Christmas for most of us is about excess. It’s the one time of the year when we have a license to waste. We eat too much, drink too much, and go crazy about finding the perfect gift and wrapping it. It’s hard not to get caught up in all the excitement, but waste is a very real issue at this time of year.
Why not try to implement a zero-waste Christmas this year? This starts with simple things, like using cloth napkins instead of paper-based ones, but there is much more that you can do. Choose to have a plastic-free holiday, or get creative when it comes to wrapping presents.
In this post, we’ll give you some ideas for optimal waste management this season. We’ll start with the idea of reducing waste in the first place. Not all rubbish can be recycled, so a more sustainable approach is to cut back on all the excess packaging and other wasteful habits in the first place.
Choosing Plastic-Free Presents
We love spoiling our loved ones at Christmas, but let’s be honest here – can you even remember what gifts you got last year? How many of us end up having a cupboard full of smellies that we’ll never manage to get through?
Cut the waste from day one by speaking to your family about getting plastic-free presents. Perhaps the family members could create a list of what they really want and, if necessary, different members can club together for the pricier presents.
This cuts down on the number of presents everyone will receive overall, but the presents will be more meaningful. Moreover, you all will get top marks for using a lot less plastic.
Another option to consider is how the presents appear. Think in terms of using reusable items, like mason jars, to keep perishable items fresh and clean. Consider making your own gifts for those around you and build them up using no plastic where possible.
Say, for example, that you’re baking biscuits. Package them in a mason jar and decorate with a pretty ribbon. Alternatively, buy the person a cookie jar that can be used over and over again. Giving someone a permanent gift rather than plastic is a great waste management technique.
Another option that does some good is to consider a present-free season. What everyone can do instead is to donate the money that they would have spent to your favourite charity. That way, the presents can bring more cheer over the festive season.
Eat the Food You Buy
We have to be honest; our family is guilty here. It’s been a tradition in our family to snack throughout the day on Christmas. As a result, there is a good amount of waste. Half-eaten packets of chips, main meals that are barely touched, and everyone being stuffed to bursting are characteristics of our Christmas.
But here too, we can use some clever tricks to reduce waste. It all starts when you’re shopping. You can quite easily buy mesh plastic bags to store veggies. That way, if you’re buying loose veggies, you don’t have to reach for those flimsy, single-use packets that you’re just going to throw away again.
Also, when you’re peeling your food, do think about using the peels to make a stock. If you’ve gotten yourself a turkey or chicken for the table, you can remove the meat and use the bones in your stock as well.
It couldn’t be easier, just dump the vegetable peels into your slow cooker, add in the carcass and some seasoning, cover it with liquid and then set it to cook for eight hours on low. In a jiffy, you have everything that you need for a flavourful, wholesome stock.
If a stock’s really not your thing, then do at least toss the peels in with your compost to make sure that those nutrients don’t go to waste.
You can also save some time when preparing your veggies. Carrots, for example, can be scrubbed instead of being peeled. The same can be done with potatoes. Also, consider the parts of the veggies that you don’t usually eat.
The leaves of the cauliflower, for example, can be used as an extra green if you chop them up well, add a little seasoning and garlic and prepare them as you would any other veg.
Finally, we are all in the habit of making too much food. In our home, no roast potato is ever left standing, but you’ll often find other veggies that are left behind. So, it makes sense for us to cut down on the other vegetables and to cook more roast potatoes.
Work out what will work for your family, and try to cook just enough, rather than going overboard and having leftovers that need to be tossed out. Cutting back before overdoing it is another effect waste management method.
Reuse Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper is an integral part of the Christmas experience, but a lot of it cannot be recycled at all. Avoid wrapping paper that is foiled or has any metallic or glittery elements as this cannot be recycled. If you’re not sure, try scrunching up a small piece.
The paper that can be recycled will hold its shape after being scrunched. Paper that is difficult to scrunch or that regains its original form cannot be recycled.
Start by getting creative with wrapping your gifts. The Japanese art of Furoshiki is useful here. You use fabric to wrap your presents, and the tying of the fabric is all you need to create the perfect design. Why not find a beautiful scarf or tea towel to wrap a gift in?
Otherwise, why not ban wrapping paper altogether and get creative instead? Newspaper can be used to create beautiful packaging when combined with butcher’s twine to help finish it off. You could always cut a spray of green foliage from the garden to make it more festive.
If you do feel that you must use wrapping paper, make it a rule in the home to reuse it. Get everyone to remove the paper carefully and fold it up nicely so that it can be used the next year again. You’ll prevent it from going to the rubbish dump, and also save yourself a bit of money the next year.
Reconsider sending out Christmas cards as well. It’s just as acceptable to send an e-card or to stick with only the present instead. An alternative here is to reuse cards that you have received. You can create a lovely new card by deconstructing one of the old ones.
Furthermore, if your family is really into being more environmentally friendly, why not write the message on a post-it note and stick that inside the card. That way, the message can be easily kept in a scrapbook, and the card can be reused.
Re-Gift Unwanted Presents
Secret Santa’s and gift exchanges are a fun activity at Christmas, but they also mean that you are bound to end up with presents that you really don’t want. Do yourself a favour and create a gift cupboard in your home.
This is where you’ll put those unwanted presents so that you can re-gift them at a later stage. Just don’t make the faux pas of passing them back to the person you got them from originally!
Recycle Remaining Rubbish
Creating a zero waste Christmas is easier said than done. You are bound to need some form of waste removal service to clear off the excess waste. Do try, wherever possible to practice recycling whatever you can.
Find out where your local recycling centre is and see whether or not they offer a rubbish removal service after the festivities. You’ll have to find out exactly what rubbish can be recycled first, and make sure that it has been properly rinsed if necessary.
From there, it’s just a matter of sorting it into the right containers. We suggest that you have at least three different bins at home so that you can sort the glass, plastic, and paper products.
However, let’s also look at things more practically. There is only so much that can be recycled in the first place. So, why not see what items can be upcycled after you’ve used them? Plastic milk bottles, for example, can be washed thoroughly, cut in half, and used to help you organize items in drawers.
Sturdy plastic containers, like the ones that you get your margarine in, can be washed and do duty as storage containers for leftovers.
Glass jars can do double duty as containers for home-made pickles, vases, and more.
Putting it All Together
The waste management problem is something that is not going to go away. We need to rethink our attitudes to waste in general. Think about how you can cut down on plastic packaging from the start. Consider alternatives to one-use products like wrapping paper and Christmas cards.
For those items where you have no choice but to get them, look for creative ways for them to do double duty and to reuse them where possible. Finally, if there is no other potential use for them, do add them to the recycling.