How we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas.

With the Christmas season approaching it’s worth thinking about how we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas. Whilst for some it’s a religious festival, for others, it’s a chance to spend some much needed time with families. However, for most of us, it’s also a time of excess and waste. For example in the UK we will use roughly 40 million rolls of sticky tape, we will also throw away an equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper, 54 million platefuls of food and almost 100 million bin bags of packaging from toys and other presents according to research by onepoll.com. It is also estimated that there are one billion Christmas cards and between 6 and 8 million real Christmas trees sold.

 

Put all this together and it adds up to a huge amount of waste, a lot of it potentially unnecessary. So maybe if we can each tackle one or more of these issues individually collectively we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas.

Sticky Tape

Sticky Tape is not only non-recyclable, any residue on otherwise recyclable materials is very difficult to remove and may mean those materials become unrecyclable. One option is to use paper tape instead of plastic tape it might be more visible however when combined with paper wrapping paper and possible some ribbon or twine it can look very sophisticated and stylish. You can purchase these from the likes of Eco-Craft and Eco Vibe.

how to have an ethical christmas

Wrapping Paper

A large portion of the 108 million rolls of wrapping paper used in the UK at Christmas is non-recyclable. Any paper with glitter, foil or texture is generally not able to be recycled. It is, therefore, definitely worth checking that the wrapping paper you buy can be recycled. Another option is to pair brown paper tape with plain brown wrapping paper and then add some embellishments. This can also make the wrapping more personal.

Food Waste

The obvious solution to the massive amount of food wasted is to buy less. However, in reality, this is not always possible. With large family gatherings, it is very difficult to work out the exact amount of food required and it seems better to err on the side of caution and buy plenty. However, if you do have leftovers then there are other ways to deal with them than throwing them in the bin. If you have random food leftover and are unsure what to do with then a website such as Lovefoodhatewaste.com can help. It provides a comprehensive list of recipes and food ideas using leftovers.  After Christmas, it is also likely that you want a few less calorific days and even the thought of leftovers is too much. In that case, a lot of food is freezable and can be stored until you get your appetite back for it.

 

Packaging

One way to reduce packaging is to buy less presents, however, that is understandably often not realistic. What you can do is try and buy products that either have less packaging or where the packaging is recyclable. Another option is to purchase ethically sourced and packaged gifts from ethical online stores such as Natural Collection or Plastics Free. Another option is to give memories or experiences like a meal out, theme park visit or spa day Red Letter Days and Virgin Experience Days are two of the most well-known companies in this space. For children, an amazing gift could be the gift of cooking. Little Cooks Co is a home delivery food box company that is aimed at children from 3-10 providing amazing recipes for them to cook at home. For a list of ethical brands, you can also check out our brands’ page here.

 

Christmas Cards

ethical, sustainable Christmas

With regards to Christmas cards, it is worth considering if it’s really necessary to send and give Christmas cards to everyone if we all sent just a few less it would really help. Another option is to post a digital Christmas message perhaps on social media or via a digital Christmas Card. You can then let those people know that the money saved you will be donating to charity. This way they still get your Christmas wishes and there is a benefit to the environment and your chosen charity. If you really feel like you have to send physical Christmas cards then it would be great to support a charity when you buy cards for charity has a comprehensive selection of Christmas cards that benefit different charities. It is also best to avoid cards with Glitter or embellishments as this makes it difficult or impossible to recycle.

Christmas Trees

Real or Fake that is a difficult question. On the one hand, we have a real tree that is used for a few weeks then destroyed, on the other hand, we have a fake tree that can be used for years, but is made from plastic which is nigh on impossible to recycle. I guess it’s a very personal choice. If you plan on using a fake tree for years to come then it could be environmentally the best solution. However, if you’re only going to use it for a few years then real would be best. If you do buy a real tree then try and get it sourced as locally as possible to reduce the carbon footprint and where possible have it recycled by the local council. Trees that go into and fill end up releasing a huge amount of CO2 emissions as they rot slowly. The best solution, if you have space would be to buy a potted Christmas tree that can go in the garden after Christmas and can then be reused year after year.

ethical, sustainable Christmas

Conclusion

As you can see although Christmas is usually a great time of the year for spending time with family it is also a bad time of the year for the environment. However, if we all do a little bit then together we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas. I would also love your suggestion to make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas for me.

