Let's be honest: the holidays aren't the time when we usually think about world issues. We might donate a bit of money to a charity if we're feeling particularly inclined to do good, but otherwise, the holiday season is when most of us press pause on the “musts” of life and focus on all things merry. But let me be a party pooper for just one minute: the festive season can be extremely wasteful. Some sources even claim that it's the most wasteful season of the year, due to fast fashion, food waste, decorations that go straight in the bin after the festivities, and presents that never end up being used.
Somewhere between consumerism, traditions, and simple human laziness, we've ended up creating an average of 30% more waste than usual over the holidays. The good news is, creating less waste over those last few days of December is totally possible – it can even be (relatively) easy. Relax, I'm not going to tell you to hand-make all your gifts and decorations (although if you do, awesome!). Rather, my tried-and-tested tweaks will hopefully ensure an equally merry time, just a little kinder on the planet.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.
DO drop surprise gifts
Can we just all agree that the “surprise” element of holiday gifts needs to die? Not being open with our loved ones about what we want is what leads to those agonising hours in crowded shops (or, in these pandemic times, scrolling through websites) trying – and failing, I guarantee you – to figure out what that person will like without, you know, actually asking them. It's also what prompts that awkward moment of unwrapping something you know you'll never wear/use/want to look at ever again, and hoping that your thank yous sound sincere while you list in your mind the charity shops where you might want to donate it to later.
The problem with these “surprise” gifts is that they end up languishing on shelves and in cupboards for months or maybe years (true story) before being re-gifted, donated, or discarded. The solution is easy: be honest about what you want. Stop saying “oh, you don't have to get me anything!” Make a little list (including plenty of affordable options) and share it with your loved ones, links and all, to further streamline the process. And ask them to do the same!
DO gift experiences and not things
The moment of ripping the wrapping off the heap of gifts is exciting, I get it. But in an attempt to minimise the all-consuming mountain of stuff that takes over all of our homes, why not gift an experience rather than a material thing? Sure, there are restrictions on what kind of experience we can actually... experience in these lockdown times. But where the situation allows, gifting an experience can be a lovely alternative. Think an online course in something the person desperately wants to learn, an online yoga class subscription – or something to look forward to, like a beauty treatment, a restaurant dinner or a hotel stay. This way, it's like two gifts: the experience itself, and the element of looking forward to it.
DON'T wrap (with single use wrapping paper)
Okay, I know this is controversial. But hear me out: according to waste management company BIFFA, the UK alone sends 277,000 miles of wrapping paper to landfill after Christmas – enough to reach 90% of the way to the moon! The majority of this paper cannot even be recycled, due to its lining, which commonly contains plastic. And think about it – yes, it looks nice. But it's only used for half a second until it's discarded and stuck in landfill polluting the planet for years. Pretty, Instagrammable parcels are not that important – it's what's inside that counts. Skip the wrapping, and just hand over your lovely gift the way it is. The recipient is bound to love it (especially if you followed my first tip).
If you MUST wrap, opt for either plain brown paper that you know is recyclable, or use a reusable gift wrap, which the recipients of your gifts will thank you for as they then get to pass it on! There are many places selling reusable gift wrap, including Wrag Wrap in the UK, whose materials include 100% traceable recycled plastic, biodegradable cellulose and environmentally friendly inks.
DON'T waste food
Aaah, leftovers. Nothing like a breakfast of leftover cake, or an hours-long lunch consisting of a buffet of the glorious remnants of yesterday's mega blowout dinner. But here's the thing: make sure you do finish all of it, because holiday food waste is a huge deal. According to edie, around 1.6 billion tonnes of food goes to waste each year, representing about one-third of the food produced globally by weight. Christmas feasting plays a major part, with Brits alone throwing away an estimated 270,000 tonnes of food, including two million turkeys, five million Christmas puddings, 17 million Brussel sprouts, 74 million mince pies and two million kilos of cheese. Much of this goes to landfill, releasing toxins into the soil and harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
There are several ways you can cut down on food waste. Firstly, resist the discounts in supermarkets. Don't buy something just because it's on some special offer (and definitely don't buy into those three-for-two deals). While the holidays are definitely a time for indulgence, plan for leftovers. Can you freeze them? Make other meals out of them? Donate them to a kitchen for the homeless? If you're not sure what will happen to the surplus food, best make sure there isn't that much of it to begin with.
DON'T buy outfits that are just for the holidays
I admit, I've been guilty of this one. Last year, back in the wonderful days when office holiday parties were still a thing, I was on the hunt for something “festive” to wear to dinner with my coworkers. I hit the jackpot at one of my favourite charity shops with a red velvet jumpsuit that kept the compliments coming throughout the evening. I wore that jumpsuit again for Christmas Day dinner – once again, great success. But since then, it's been hidden in my wardrobe, buried beneath all the more versatile, actually wearable clothes (you know, the ones that don't scream “Santa”). I'll dig it out again this year, but am pretty sure it will return to its trusty place at the back of the wardrobe again come January.
Moral of the story: red velvet is not a must. Wear what you already have, and if you do end up buying something new, make sure you can actually wear it during at least some of the other 11 months of the year.
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
For thousands of ethical & sustainable gift ideas, take a look at our Vegan Gift Edits.
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