12 Top Tips for a Sustainable Christmas

‘Tis Christmas time. A time of joy, merriment and…well...excess. The question is, how do we have all of the fun with less of an impact on the planet? We asked some of our favourite organic brands for their top tips...

12 Top Tips for a Sustainable Christmas


1. Be conscious of food waste

We all know that food waste is a huge issue, year round* – but, some reports suggest that food waste in the UK increases by around 30% at the most decadent time of the year.

Fortunately, this problem has some fairly easy solutions:

The team from Clearspring, a premium range of organic plant-based and sustainably-produced Japanese and European fine foods, has these simple but effective top tips:

  • Be mindful of what you buy. Not only is wasted food a big issue, but it is also costly. Plan ahead to ensure that you buy what you need and can minimize any food that will end up in the bin.
  • Regularly take stock of what’s in the fridge to make sure nothing is forgotten.
  • Be aware of ‘use by’ dates – so products are used before they expire.
  • If there is a ‘best before’ date – trust your senses to use foods beyond their indicated best before shelf-life, especially when they’re dried and plant-based.
  • “Rescue” vegetables before they’re past their best, making stock or soup that will keep for a few days or can be frozen.
  • Get creative in the way you “recycle” leftovers, e.g. leftover porridge can be turned into a delicious pudding or custard; roast vegetables into a soup (have you tried a Miso Noodle Bowl?) or the filling of a frittata.
  • Get adventurous and use parts of vegetables that are often thrown out, e.g. beetroot leaves and stalks; or banana peels are great as an instant skin pack!

*Despite all of the headlines around food waste, 30% of us report having more food waste this year than last year, according to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme).

2. Eat seasonally

Of course, plant-based options and sides are a big win for the planet. Seasonal plant-based foods are an even bigger win, says Matthew Philpott from Bristol-based independent retailer and café, Better Food.

Thankfully many festive favourites are in season at this time, such as brussels and parsnips. But, try to avoid exotic flown-in fruit and vegetables. Sorry to break it to you, but asparagus, for example, is a big offender as a Christmas starter because it has a short shelf-life and is almost always air-freighted when out of season in Europe.

Here’s the fruit and vegetables to indulge in throughout winter: brussel sprouts, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, leeks, curly kale, fennel, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, red cabbage, swede, turnips, bay leaves, apples, pear and cooking apples.

December is especially good for chestnuts, field mushrooms, parsnips, pumpkin, swede and cranberries.

As we head towards January and February get inspired by Jerusalem artichoke and rhubarb.

3. Opt for an Organic Turkey

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re already an organic advocate for food, and we probably don’t need to repeat ourselves on the benefits of this.*

Arguably, one of the most important meals of the year is Christmas dinner. You could serve up any ol’ turkey, or you could serve up an organic one. Or you could serve up a Rhug Estate organic turkey…

Rhug Estate turkeys enjoy seven months living free range on the farm. They are free to venture out every day onto clover-rich organic pasture, feed on the finest organic oats, grown on the farm. They even listen to classical music.

*But, in case you do want us to repeat ourselves, here are the stats according to the Soil Association:

  • Organic is better for the planet: Europe’s farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50% by 2050, with plenty to feed the growing population healthy diets.
  • Organic is better for nature and wildlife: On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, and there are around 75% more wild bees on organic farms.
  • Organic is better for us: Organically produced crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) are found with up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic. Organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic.

"Like all animals on an organic farm, eliminating stress is an all-important factor. Stress-free animals produce the highest quality meat. These turkeys are reared to give the very best for you and your family to enjoy at the most important meal of the year,”

4. An organic wine pairing goes without saying…

But, what about the wine we hear you cry?

Organic and Biodynamic wine offer all the pleasure of drinking great wines without the risk of ingesting pesticide or herbicide residues in your favourite tipple. By drinking these wines (in moderation, of course), you are also helping organic and biodynamic growers protect and enrich their soils and environments, which will encourage biodiversity as well as carbon capture.