 

Top 5 most ethical supermarkets

Below are my top 5 most ethical supermarkets and online food companies. From organic-only supermarkets to supermarkets that help in the community.

 

Waitrose

Waitrose is a member of the John Lewis partnership and as such, it is owned by its employees(called partners). The majority of any profits are paid out in bonuses to these partners, which results in great customer service as the employees have a sense of ownership.

Environmentally they are working very hard at reducing plastic waste. See the below extract from their website.

‘Making sure our packaging works and is fit for purpose is just part of my job. The other part is ensuring we meet our targets for making it as environmentally friendly as we can. We’ve pledged that by 2023, all own-label packaging will be widely recycled, reusable or home compostable, so we’re working with our suppliers and packaging manufacturers, looking at alternatives to plastics,’ says Karen Graley, Partner and packaging manager.

In addition, they’ve launched the Plan Plastic Fund with £1 million in grants available to projects aimed at reducing plastic waste.

Waitrose is also very big with regards to the environment and sustainability. They have a targeted plan to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050. you can see the timeline of what they are doing to get there here. They also aim to source all off their products such as Soya, palm oil, fish and cotton amongst others. In fact, they publish an annual corporate responsibility report, which is accessible here.

top 5 most ethical supermarkets

 

Planet Organic

Planet Organic is a small chain of London based stores that sell exclusively organic products. However, despite being London based they offer shipping to many parts of the UK. As a completely organic store, bar wild-caught game and sustainably sourced wild fish which are unable to be certified, they can sell loose packaged products that you can be 100% confident is organic as there is no risk of cross-contamination. They also aim to be as natural as possible below is a statement from their website on this.

No to processed foods, no to hydrogenated fats and a big, fat no to GM.
We do not only sell organic packaged foods, although there are minimum product standards that apply to every single product that we sell.  We have never sold anything that contained artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours, flavours or anything else.  Likewise we have never sold foods filled with hydrogenated fats, and we have always said a big NO to GMO.  We continue to avoid all GM crops, as well as all meat from animals that have been fed GMO.

They are also trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible as you can read below.

It’s not always easy being green.  We were disappointed in the late Nineties that our cargo bike delivery service didn’t take off.  We have struggled so many times to donate food waste to London shelters, and we deal with different recycling restrictions in each of the London Boroughs that we have stores in.  However, over the years there have been some marvellous successes.

We said goodbye to plastic bags years ago, and use fully recycled paper bags for all your grocery shopping.  We use food containers made from bagasse, a sugar cane waste material in our café’s, and to be honest got a bit too excited when we found the first compostable take-away coffee cup lid. It’s the little things…

And it’s not just what we do.  Encouraging our suppliers to move towards re-usable delivery boxes saves around 10 bales of compressed cardboard a day, while our sales of Life Water, a drop for drop not-for profit organisation, have so far provided clean-drinking water to 1200 people as part of the Gopavaram Community Well Project in Andra Pradesh.

 

Wholefoods

Wholefoods, like Planet Organic is a chain of London based shops. Unlike Planet Organic it is part of a much larger USA chain, which has recently been bought by Amazon. They have high standards and try to minimize packaging and sourced as sustainably as possible. They are very good with animal welfare standards and sustainable fishing. Additionally, they support lots of up and coming artisan brands. For a comprehensive list of all the standards, they adhere to click here. You can’t order directly online with them, but you can order their products via Amazon Fresh.

 

 

Ocado

Ocado is the biggest online-only supermarket in the UK. They provide a vast array of over 60,000 products including many organic and vegan options. As they are online-only it avoids a lot of waste. The following extract is from their corporate site.

