Dreaming of a green Christmas: how to have an eco-friendly festive season

From decor and dining to presents, don't be afraid to forgo wasteful traditions this year

As the countdown to Christmas kicks in, we’re taking our cues from the big man in red, making a list and checking it twice. But rather than remembering to pick up grandma’s oud perfume for the umpteenth year in a row or trying to go one-up during the so-called season of excess, this year’s checklist is all about the dos and don’ts for sustainable festivities.  Waste-management service PHS Wastekit reports that waste generation increases by as much as 30 per cent during the festive period, which demonstrates that this is no time to ditch or delay your go-green mantra. From helpful decor and dinner tips to ways to overhaul age-old traditions, here are some eco-friendly tips to implement this Christmas. 

Deck the halls

Decorations are best way to fast-track into the festive spirit. But look beyond the glitter, and you’ll see that baubles and tinsel aren’t always a tree’s best friend. Amruta Kshemkalyani, founder of Sustainability Tribe and a local adviser and speaker on the subject, says that when it comes to decorations, it’s best to “avoid plastic, easily breakable and single-use” items. Even if they survive a few years, such trinkets often eventually end up in landfill alongside gimmicky cracker prizes and novelty Secret Santa presents.

As an alternative to tinsel, experiment with fabric or card bunting, which can also be a great excuse to get crafty. While they may be more costly initially, wooden decorations will last longer, and untreated items can be recycled later down the line. Kshemkalyani adds: “You can also make decor from natural items yourself, like dried orange slices, acorns and twigs, or make decorations out of waste materials to add a personal touch.”

Instead of big-name supermarkets, check out retailers such as Etsy for sustainable decorations alongside recycled cards and crackers, or head to the many Christmas markets for locally made goods. Kshemkalyani recommends shopping in places such as Ripe Market

and Arte Market, “where you can find local, artisan products. That way you will reduce carbon emission and support small businesses.” And what about the tree itself? While plastic trees are unrecyclable, meaning a landfill is the destiny that awaits it, real trees aren’t always the answer, either. Kshemkalyani explains: “A real Christmas tree won’t survive in UAE for long and that makes it unsustainable, but so is the fake tree made from plastics and polymer. I would suggest you get creative; think out of the box and make a statement through your Christmas tree. 

<span>Give safe and simple presents such as houseplants, vouchers or experiences, and donate unwanted presents to a charity or a needy person</span>

“You can decorate any living plant in your house – a big one or a simple rosemary plant. Alternatively, make your own Christmas tree out of repurposed wood or twigs, or fabric scraps and metal wires.” If getting a potted plant isn’t an option, go for a locally grown tree, and donate or recycle it when the festive period comes to an end. My Green Chapter offers a free pickup and recycling service. For the final touch, opt for

energy-efficient LED fairy lights. While mains-operated lights generally have a longer lifespan, they often use more energy than battery- operated alternatives – yet so many batteries are tossed into the trash rather than recycled each year, likewise having negative consequences. Whichever you decide upon, it’s worth being mindful of this as you add to your basket.

Eco-friendly gifts 

There are many things to think about when it comes to present-buying and sustainability. After all, haven’t we all fallen victim to gifts that end up gathering dust until the spring clean comes around? A Finder.com survey reveals that three out of five people say they receive a gift they don’t want each year, and four per cent of those end up in the bin. “If you are not sure what will be liked, then give safe and simple presents such as houseplants, vouchers or experiences, and donate unwanted presents to a charity or a needy person. The resources invested in making it are not worth wasting,” says Kshemkalyani. This year, swap panic buys and one-trick-ponies for presents that promote a cause instead; think reusable straws, travel coffee mugs or a personalised canvas shopping bag. Locals brands such as Retold Dubai, Antibad and Baembu are also built on the premise of sustainability, while shopping sites such as One-goodthing.com, Thegreenecostore.com and Greengiftuae.com offer a selection of Earth-friendly gifts.

It’s not all home-made cushion covers and glass lunch boxes, either; eco can equate to luxury. Brands such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have championed the cause for years, while Ermenegildo Zegna, Ralph Lauren, Prada and Burberry have recently launched sustainable collections – from ditching fur to making shirts from recycled plastic. For more guidance, check out the 150 lifestyle brands that signed the G7 Fashion Pact earlier this year, or head to platforms such as Neta- Porter’s Net Sustain to shop and support ethical companies. For beauty, tried and trusted names such as Lush and The Body Shop lead the way, while L’Occitane, Guerlain, Ren and Le Labo are following suit. If in doubt, Aspirebeautyco.com has multiple vegan-friendly and clean beauty brands on offer. It’s not a message we always live by but, in this case, packaging really counts. When wrapping, “avoid glossy plastic-coated papers that cannot be recycled. You can reuse newspapers, and try using real leaves and flowers to decorate. You can even use beautiful fabric for gift wrapping, such as a scarf that has another use,” says Kshemkalyani. 

Festive feasting

Of course, the month of December is all about food – we spend all year dreaming of that Christmas Day roast. Although it’s not solely a seasonal issue, the festive period is a time of extreme food waste. For example, a survey commissioned by Satsuma Loans had 45 per cent of households saying they throw away fresh produce this time of year, while as many as 17.2 million Brussels sprouts go uneaten. Worldwide and more generally, about a third of food produced annually for human consumption goes to waste, which equates to roughly 1.3 billion tonnes. While production methods are partly to blame, the behaviour of consumers plays

a huge part in medium and high-income countries – and that mostly comes down to overbuying and bad planning. For a wasteless wonderland this year, be a little more meticulous over meal prepping and RSVPs to reduce uneaten leftovers. “Avoid getting tempted with discounts in supermarkets and don’t overbuy perishable food. Plan meals and control portion sizes while cooking and serving,” is Kshemkalyani advice. If you’re saving all the fuss and eating out on Christmas Day, keep an eye out for hotels and establishments that make a year-round commitment to cutting waste when booking a restaurant. Dubai’s Grosvenor House, for example, has reduced food waste by 72 per cent and is on the way to saving 50,000 meals by the end of 2019, and Avani Deira Dubai is hosting a Green Christmas Day with an environmentally friendly menu. Hotel groups such as Fairmont, Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt, meanwhile, are known for their sustainability efforts, while Rove Hotels has recently been granted the Green Key Eco-Label Award for promoting recycling initiatives. Of course, if you really want to change your food consumption in the name of the planet, you know what you need to do. “Try to have as much plantbased and healthy food where possible,” urges Kshemkalyani. “Buying local ingredients and avoiding processed food is great for both the planet and your health. If it’s very difficult to avoid meat, then buy it from local, sustainable and organic source and reduce the quantity this year.”