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Ten Tips for Sustainable Festivities

Even if you've already started getting ready for your festive celebrations, there are things you can do [or NOT do!] to reduce its impact on those around you, and on the planet, whilst still having fun. And these tips can apply to any festive occasion.. not just Christmas in a cold climate.

1. Buy local

If you buy food and gifts locally, from small independent makers, producers and businesses, you'll contribute to your local community's economy and creativity. You'll also be more able to find out what you're really buying.. what's gone into it, who's made it, with what, and where.

If you buy from the maker him/herself, you'll be able to find truly unique 'one-of-a-kind' gifts and you can chat about how they've made their creation. Don't underestimate what an emotional and commercial boost you'll give to a local creator and/or small business when you buy from them.

Particularly at the moment, small businesses are struggling as the cost of living bites and people have less to spend on non-essentials, so try to support them when you can. The increase in online shopping from giants like Amazon [who don't always seem to pay their fair share of taxes in the countries where they trade] is also challenging small local businesses.. don't unwittingly undermine your local businessess and economy for the sake of convenience.

And by buying locally produced treasures, you'll avoid the huge carbon footprint involved in transporting mass produced goods across the world.

2. Buy ethical

Your purchasing power can make a real difference if you buy ethically, seeking out brands and makers whose gifts and decorations are sustainably resourced and manufactured.

Look for certification signs, so you can be assured that your spending power is 'doing good'. Fair Trade enables farmers and workers to have more control over their lives and decide how to invest in their future. The Global Organic Textile Standard [GOTS] specifies standards of organic raw materials and ecological and labour conditions for the entire textile and clothing manufacturing supply chain. OEKO-TEX(r) also offers a range of certificates that products are safe, environmentally friendly and have been produced in a socially responsible way.

We know that pay and working conditions can be really poor in the global textile and fashion industries. You can check out the ethical credentials of clothing manufacturers by hopping on websites such as Good on You, which rates clothing brands for social and environmental sustainability. You can look good and do good at the same time.

Plan your festive food ahead, so that you don't over-buy and generate a load of food waste. Turn any left-overs into soups, pies or stews if you can.

Shop seasonally, using organic, locally-sourced ingredients. Not only can you support local farmers and shops, but you'll avoid the carbon footprint of transporting food from afar.

If you shift the balance of your menu towards plants, reducing the meat content, you'll help your health whilst also reducing the social and envionrmental impact of meat production [including poultry] which accounts for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.

And if you can, compost any vegetable waste which you haven't been able to make into something else.

4. Play your cards right

If it's traditional to send greetings cards as part of the festival, then try to use those made with recycled card or paper.

You could make your own cards, again using recycled materials. If you're buying them, support your favourite charity or campaigning organisation.. the short charity or campaign message on the back of the card can also make a difference. You can also buy cards from local artists and makers.

And when the festivities are over, you can turn the cards received into gift tags, book marks or simply use as scrap card throughout the year [eg for shopping lists]. Recycle what you don't repurpose.

5. Make your own decorations

You can make unique and personalised decorations, from recycled paper and/or fabric, which add a special touch to your celebrations and will last for several years. Have fun making them with the rest of your family/household.

Wonderful aromas can be generated by decorations home made from lemons, oranges or pine cones, conifer foliage or herbs. Throw in a few cloves to add to the aroma. Hang them from a festive tree or branches, your houseplants or on your window. Your home will smell really lovely!

If you want to make crackers for your festive meal table, collect the inner cardboard of toilet rolls during the year and use those as the basis for the cracker. You can fill them with hand made and/or locally bought items and wrap a napkin round them as the outer covering. That will avoid buying a box of crackers which are likely to be thrown away with their tiny plastic trinkets and contents straight after use.

[See my previous blog 'How Green is Your Christmas Tree' for discussion of real vs fake trees].

