Out with the old and in with the new

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Some of our Christmas traditions are a bit strange, when you think about it – like bringing a tree indoors and dressing it up! It’s even stranger when you think that all those real trees have to be thrown out in January.

Luckily, the wonderful people at St Helena Hospice are one step ahead and are already inviting people to register for their Colchester Treecycle scheme. 

For a suggested donation of £7.50, they will collect your real tree from your home on Saturday 6 January. They’ve covered postcode areas CO1 to CO9 for years and are now expanding to CO13 too. All you need to do is registerbefore noon on 4 January to receive the service. Donations go to the hospice, which supports local people with incurable illnesses and their families. 

I’ve already got some presents to go under my tree. On Saturday, my son came downstairs with his yearly Christmas wish list. Father Christmas and I have reviewed it, and although we agreed that he probably won’t be getting the “pet octopus” that he asked for, the rest of the Christmas shopping and wrapping has now begun! 

Some of his new toys involve batteries, whichI’m sure he’ll wear out pretty quickly. I prefer reusable ones – recharging saves me a trip to dispose of them and are much cheaper in the long run. Disposable batteries can’t be put in your black bin or sacks, because they’re hazardous and can leak toxic chemicals. If you have some, look for a battery container at your local library to dispose of them safely. Many supermarkets take them too.  

My own wishlist is much less exciting… I’m hoping for a new electric toothbrush! It might surprise you to hear that the old one, which broke recently, won’t have to go in the bin. You might not think of toasters, hair straighteners or music players as recyclable, because they contain so many different materials. However, many libraries in Essex have pink bins where you can recycle what’s called “small WEEE” (I’ll try not to make any jokes – it stands for Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment).  

Everything in those bins gets dismantled and, wherever possible, used again. Electronics are full of complicated, expensive parts that can either be reused or broken up and recycled for the materials. That goes for broken Christmas lights too.

The WEEE bins are only for small things that can be easily carried, but if you’ve got larger electronics, you can take them to the Recycling Centre or book a bulky collection.

All this shopping and planning is putting me in the festive mood – I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year, even if it isn’t going to involve a real live octopus! How are your preparations going?

Leave the big footprints to Santa

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Houses shining with decorations. Piles of wrapped presents. Tables (and stomachs) groaning with food. I love Christmas, but even I recognise how wasteful it can be.

Me and my wife are pretty environmentally friendly, but we often let it slip at this time of year. There’s so much in the shops to tempt us, from special food to throwaway gifts, and it’s all justified spending – after all, it’s Christmas!

This year, we’re making a big effort to make our festivities more sustainable and avoid that January guilt when we look at our rubbish pile (and our budget… and our waistlines!). My colleague Trevor at the Recycling and Waste depot has been doing this for years… he says it’s easy to have a wonderful Christmas without leaving a big footprint on the environment. All you need to do is follow five simple steps:

It’s about people, not things

The shops are stuffed with novelty gifts that look like an easy present solution, but do your friends and family really want train-shaped shot glasses or desktop basketball hoops?

Instead of quick buys that’ll be shoved in a cupboard by New Year, give something they’ll really want. Experience days and vouchers are always well-received. If you’re good at crafts, make something they’ll treasure. For a close friend or relative, consider making your own ‘coupons’ promising them the most precious gift – your time, whether it’s a day out, control of the TV remote for an evening or a job around the house.

Save paper

Every Christmas the UK uses enough wrapping paper to circle the equator nine times! Make your own cards and wrapping paper from magazine pages, music sheets, old maps and so on, or give reusable gift bags. The Japanese art of Furoshiki, wrapping presents in printed fabric, is catching on in a big way – you can use a pretty scarf and make it part of the gift.

If you do use paper, remember foil and glitter can’t be recycled. And keep the fronts of the cards you get – they’ll make awesome gift tags next year.

Don’t bring it home

There’s nothing festive about plastic bags, no matter how bright and jolly they look – they are terrible for the environment. When you go Christmas shopping, take your own bags. If you forget, you can put purchases from different shops in the first bag you’re given, instead of collecting new ones each time.

Some shops also now offer e-receipts, which save paper, are harder to lose and easier to find.

Clear your freezer

Use frozen food in the weeks leading up to Christmas so the freezer is as empty as possible on Christmas Eve. That way, there’s plenty of room for leftover party grub. There are loads of delicious, easy, clever recipes to use up every bit of your food at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

Plan meals and parties

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If you’re having multiple groups of friends and family over, try to plan things so you don’t buy too much food. We’re having a roast turkey on Christmas Day. I know there’s going to be lots left over, so I’m also buying part-baked rolls and having friends over for turkey sandwich lunch on Boxing Day.

We’ve stocked up on plastic containers too, so we’re ready to freeze lots of roast potatoes and turkey-based dishes… looking forward to a stress-free, budget-friendly New Year with all that delicious ready-made food just waiting to be snaffled straight from the freezer!

None of that looks too difficult to me. I’m looking forward to reaching New Years’ Day with a full freezer, a happy bank account and no guilty conscience this year!

If you’re joining in, leave a comment letting me know how you get on… I’d love to hear any tips you have!