We find ourselves approaching a Christmas unlike any other. 2020 has thrown a lot at us; it’s been a year of overcoming hurdles and coming together to provide support within our communities. I believe this December it’s more important than ever to not fall into apathy about the potentially harmful impacts of our seasonal habits. Christmas is a time widely associated with indulgence and extravagance and this year might amplify the desire for comfort and consumption.
It is estimated that consumers in the UK ate 10 million turkeys last Christmas and 125 million mince pies. These statistics become more eye opening when you consider how much wastage packaging from food and gifts is also generated.
For some perspective, 125 thousand tonnes of plastic wrapping is used for food across the festive period before being discarded. UK consumers use 227 thousand miles of wrapping paper each year with over 83 square kilometres ending up in our bins. Recently we have become more aware of how our excessive waste is linked to detrimental effects on our planet. In the UK a lot of waste ends up in landfill sites where it may rot quickly or slowly, generating methane gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Waste which is incinerated unfortunately isn’t much better as plastics often produce toxic substances when they burn.
After a year of living in world straining circumstances, some of you might be looking for creative and comforting ways to end 2020 without burdening the planet any further.
With supermarkets displaying their Christmas themed produce way ahead of December it’s hard to resist the temptation of buying too much food. It’s been reported that on average the UK spends an extra 16 percent on food and an extra 39 percent on alcohol across the month. The excitement and anticipation for the big day can often cloud our perspective but if we give it a little thought we can achieve a more affordable and sustainable day.
Firstly, take a minute to plan ahead. Planning ahead can massively reduce the risk of overcompensating and buying more than you need. I suggest planning each dish for your meal and what ingredients you will need as well as how you are going to use the leftovers. For example, as a vegetarian I always make sure I have enough vegetables on my plate at Christmas but often overestimate how much I will eat on the day – forgetting the bigger picture. Last year I knew I would have leftover vegetables, and so I found a recipe online for a root vegetable lentil bowl and used my leftover carrots and parsnips, as well as lentils from the cupboard, to make a delicious light meal on Boxing Day.
Many of us have become inventive with how we use our leftovers throughout the year as we learn more about the environmental impacts of food waste, so why should this change at Christmas?
It is also worth thinking about where you buy your food from. The instability of the UK’s centralised food distribution has become a main focus in our country’s COVID-19 response. With Brexit looming there’s a growing understanding that local independent food shops are needed more than ever. One reason they are considered to be crucial is that the money spent at a local shop goes straight back into the community, often through selling a lot of locally grown and produced stock. It can be easy to get swayed by supermarkets providing two-for-one and buy-one-get-one-free deals, but these are often wasteful offers. We don’t really need two giant Toblerones or six boxes of mince pies. Do we? Real Foods in Edinburgh pride themselves in providing naturally healthy, ethical shopping options – their click and collect service is great.
Some of you might be considering cutting down on your meat and dairy consumption over the holiday period. Finding vegetarian and vegan alternatives is now easier, with plenty of options available. If making the transition to a completely plant-based Christmas sounds difficult, you could make small changes to your main meal instead. The Committee on Climate Change filled a new report at the beginning of the year which found that a reduction in the consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods – beef, lamb and diary – by 20 percent per person in the UK and reducing food waste by 20 percent annually would reduce on-farm emissions.
I’ve mentioned that I think this winter is a good opportunity to put our money back into our local community and the best way to do this is to support small, local and independent businesses. During lockdown, people picked up hobbies that have blossomed into wonderfully artistic businesses. The items they create can often be personalised, which will add value and meaning to make your gifts last. Picking presents that will last and avoiding buying several items that might not even get used will reduce the waste ending up in landfills.
You probably know Etsy, the global online marketplace that allows small businesses to sell their unique items. You might not know that the site allows you to adjust your settings to find shops based in your local community – well, you do now. Small businesses might have just one or two staff members, often creating their beautiful items by hand. If you are buying from a small business you can help them out by getting your order in early so they have plenty of time to buy in stock, make the gifts or run their business around their work schedule. These businesses may have been quiet over the last few months but we have the opportunity to boost their sales this holiday season and a good month for sales could make or break the business.
Here are a few small businesses and where to find them:
@hannahclare_design on Instagram for quirky and charming illustrations packed full of humour and character. (Edinburgh)
@decadentriot have an eclectic and hand picked selection of art, quirky gifts, accessories, and jewellery. They support local artists and stock some exclusive items that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. (Glasgow)
May we also suggest our own Limited Edition festive print by Harriet Orrey-Godden? At least 20% of money raised from these will be donated to Glasgow and Edinburgh foodbanks.
@toppingsedin on Instagram for an independent book store alternative to corporate giant, Amazon, for your page-turners and best-sellers (Edinburgh)
@suzieshambles.design on Instagram for beautiful resin jewellery and accessories offering a modern edge. (Glasgow)
We’ve some more great small local independent businesses which can help you with great Christmas gift ideas and deserve your support in our main gift guide in the December issue of SNACK here or below).
Other unique and thoughtful presents include making your own Christmas hamper full of thoughtful items or gifting someone a charity donation on their behalf.
Wrapping paper usage is causing a frightfully large amount of waste every year, and a lot of it contains plastic. Switching to eco-friendly wrapping paper is a simple and effective way to minimise high levels of waste.
Recyclable wrapping paper is now available from some high street stores such as Paperchase or Tiger, but with a quick search on Esty you can discover small shops like LittleGreenPaperShop who create stunning tree-free paper and stationary. For a cheaper alternative use brown paper with string to wrap your gifts instead – both sustainable and beautifully simple.
If you do receive presents with wrapping paper, keep it and use it again next year. Try to think outside of the box too! Have you got any scarves or material that could be used for wrapping gifts? This could look beautiful and be reused again and again.
These are a few small changes you can make to help you become more sustainable this Christmas. Our final and possibly most important suggestion is to donate to your local food bank if you are in a position to do so. During lockdown many of us were reminded of our own privileges, including the basics of having a roof over our heads and food on our plates.
The Trussell Trust is a nationwide network of food banks who provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty while campaigning for change to end the need for food banks in the UK. They have reported that they are forecast to give out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter, an increase of 61 percent on last year. We may have our own struggles this Christmas but we can still contribute to helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
There are currently 135 food bank centres in the Trussell Trust’s network located in Scotland. Here a few of the listed locations for Trussell Trust food banks in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Edinburgh Food Banks
Edinburgh Food Project: Unit 12, New Lairdship Yards, Edinburgh, EH11 3U
The Trussell Trust Food Bank: 6 Henderson Street, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6BS
Glasgow Food Banks
Glasgow NW Food Bank: Millbrix Ave, Glasgow G14 0EP
Glasgow S E Foodbank: 42 Inglefield Street, Glasgow, G42 7AT