The Glasshouse Guide to a Conscious Christmas

​Christmas isn’t just the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also the most wasteful. We amass 30% more rubbish during the festive season. And when it comes to cosmetics, half of the packaging from Christmas beauty gifts will end up in a landfill – not to mention the piles of plate scrapings, reams of wrapping paper and all the unwanted presents that will eventually join them there. As we inch closer to that magical day of mince pies, mistletoe and mulled everything we take a look at how you can make this Christmas a conscious one, from zero waste wrapping to what to do with those gift sets you didn’t ask for.

Give gifts that give back

Before you get to the point where you’re doing the frenzied stomp down Oxford Street, consider gifts that support charitable organisations, most of which can be bought without jostling with the Christmas crowds. For example, you can help a refugee with a gift from Choose Love. This year the socially conscious shop is spreading the good cheer even further by doubling the value of any purchase you make before Christmas Eve. Alternatively, choose gifts from independent makers whose methods of manufacturing don’t rely on mass production and exploitation. Melissa Bowden set up A Circle Back last year, an online store and pop-up which encourages a more thoughtful approach to shopping. “By seeking out gifts that give back you can give something special while spreading the love further than just the recipient.” At Edition 2 of A Sustainable Department Store, which is in its final weekend, you can do just that, whether it’s through organic undies that support a fairtrade factory in India or bean to bar chocolate packaged in recycled coffee cups.

“If you’re heading out this weekend to buy wrapping paper why not opt for plastic free alternatives? But remember, using what you already have at home is the most sustainable option!” @ecolifechoices
“If you’re heading out this weekend to buy wrapping paper why not opt for plastic free alternatives? But remember, using what you already have at home is the most sustainable option!” @ecolifechoices

Switch up your wrapping

Jihea Kim, who runs the account Eco Life Choices proves it’s possible to make your gift wrapping eco-friendly and fancy. “Ditch the conventional plastic, glitter-covered, tacky wrapping paper and opt for a traditional yet elegant plastic-free wrapping paper! I love using brown paper and then decorating it with twine. Look for anything recycled and recyclable. Paper sellotape is also a great idea.” If you’re planning on being frugal this festive season, just re-use the paper that pads out the parcels you get through your door or rip out the glossy spreads of magazines for extra eco presentation points. Swap plastic-wrapped cards for plantable cards that are made from seed paper. If If you’re not keen on the DIY look, consider reusable organic fabric wrapping. Wearth London stocks festive prints so pretty you’ll be reluctant to give your freshly wrapped presents away.

Rent a Christmas Tree (and your outfit)

Every year the UK buys eight million real Christmas trees most of which transform London into a Christmas Tree graveyard post December 25th. If you’re buying a living spruce, choose a locally sourced, Forest Stewardship Council certified tree that comes in a pot. That way you can (attempt to) keep it alive for next year instead of consigning it to landfill. Speaking to the Independent, Friends of the Earth trees campaigner Emi Murphy says: “A general rule of thumb is if you’ve got a fake tree already, keep using it and make it last as long as possible,”. Alternatively, hire a tree and return it when Chrimbo is over. If you’re not prone to red wine spillages, you can also do the same for your festive outfits via clothes rental platforms such as Huur Collective. If you’d rather spend money on clothes you can hold onto, we’d recommend investing in vintage or second-hand pieces rather than new.

Shop with transparent, independent brands at A Sustainable Department Store.
Shop with transparent, independent brands at A Sustainable Department Store.

Go meat-free

Food is one of the great joys of Christmas, yet there’s nothing joyful about the slaughter of two million turkeys in the UK in December. Most of them spend their lives cooped up in industrial sheds – up to 25,000 birds forced into just one unit. Get a headstart on Veganuary and go plant-based this year. If you’re short on recipe ideas, check out vegan vlogger Rachel Ama’s recent videos on how to nail a nut roast and perfect those vegan Christmas sides. Environmental campaign organisation Hubbub recommends eating seasonally and freezing your leftovers. Both are kind to the planet and your bank balance. “Seasonal veg is often cheaper and easier to find. Check out the BBC’s easy to use recipe portal, showing what’s in season and giving you creative ways to cook them up.”

Give away what you don’t need

If your stocking fillers aren’t much to get excited about this year, send them off to someone who’ll appreciate them instead. Beauty Banks redistribute beauty and skincare essentials to people in need, including toothpaste, shampoo, shaving gel and unopened cosmetics. For the miscellaneous bits you don’t need, there’s Freegle, a website which lets neighbours exchange unwanted belongings via its daily newsletter. Olio is an app that works in the same way but for food. Perfect for when you can’t bear to look at another mince pie come Jan but your neighbour can’t get enough of them.

Doing your last minute Christmas shopping this weekend? Pick up planet-friendly presents your friends will love from A Sustainable Department Store, which is at 81 Redchurch Street until Sunday 22 December.

Image: Jessica Maccormick for Glasshouse Journal

Words: Kyra Hanson

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