For Christmas pairings Neil Palmer, Vintage Root’s Director suggests:

Canapés and sparkling wine:

Smoked salmon paired with Crémant de Loire

Veggie tempura or spinach empanadas with Franciacorta Brut Animante

Vegan, veggie or turkey Christmas dinner:

Cuvée Secrete No Sulphur Added Viognier

Coteaux Bouguignons Pinot Noir

Red meat Christmas dinner:

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Reserve

A tip for you: These wines also make great gifts and can be ordered in presentation boxes with a card and message.

5. And remember it’s not just what’s on your Christmas table...

When doing your Christmas shopping, be as generous as you can with your local food bank. A recent article from the Big Issue says:

“Independent food banks are facing the bleakest of winters. Not only are they struggling to source supplies, but teams are exhausted and running on empty. Yet the relentless increase in need for their services continues unabated.”

You can also donate to FareShare, which directs surplus food from the food industry to frontline charities and community groups; or the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), who support food banks and advocate for a vision of a country without the need for charitable food aid and in which good food is accessible to all.

“And don’t waste excess food,” says Ruth Metcalfe from Helen Browning’s organic meat farm.

Olio is a mobile app that allows you to share with your neighbours. Too Good to Go is an app that allows customers to rescue unsold food from shops and restaurants.


6. Being together is more important than stuff

“The last year has taught us that being together is more important than ‘stuff’,” says Tracy Kane, brand director of Crazy Jack Organic.

Give the gift of your time to people you love or people who might need it. That can be as simple as putting your phone on silent so you can have uninterrupted chats or dusting off a board game.

If you do want to buy something, membership to the National TrustThe Royal Horticultural Society or the RSPB, for example, are great ideas for people who are passionate about nature and the outdoors.

A family railcard, offering up to a third off ticket prices, might enable a family to go out more and travel in a sustainable way.

Or you could find a gift experience – giving someone something to look forward to after the excitement of Christmas has gone, as well as creating memories.

7. Homemade sweet treats as gifts

Baking some homemade sweet treats can make a wonderful gift when visiting friends and family. It’s a way to let your neighbours know you’re there. It’s also a great way to entertain kids for an afternoon.

Here are some ideas and simple recipes for baked seasonal gifts:

Almond BiscottiRicciarelli CookiesVegan Teff Millionaire’s ShortbreadAlmond Balls; and, of course, a traditional Christmas cake.

Sustainable baking tips: Consider investing in reusable wax wraps and tin linings. Naturally, Doves Farm offers top quality organic flour. And Crazy Jack Organic is a great option for baking additions, including dried fruits, nuts and syrups.

8.  Gift less and gift better

Of course, we’ve been conditioned not to turn up empty-handed and gifting can be a nice way to show someone you’ve been thinking of them. And let’s be honest – it’s nice to receive presents!

The question is, how can we do this in a way that has the biggest impact on the people we’re giving to as well as, ideally, a positive impact on the planet and people making the products? Here’s some ideas for you:

  • Shop locally: Give the smaller, independent businesses a bit of much-needed love and you likely get a gift you wouldn't find anywhere else.
  • Buy less and buy better: Avoid buying too many things that will end up being thrown out or unused. Instead, make every gift count by purchasing things with value, purpose and meaning.
  • Try a family or friends Secret Santa: the person is more likely to get a gift they want... and not more socks!
  • Pay it forward: what to get the person who has everything they want in life? Gift your present to a local cause that you both care about.
  • Give the gift of time: an experience or a dinner date might be more appreciated than material goods.

And here’s some gift inspiration:

For Foodies: Calon Wen Gift Hamper, £49.99

For Bakers: Doves Farm Organic Flour Box, £15

For wine lovers (allegedly, with the promise of less of a hangover depending on how much you drink!): Vintage Roots Organic and No Added Sulphur wine Pair, £30

For tea lovers: Clearspring Organic Japanese Gyokuro Tea, £14.99.

For Gardeners: Garden Organic online self-guided organic course, £25

All natural beauty products:

Rhug Estate Hand Wash & Lotion Duo, £50

Ben & Anna Gift Set, £47.95

Herbfarmacy Festive Favourites, £35.00

Gift experience: Helen Browning Farm Safari, £85

For comfort: Cherry Stone Pillows Warmlii ‘Hugger’, £26.99

9. Gift Wrapping

Naturally, wherever there are gifts there is gift wrap in abundant supply. In fact, 11.8 million kilos of carbon dioxide are emitted every year to make traditional wrapping paper which we generally use once and then throw away in enormous quantities, calculate carbon footprint tool GIKI. That’s the equivalent emissions of almost 5,000 cars.

