I failed once... so can I re­ally have a zero-waste Christmas?

Eleanor Pilcher strug­gled to have a green sum­mer, but has found the se­cret to eco-friendly fes­tiv­i­ties

The Daily Telegraph - - Features -

When I de­cided to go waste-free at the be­gin­ning of the year, I set my­self one sim­ple rule: fill only one bag of rub­bish each month, down from the four to six I was av­er­ag­ing. A com­bi­na­tion of watch­ing Blue Planet and see­ing var­i­ous videos of sea mam­mals be­ing tor­tured by ocean pol­lu­tion, plus re­search that re­vealed the aver­age UK per­son pro­duces their own body weight in rub­bish in seven weeks, made me con­fi­dent in my choice; plus, ev­ery­one seemed to be jump­ing on the eco band­wagon. How hard could it be?

Very, I would soon find out. By the time sum­mer came around I had well and truly failed. And it wasn’t for lack of try­ing: from trav­el­ling across town to reach spe­cific shops in or­der to buy dry goods, clean­ing prod­ucts, mouth­wash tablets and de­ter­gent in bulk, to replacing items that I hadn’t even re­alised were waste­ful in the first place, such as my cos­met­ics and hair­care prod­ucts, I spent nearly ev­ery week­end shop­ping for zerowaste goods.

The money and time re­quired were a bot­tom­less pit – over the course of six months, I got into £2,000 of debt, mainly due to the fact it was cost­ing £300 ex­tra per month to live green.

I wasn’t op­ti­mistic, then, about my chances of an eco Christmas. But af­ter do­ing the mental maths, I felt like I had no other choice: my fam­ily pro­duced seven bin bags of waste this time last year, stuffed with Christmas crack­ers, shiny wrap­ping pa­per, food pack­ets, left­overs and pre­sent boxes. Ear­phones I re­ceived as a pre­sent came in a cof­fin of nearly im­pen­e­tra­ble plas­tic cas­ing. I re­ceived a plas­tic-wrapped can­dle that smelled of the stuff for three hours af­ter I started burn­ing it.

Presents I or­dered on­line for other peo­ple were de­liv­ered in over­sized, un­der­filled boxes, with plas­tic car­rier bags stuffed in to fill the ad­di­tional space. By the end of our cel­e­bra­tions there were so many black bags, we had to put them in the gar­den in or­der to reach the din­ner ta­ble.

In the UK, we pro­duce an ad­di­tional three mil­lion tons of waste on De­cem­ber 25 and an aver­age of 227,000 miles of wrap­ping pa­per over the fes­tive pe­riod, not to men­tion an es­ti­mated 40mil­lion rolls of sticky tape across the world.

So I re­solved that this year I wouldn’t con­trib­ute – or if I did, it would be min­i­mal – to this tow­er­ing pile.

It started with the Christmas cards. I’ve been dol­ing out fes­tive sen­ti­ments in per­son or via the phone – more per­sonal (and planet-friendly) than

The money and time re­quired were a bot­tom­less pit – I got into £2,000 of debt

send­ing out un­re­cy­clable cards with the same ep­i­thets by the batchload.

Tra­di­tional wrap­ping pa­per is also out; I’m us­ing news­pa­per for gift wrap­ping. While not nec­es­sar­ily pretty, it is at least 100 per cent re­cy­clable, and will only be ripped off and thrown away any­way. To avoid the un­fes­tive head­lines I’ve been col­lect­ing lo­cal news­pa­pers, head­lines of which are of­ten a lit­tle more chip­per. Only the chil­dren in my life will get presents this year, while ev­ery­one else will be re­ceiv­ing a gift in the form of an ex­pe­ri­ence – much more en­joy­able than a per­fume set from a su­per­mar­ket.

We’ll make bub­ble and squeak from our roast din­ner left­overs, which is fairly stan­dard but will be a first for us, and the peel­ings and scraps will make bird feed or stock.

As for crack­ers I’ve sourced some eco-friendly ver­sions, which con­tain only one piece of waste – the bows, which can be used for craft­ing if you have chil­dren or as a mini dec­o­ra­tion other­wise – and are made from sus­tain­able pa­per stock and dec­o­rated with veg­etable-based inks. The items in­side are plas­tic-free and quite use­ful: think bags of loose tea, mini cheese graters and wild­flower seeds.

Per­haps I should be more con­cerned about how I’ll fare given my fail­ures ear­lier in the year, but be­cause these fes­tive changes are small – and only needed for a short pe­riod of time – they feel far more doable.

My first time around, replacing short-term items with longer last­ing ones, felt un­end­ing: we have so many prod­ucts in day-to-day use in our lives that find­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly al­ter­na­tive for ev­ery one felt in­sur­mount­able. Re­us­able ra­zors (£20-50 with­out the blades), sham­poo bars (£5-10 each), a re­us­able cof­fee cup (£5-25) and bam­boo tooth­brushes (£2.50-£10); it was bud­get-break­ing. When it comes to sea­sonal goods, how­ever, my eco re­place­ments have to hap­pen within a fi­nite slot, and that may well be the trick.

While re­vert­ing to old habits left me spend­ing less money, know­ingly harm­ing the planet doesn’t feel great. So I’ll be us­ing the fes­tive pe­riod as my gate­way to a waste-free 2020. And even if these changes don’t last for life, they will hope­fully last for Christmas.

Cut­ting the plas­tic: Eleanor Pilcher with her col­lec­tion of zero-waste uten­sils

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