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
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