In 2018 just 0.029% of food as a percentage of total sales was wasted. We’re committed to ensuring no food goes into landfill; inedible food is sent to anaerobic digestion, and edible food is redistributed. We redistributed 1,721 tonnes of food surplus in FY18, with over 90 tonnes of fresh and ambient food surplus donated to food banks and charities through our Donate Food with Ocado scheme. Since the scheme launched in December 2014, we’ve donated over 180 tonnes of food, demonstrating our commitment to strengthening food partnerships in the past 12 months. We contributed a total of £18,000 to support the Courtauld 2025 Commitment, a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system – from producer to consumer – to strive for more sustainable food and drink consumption.

One of the unfortunate things is that they use plastic carrier bags in their delivery system. However as you can see fom the extract below they do this a sustainably as possible.

Our customers’ shopping makes its journey to homes across the UK in crates, each lined with three single-use carrier bags. Crates move around our automated, temperature-controlled Customer Fulfillment Centres, with items added along the way.

Carrier bags segregate and protect goods from damage during the picking process. They allow us to separate potentially hazardous products from edible ones, complying with UK and EU legislation. They also allow our Customer Service Team Members to safely carry groceries into our customers’ homes.

Carrier bags are currently an integral part of our operation. We continue to research and trial alternative bag materials and containers, although none so far have proven to be as efficient or as cost-effective. With this in mind, we have launched several initiatives to combat plastic bag littering and unnecessary waste.

Recycling programme Since 2007, when delivering shopping our Customer Service Team Members have been asking customers to hand back used carrier bags to be recycled into new Ocado bags. This includes carrier bags from other retailers, which is one of the reasons why our carrier bags are grey. The muted colour means we don’t have to bleach the raw plastic. 87% of bags are returned for recycling.

Our recycling programme is carried out here in the UK, rather than China, where the bulk of plastics are currently recycled. We are satisfied that this keeps “supply chain miles” and carbon emissions to a minimum.

As you can see they are trying their best to minimise waste and they do eliminate a lot of this by not having large power-hungry physical stores where food is wasted at a local level.

Co-Op

The Co-Op is a member-owned company. It costs £1 to join and that gives you an equal vote with other members on how it’s run. They do a lot of work in local communities 1% of purchases of Co-Op branded product is spent on local causes. In the last year, this amounted to £17million. As well as their charitable donations they are also trying to be as sustainable and ethical as possible.

They’re changing the way their products are packaged replacing plastic and polystyrene with cardboard and foil. They’re also rolling out compostable carrier bags.

They give food about to go out of date to local charities as per their policy below.

None of us can afford to throw away good food. That’s why our stores give products that are going out of date to local community groups at the end of each day to prevent food waste, so far we’ve given away over 3m meals and counting.

Bonus

In addition to the top 5 most ethical supermarkets listed above below are two more food delivery options that might be of interest.

Approved Food

Approved Food, is slightly different to the other companies here. It’s a clearance house of near or just past best before items that would otherwise end up in landfill. You can buy big name brands at extremely low prices, with the knowledge that those products have been saved from landfill. As these are surplus products, availability changes on a daily basis.

Food Box companies

If you’re just after food for a special event or dinner please have a look at an earlier article detailing the most ethical food box companies. You can find the article here.

I appreciate any feedback and would like to know who makes your list of the top 5 most ethical supermarkets.

Ethical department store; Natural Collection

Natural collection is an online ethical department store. They operate in a wide variety of categories from fashion and homewares to beauty and groceries.

ethical department store

All brands and products at this ethical department store have been vetted and must operate in one or more of the following segments.

• Fair Trade
• Organic
• Eco Friendly
• Health and Wellness promotion
• Education and awareness building
• Locally Produced
• Charity

It is possible to search by the ethics that are dearest to your heart at this page www.Naturalcollection.com/tags. You can choose from a range including animal welfare, fair trade, eco friendly, etc.

With such a wide range of categories and depth of products you will struggle not to find the product you are after.

To visit this ethical department store go to www.naturalcollection.com