6. Use lights thoughtfully and responsibly

Festivals celebrate the 'coming of the light' in several cultures and religions, so lights are often a centre piece of decorations. Switch to energy-efficient LED lights or solar powered lights for your festive display.

Consider using candles made from soy or beeswax for a cosy and eco-friendly ambiance.

7. Give creatively

Gifts are important in most cultures, but they don't have to be material. You can give experiences rather than material gifts. Think about giving vouchers for an outing or holiday, a new experience such as river rafting or abseiling, a course of cooking or music classes, or a workshop with a local maker or craftsperson to learn a new skill.

For the person who has 'everything', you can give a donation to a charity, which could be for something specific such as a farm animal, training in farming or employability skills, or setting up a bee farm [see Oxfam Unwrapped].

And there's no need always to buy new.. think about a quality item to re-gift or find something special which is second hand.

8. Avoid plastics and glitter

We don't need to rehearse the shocking statistics about the disastrous environmental impact of plastics and plastic waste. Suffice to say that millions of tons are used and thrown away at key festivals throughout the world each year. Glitter can be a nightmare.. its tiny particles of microplastic get into waste disposal systems and cause havoc, and it's been shown to adversely affect human health.

When you're shopping [locally of course!] avoid buying plastic-packaged items and use re-usable shopping bags, preferably from natural matierals.

Choose natural, reusable, or biodegradable alternatives to decorate your home. If gifts do arrive wrapped in plastic, reuse it or recycle it if you possibly can.

9. Wrap thoughtfully

Wrap gifts in recycled paper, fabric, or reusable gift bags. Explore the lovely Japanese tradition of furoshiki to wrap presents in cloth. This can be a great use for those scarves tucked away in a drawer which haven't seen the light of day for a while! Another creative option is to cut some or all of the sleeve off an old shirt, sew up the cut end and use it to wrap a bottle or several long presesnts together, with the cuff end tied with ribbon.

Avoid glittery gift wrap. Recyclable brown paper is the most ecofriendly paper choice, which you can embellish responsibly and beautifully with home made ribbon, pine cones and dried citrus fruit. Breown paper bags also do the job. Designs can be painted on, and stencils will make this easier. Newpaper can be similarly be transformed into attractive wrapping paper by painting or samping on festive designs.

Where you can, save wrappings to re-use another time.

10. Look after each other

Big festive seasons aren't great for everyone. They can trigger memories of lost loved ones, or very unhappy times in earlier years. The forced jollity may grate with some.

Be mindful of how others are feeling, includign those living or staying with you. Keep a discrete eye on neighbours, particularly if they live alone. Some people may be alone and lonely, whilst others may actually prefer it that way. A neighbour or friend living alone may appreciate being invited to join a festive meal, or may prefer to eat on their own at home, but appreciate your offer to provide it.

Too much alcohol can fuel pre-exisiting tensions when people are thrown together for the first time in a while, particularly in a small space. Try to create space for people to have a break from each other, by going for a walk for example.

A big festive season may mean that some normal services, which people rely on, are closed. This can be a real problem if the festivities are in the middle of winter. Charities supporting people who are homeless often offer extra services at Christmas in cold climates, for example.. keep an eye out for appeals for donations of cash or in kind, including volunteers. Food and other 'banks' may similarly appeal particularly for donations of food, clothing and toys at Christmas time, or other festivals.

And take the pressure off yourself by having reasonable expectations. Don't expect too much of yourself and your loved ones.. keep the festivities simple, and possibly short. Better to have a great time together and wish it had been longer, than to leave wishing the time had been shorter.

Enjoyment doesn't have to cost the earth

It doesn't have to cost the earth to enjoy the festive season. Nor does acting responsibly, mindful of your impact on the planet and others, need to mean the celebrations are joyless and poker-faced.

Enjoy your celebrations, creating unique magic with sustainable creativity and love for the planet, your local community and economy.

Maggie Pearson

December 15th 2023

These tips were first rasied in my regular email news Tales from the Fish Kettle. You can sign up for it here.

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