Now we’re into December, even the Christmas refuseniks will have to get on board with decorating and present-buying. And, as we make our purchases, spurred on by the likes of Elton in the John Lewis advert, and that amazing little girl in the star costume, singing her heart out in Sainsbury’s offering, it’s easy to get caught up in a “‘tis the season to shop” mentality. That's further fuelled by the Instagram pack's tree-pic one-upmanship (the millennial version of your neighbours putting their tree in the window in full view of the street). Even if you’re not susceptible to competitive decorating, it’s all too easy just to add another pack of plastic baubles to the trolley. Or to be lured in by tinsel when you go to buy your Christmas-party outfit.
Not that there’s anything wrong with picking up some new decs, but if we all just think a little more about each purchase this year, and consider the lifecycle of every product we buy (ie what happens to it when the festivities are over), then it's a step in the right direction. If you need reminding about the plastic problem facing the planet and what the interiors world is doing to tackle it, you can read more here.
As Lizzie Rivera, founder of ethical-lifestyle website BICBIM, puts it: “Christmas is certainly a time to indulge and spread happiness, but, now we have an increased awareness about the destruction our consumer habits are causing to the environment and the people at the bottom of the supply chain, we need to think longer-term than just one day.”
Rivera has shared some of her tips for consuming consciously this festive season, and Amy & Athina, of affordable online interior-design company Topology, show that eco-friendly doesn’t mean your Christmas set-up has to be any less festive – and, yes, that includes bringing out the (pre-loved) tinsel.
While we know it’s not realistic for most of us banish plastic completely, or hand-make everything (Kirstie Allsopp has a lot to answer for), consider trying at least one of these small changes this year.
Do a decoration audit
Before you buy anything – and I really mean anything – get your decorations from wherever you stuffed them last year, and go through them to see what you already have. The chances are, you’ll own more tree ornaments and lights than you think. I'd advise throwing out any broken baubles, but generally, anything still intact can be put to good use, either on the tree or elsewhere. When it comes to lights, just make sure the ones you have are LED strings. They're hugely more energy-efficient than old-fashioned halogen versions, plus they're reliable, so you'll avoid that familiar scene from my childhood, that involved my dad doing the big switch-on to great fanfare, then having to locate the rogue bulb that had brought down the whole lot.
DIY tree decs and upcycled options
Why not upgrade your baubles without buying yet more plastic options. “Opt for fillable glass versions, that are just as purse-friendly as your supermarket specials, then fill them with different items that suit your taste or colour scheme,” says Athina. The duo suggest turning your focus to the outside world, as well as repurposing the decorative items you already have. “You can get really creative with these, think feathers, eucalyptus sprigs, any tired tinsel or that confetti that you forgot to take to the last wedding. Plus, with a glass of mulled wine and The Holiday on in the background, it makes a great festive activity.”
If you do want to buy some ready-made decorations, both the Topology girls and Rivera recommend homeware brand Nkuku, for its environmentally conscious pieces with strong ethical credentials. I love these pretty ornaments made from recycled glass, which both cuts down on waste and uses less energy than working with the raw material. These ones also have unusual ties, made from recycled saris.
Fashion yourself a wreath
“Nothing says, ‘I bloody love Christmas,’ more than a jazzy wreath,” says Athina. If you are after a more-is-more number, she recommends using some tinsel you already have at home, and simply wrapping it around a wire ring. Hobbycraft will sort you for the base – choose a metal one, which means you will be able to change-up your design in years to come. “You could then add those baubles you vetoed from the tree, foliage, lights, whatever you want and you’ll have a slightly kitsch but oh-so-good homemade wreath within minutes.”
For a more natural look, seek out your own foliage on a countryside walk (or head to the local garden centre). For anyone who perhaps isn’t in easy reach of a) decent foliage or b) a garden centre – hello, Londoners – I like the idea of buying one of Bloom & Wild’s letterbox-friendly Crafty Christmas kits. Inside, are 25 festive stems to get creative with. You just need to provide the ring (see above) and ideally some florists’ wire to hold things in place. Or, if you do buy a ready-made wreath, opt for Damaris’ gorgeous design, which is entirely biodegradable.
GET CREATIVE FOR THE table
Want a statement centrepiece without spending loads? “Try buying a couple of metres of hessian or jute fabric to use as a table runner," says Athina. (eBay has loads, with lots of different size options.) “It’s a great neutral backdrop that can be adapted to any Christmas scheme and be reused at other times of the year. Layer up with easy-to-find bits like pine cones, holly or bay leaves. Ivy from the garden works a treat too, as it naturally cascades across the table. Also try filling glass votive holders with greenery and popping a (soy) candle inside.” If you're buying crackers for your Christmas table, look for those made from recycled materials, such as these understated ones in a mistletoe design with wooden gifts, or these by Sophia Victoria Joy, which have fun slogan badges inside, instead of, say, a pack of mini screwdrivers.
Choose your tree carefully
Rivera has lots of useful advice on trees on BICBIM. If you’re going real, buy – or even better, rent – a potted one that can be replanted year after year. Look out for the FSC-certification logo (Forest Stewardship Counci), so you know that your tree has been grown sustainably, reducing its environmental impact. Non-potted trees can be recycled into wood chippings, however, so buy one from a local source (to keep the carbon footprint down) and check the council’s website to find out how their free recycling service operates. There's also the option of an organic tree, which has been grown without use of pesticides. For those, the Soil Association suggests that you, “source your tree from a small-scale organic sustainable grower, such as Leeds-based Swillington Farm.” If you’re reusing or buying an artificial tree made from plastic, the Carbon Trust advises that you would need to use it for at least 11 years to offset the oil the plastic is made from. So, it's sensible to go for a standard green number rather than, say, big-in-2018 white. There are also increasing number of stylish wooden trees out there, in various sizes and price brackets. I like Natural Wood Company’s chic oak designs.
change up your wrapping game
"In the UK alone, we throw away enough wrapping paper to circle the globe a staggering nine times (at least) every Christmas,” says Rivera. With each household using an estimated four rolls, she advises avoiding the shiny metallic paper or wrap made with glitter, as those can’t be recycled. And it's not just the paper itself you need to consider; leftover sticky tape or decorations still attached prevents a large amount of wrap being recycled too. Rivera's recommendations include Re-wrapped, which makes 100% recycled, unbleached paper with vegetable inks. The brand works with illustrators and designers and has a range of designs that will look fab under the tree. I’ll be wrapping my pressies in Kate Heiss’ bold yet intricate Christmassy prints. British brand Happywrap has some reusable fabric wrap – a take on the Japanese tradition of furoshiki – or try Wrag wrap, which makes reusable reversible wrap, with one side less overtly Christmassy so it could be used all-year-round. If you're particularly proud of your creations, sustainable waste disposal company First Mile has launched its Cut the Wrap campaign, encouraging people to share their eco-friendly wrapping solutions on social media in order to spread the word. You can get involved via its twitter account @firstmile or @first_mile on Instagram.