Some tips from Leanne Stephenson of natural beauty brand Ben & Anna on how to reduce this include:

  • If you must wrap, start keeping those weekend newspapers. You know what they say… yesterday’s news is this year’s wrapping paper. You can get very creative with the images (fortunately, there’s lots of cartoons of Boris to choose from at the moment.) Or switch to recycled brown paper and let the kids loose with the colouring pens.
  • Have you heard of furoshiki? This is the Japanese art-form of wrapping gifts in fabric. There are loads of tutorials on YouTube, but be warned, you might lose hours of your life here!
  • If that doesn’t get your creative juices flowing when it comes to wrapping, maybe this will: If every adult in the UK spent a modest 1.5 hours wrapping gifts, that would total 81 million hours spent wrapping presents. Surely, we can do something better with our time?


10. Sustainable Christmas Trees

Did you know that we buy around eight million Christmas trees in the UK, each year according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association?

Christmas Trees aren’t necessarily problematic, because they’re essentially crops to be harvested. But, cutting down a tree and sending it to landfill a few weeks later is not only wasteful, they take years to decompose and release methane, which experts say have 25 times the potency of carbon dioxide.

Rent a Christmas tree from a British farm or buy a re-plantable Christmas tree, so you can use it again next year, is the tip from Organic Dairy Co-op Calon Wen’s Marketing and Events Manager, Lauren Evans.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a great guide for all your Christmas Tree options…

But, it’s not just the Christmas Tree to consider. Beautiful vibrant Poinsettias are not just for Christmas, advises Sarah Brown, presenter on the Organic Gardening Podcast from Garden Organic.

“Commercially grown poinsettias are often treated with growth depressant or dwarfing chemicals to obtain a compact plant. But plants grown on for a second year, in fresh compost, will revert to their taller, natural habitat.”

Here’s how to keep them thriving throughout the year.

11. Decorations (Herb Farmacy)

“Unfortunately, lots of Christmas decorations are made from plastic and soon end up in landfill,” says Hannah, sales and marketing manager, from organic skincare brand Herbfarmacy.

  • Shop plastic free Christmas decorations. These include wooden stars and trees made from sustainable wood and plastic-free string, wire to make snowflakes and baubles made from recycled glass.
  • Try making your own salt dough decorations made using plain flour, salt and water. This is a great activity to get the kids involved with!
  • Enjoy a lovely winter walk on a cold crisp day to collect what you need to make your own Christmas wreaths – fallen leaves, pinecones, holly and fern and adorn with dried oranges, cinnamon sticks over a glass of mulled wine.


12. New Year Resolutions

And as we head into the new year, the general consensus was no gesture is too small. Here are some of most popular resolution inspirations:

  • Commit to long term changes in your diet that can be sustained forever, not just January: If your goal is to eat less meat try switching out meat in your curry to organic and vegan Jackfruit, or soya mince and soya chunks. Or trying making scrambled tofu instead of eggs. Even if you’re not able to go 100% organic, switch one of your staple foods to organic. If we all did this, it would make a huge difference.
  • Got out of the habit of using a reusable water bottle or coffee mug? Now’s the time to reintroduce those habits – as well as reducing packaging waste, many cafés offer a discount to those who reuse, so you can save money too!
  • Resolve to walk anywhere that is less than a mile (or two!) away: if travelling further use public transport or cycle where possible
  • Use recycle bins correctly: and, a hassle though it is, look into any local schemes for recycling items that aren’t covered in your local collection. For example, plastic bags and crisps packets are now recyclable at some supermarkets (but not at home, yet).
  • Make your own bread and brew your own beer: this way you know exactly what goes in to them, and they have zero food miles
  • Waste less: initially by planning what you need to buy. Then by buying loose veg and using refills so you get exactly what you need. If you do have waste, download the Olio app (see tip 5 above) or find out where your local community pantry is so you can donate any food you won’t use.
  • Support local shops and farmers as much as you can: it boosts the local economy, reduces environmental impact and brings the community together. Importantly, independent shops give smaller growers and farmers access to the market.

Lizzie Rivera

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