How you can have an eco-friendly Christmas in Essex
PUBLISHED: 14:39 03 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:39 03 December 2019
Never has our environment been higher up the agenda of global concern, so this year more than ever, perhaps it's time to ease off the excessive consumerism and have an eco-friendly Christmas?
Yes, the festive season is one of the most joyous times of the year, but do you know the impact your 'merry Christmas' could be having on the environment?
Whether plastic decorations, countless greeting cards or unwanted food and gifts, Christmas generates a huge amount of waste, causing an added strain on landfills and extra CO2 emissions, becoming one of the most taxing times of the year for the environment.
But there is still time to make a difference to your Christmas preparations to have a fabulous festive celebration while also cutting down on your environmental impact.
Let's start with ways to cut down your food waste. According to a report by Unilever, 'each year in the UK the equivalent of 4 million Christmas dinners are wasted. This equates to 2 million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and 5 million Christmas puddings'.
So how can we help to reduce the horrifying statistics on how much food we throw away at Christmas? Annie Dalby, retail and destination marketing manager at Snape Maltings, believes planning is key and local farmers markets are a great opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint, but be organised with your food planning and don't leave it until the last minute.
'Know how many people will be joining you for Christmas and work out how much you'll need from there,' says Annie. 'Remember it is quality over quantity - instead of a buffet style service, reduce the amount you have on offer to guests.'
Produce bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint, and Essex has a wide variety of farmers' markets to choose from.
Naturally, there will still be some food waste however well you plan, but you can do wonders with Christmas food leftovers, which can provide many meals throughout the week and be frozen and kept for a later date.
Alternatively, donate all of the leftovers to a homeless shelter or leftover long-life products to your local foodbank. There are also fantastic apps, including Olio and Foodcloud, to help you share your leftovers within your community.
Food waste is not the only problem. Everyone tends to go over board at Christmas, but did you know more than 80,000 tonnes of old clothes will be thrown away this Christmas.
'To help the environment, it's important to re-use, re-wear and re-purpose clothes and accessories,' says Ian Daniels, head of retail at St Helena Hospice. 'By shopping second-hand you can keep lovely clothes out of landfill and stock your wardrobe with fantastic bargains, but also help to reduce the environmental damage caused by the manufacturing of clothes.
For example, if clothes stayed in active use for just nine months longer (extending their average life to around three years), it would reduce their carbon, water and waste footprints by 20 to 30%.'
St Helena Hospice boasts 18 charity shops across north Essex selling clothing, accessories, shoes, books, toys, furniture and much more, offering a varied and unique shopping experience. But why are second-hand goods still considered undesirable for gifts?
'There's still a lot of old fashioned views about second-hand shops being smelly or dirty,' says Ian. 'Some people presume items sold second hand will be broken or not as good as new stock, but it is often people that don't visit second-hand shops that think this way. A great deal of items we are donated still have tags on or are virtually unused.'
Perhaps this year suggest Secret Santa so you are giving each other one gift that will be loved rather than many that might be discarded. John Bedford is general manager at Battlesbridge Antiques Centre near Chelmsford, one of the largest antiques and crafts centres in the south east of England. He believes this current climate crisis is more important than ever, and there's no better time to shop for second-hand goods.
John says: 'It brings so much enjoyment when finding something unusual and rare for that special someone. Prices are generally very reasonable compared with new items, with the added attraction that something has lived one life and the peace of mind that your purchase is good for the environment.'
Recycle and Refill
There are many shops in Essex that will allow you to refill your own bags and containers, saving on food and packaging waste, and making your first step to a green Christmas that little bit easier.
Family-run business, The Refill Room in Leigh on Sea was the first zero waste shop to open in Essex last year.
'The beauty of shopping at a zero waste shop is that you can buy the right amount of food you need,' say owners Gemma and Alan Deeney. 'How many times have we all bought "three for two" deals only to find half of it goes off? Not only will you save waste, but you'll save money too and improve your nutrition. Once you get started, it's actually a very fun and satisfying way to shop; many of our customers say it's just like the old days.'
According to Recylenow.com, 'English households will throw out an additional three million tonnes - that is five sacks of rubbish per family - over the festive period'. Much of this will be waste that could have been recycled. With nine out of 10 homes in Britain now having a doorstep recycling service which will take paper, card, glass and metal cans, it is hard to make an excuse for not recycling properly. If you need advice, speak to your local council and they can help.
On the topic of recycling, did you know 6 million Christmas trees were purchased for homes and offices across Britain last year, of which only 10% were recycled.
There are more than 400 Christmas tree growers across the UK registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association, where trees are grown according to strict guidelines governing everything from sustainable seeds and cultivation to protecting local wildlife. Most councils also offer a Christmas tree recycling service.
Emily McParland, communications manager at Essex Wildlife Trust, believes real trees are more the eco-friendly choice, as long as you consider where they have been grown and what you do with them after.
Emily explains: 'You can even compost your Christmas tree, which allows the deadwood to become a habitat for wildlife, or recycle it with a local organisation. Many local initiatives are creatively re-using Christmas trees, so look into what is happening near where you live.'
We may not be able to enjoy a white Christmas every year, but with a little thought and effort, there is no reason to not partake in a green Christmas every year.