Award-winning Bristol environmentalist and author Natalie Fee suggests some ways of making Christmas 2019 a little easier on the planet
What’s your favourite Christmas song? Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas has got to be mine, which is ironic for an environmentalist – ‘top to toe in tailbacks’ isn’t exactly green. But it is a great place to start listing my top tips on how to have yourself a less plastic, less polluting festive season.
If you’re heading home to see loved ones, or even planning a wintry escape, make sure to pack less carbon. See if you can swap the car for the train and if that’s impossible because of all the homemade, plastic-free gifts you’ve made everyone this year then how about car sharing? Liftshare and BlaBlaCar are two websites to check out to help you get there greener. And you’ll have someone to sing along to those cheesy tunes with…
‘Tis the season to go vegan
…Or at least go organic and radically cut back on the meat this year. Organic means fewer pesticides, no artificial colours or preservatives, the highest standards of animal welfare, no routine use of antibiotics and, of course, no genetic modification. Almost 300 pesticides can be used in non-organic farming and are often present in non-organic food despite washing and cooking. That goes for your wine too! Research from the Soil Association suggests that if all UK farming was organic, pesticide use would drop by 98 per cent. And in terms of going green, ditching meat and dairy from your diet is one of the most impactful things you can do. Have a locally sourced organic turkey if you must, but use your Christmas dinner to wow your loved ones with a predominantly plant-based feast that inspires them to try Veganuary.
Yule regret buying that jumper
If you ask me, single-use Christmas jumpers are evil – unless they’re second-hand or you’ve actually committed to wearing it for the next 25 years. Seriously! The clothing business is a very dirty one – it’s the second biggest polluter of our world’s water after agriculture, due to the pesticides used in growing cotton and the vast number of toxic chemicals used in production. It’s also responsible for around 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, a figure projected to increase by more than 60 per cent to over 2.5 billion tonnes per year by 2030. Add into that mix the working conditions of most clothes-factory workers around the world and the glee of a cheesy Christmas jumper soon fades. Not to mention the fact that cheap jumpers are usually made from polyester which means they will shed microplastics into our rivers and seas when you wash them. So yes, I’m afraid when it comes to Christmas jumpers, I’m a Grinch. Unless it’s a lovely woolly one you found in the charity shop.
Forget about artificial trees, unless you’ve made it yourself and are planning to use it for the next decade or so. Shop-bought fake trees are impossible to recycle and usually made out of fossil fuel-based plastic. If you love a Christmas tree (I do!) then opt for a real, live one with roots – in a pot – so it can be re-planted and used again next year. You can even hire one – there are a few places in Bristol now that offer live Christmas tree hire! Otherwise, opt for a sustainably grown tree – check out the British Christmas Tree Growers Association for info.
That’s a wrap
And what about those gifts? Are you wrapping them in old newspaper and string, sealing with the odd bit of paper tape (that’s a thing) and decorating with a sprig of foraged ivy? Or did you ease your foot off the consumerist pedal this year and opt for giving experiences and time together doing fun things instead of buying stuff? Christmas is ultimately about spending time, not money. So don’t forget at the end of the day, or the motorway, it’s your presence, not your presents, that matters most.
• Natalie is the founder of City to Sea, the Bristol non-profit organisation campaigning to stop plastic pollution at source. She also sits on the Bristol Advisory Committee for Climate Change. Her new book is out now: nataliefee.com; citytosea.org.uk