make your Christmas as low-impact, eco-friendly, and waste-free as possible. Sorry if this seems dreadfully early, but thinking about how your Christmas can impact that environment before Christmas begins is really essential.

In the next two episodes of ‘3 Changes’, I’ll discuss everything from the obvious (wrapping paper is not recyclable, people!) to the more obscure (where is your food coming from?) – but don’t worry, this will not make Christmas less fun, I promise! Take the message of The Grinch: Christmas is about the people, not the presents …. Well, maybe partly the presents.



Ease: ****

Cost: Cutting out meat will save you money, but buying a local turkey might cost you around £10 more

Just that: think about buying food from local suppliers. If there is one time of year you can splash out for greengrocer vegetables with low carbon footprints and little plastic packaging, it’s Christmas. You aren’t in a hurry to shop; you can make an event of it. And, hey, getting sprouts on the stalk is a pretty eye-opening experience if you don’t know how they grow (they look like this!).

If you don’t have time to shop around in greengrocers, or to order a veg box (as per my episode on buying food, linked below) consider what you are buying; you won’t be able to get all vegetables locally, and some (e.g. carrots) will be a lot easier to get, even in the supermarket, without plastic.

One of the least eco-friendly parts of your meal will necessarily be that giant turkey. Again, buying local is key – go for a nice, free-range turkey from a butcher’s, instead of an indoor-reared frozen supermarket deal. Obviously, this is going to be pricier, and be aware you might have to order ahead, and pick up on Christmas Eve (a very common practice that we do every year in my house).

Secondly, don’t overdo it. Don’t buy so much that you are forced to eat turkey sandwiches for a month, even if you love them. Make the turkey a luxurious main event on Christmas day, but then try and cut down on meat in the rest of the Christmas period, as experts have widely agreed that a diet that uses little animal products is better for the environment.

Furthermore, consider if you really need the meat at all. Most of your Christmas dinner is vegetarian – even vegan, usually – anyway. This will be my third meat free Christmas, and I have not missed it much at all – certainly not the turkey, but maybe the pigs in blankets (although I do eat plenty of mini veggie sausages to make up for it). We are hosting a faux-Christmas in our student house this year, and if you are doing something similar, an idea might be to make this meat free, even if you are going to enjoy a turkey on Christmas day. Even this change will have an environmental impact. If you’re lacking in ideas for a vegan or vegetarian main, I’ve had nut roast and these delicious mushroom and cheese wellingtons and am planning to make this similar vegan alternative this year – but any of these recipes look amazing too!

Try not to waste food, either, obviously. It has been estimated that in 2014, 4.2 million Christmas dinners were wasted in the UK – that’s crazy! Only cook as much as you know you can eat. Leftovers are fine, but only as long as they are things you are happy to eat up in the next few days, or can freeze (and know you will eat at a later date), and only so much as you can use before it starts to go mouldy.

For more on lowering the impact of your food shop, check out this previous 3 Changes article.



Ease: ****

Cost: Sometimes buying more responsible gifts might cost more, so use Secret Santa to reduce the cost of a low-impact Christmas

No-one wants crap that is immediately going to be thrown out.

No really, they don’t. Even if you have to buy a present (£5 work Secret Santa, anyone?), try and go for nice gifts, rather than plastic tat or gag gifts that you know won’t be used. Cheap chocolate is better than something that will only get chucked.

However, while Secret Santa can sometimes be in the vein of ‘forced fun’, it can also be a way to get, and be able to buy, better gifts. Do one with friends, so that everyone can spend more in each gift (£15 perhaps) rather than £2 on everyone. Everyone will get better gifts this way, and not that dratted plastic tat.

If you struggle to get meaningful gifts, and end up buying things people don’t use, remember it doesn’t have to be particularly original – socks, mugs, plants or candles are usually all good bets and will all be used or consumed and not wasted. Also remember that smaller gifts are likely to be less ‘resource heavy’ and have a smaller footprint. You can also think about using a one-gift only from each giver rule, to try and cut down on environmental footprints and avoid harmful excess further.

Support brands that have good environmental policies, such as clothing brands that use sustainable sources for materials, and have good ethical policies. Think about buying second hand (or ‘unused’ second hand, on eBay), especially for books or clothes, and choose items which can be bought with little packaging, or buy in person to avoid postage packaging.

If you write a Christmas list or request gifts, go through this same process and think about whether what you’re buying is good for the environment. If you discuss gifts with family and friends, remind them of these guidelines, and remind them that you’d appreciate it if your gifts had as little packaging as possible.



Ease: *****

Cost: Newspaper can be scavenged for free, brown paper is less than £2 a roll, and ribbon or string less than £1

To wrap or not to wrap? That is the question.

Generic wrapping paper, especially that which is shiny, foiled or glittered, is very much not recyclable. I try not the be too didactic, but this should really be avoided at all costs. There are so many better options out there!

For a start, if you have stockings, consider not wrapping stocking fillers at all. They don’t get left under the tree like other presents, so hiding their content is not essential. If you want to wrap main presents, there are countless ways to make this more eco-friendly. You can use plain paper, like plain brown parcel paper, á la Sound of Music, or newspaper. All are recyclable and actually look really gorgeous. You can decorate them with stamps, by drawing festive designs, or with cute sprigs of holly and herbs. Tie them with re-purposed bits of ribbon, or buy some (and make sure you save it for next year), or some striped red and white ‘butcher’s’ string. This can also mean you don’t need to use tape, (or you could try this eco-friendly alternative).




Made these changes our already doing them? Post a picture to Instagram or Twitter and tag it to #3changesaweek to spread the word!