5 ways to shop more sustainably this Christmas
The average British adult spends £476 on Christmas gifts a year. Add that all up and it’s a total of £24.2 billion spent on festive gifts this year. That’s a lot of money that could potentially go towards supporting small businesses, and a lot of beautiful, useful presents bringing joy… but it’s also a huge amount of resources that might just end up as landfill.
So what should we be thinking about when choosing Christmas gifts to make our presents more planet-friendly – and wanted. In this article in our series on how to have a more sustainable Christmas, we share five tips for eco-friendly gifting.
1. Buy less but buy well
Items handmade in small batches tend to be better quality than items that are mass-produced on a vast scale in factories, where speed and profit are key. Look for items that are really well made and designed to last.
By investing in fewer, higher-quality gifts that have a longer lifespan, we can reduce the amount of worn out, broken items that are thrown away. It’s also about buying something that will be treasured, as the more special the gift, the more likely it is to be kept and cared for. You never know, you might be buying a beautiful heirloom that will be handed down for generations to come.
2. Look for gifts made with eco-friendly materials
Many makers are choosing to work with recycled and repurposed materials, carefully considering what materials they use and where they source them, while also developing more eco-friendly processes. As a customer this is great, as it makes it easier to make more environmentally friendly purchases.
For example, jeweller Sarah from Sarah and the Wolf only uses eco silver for her silver pieces. As she explains: “All my jewellery is hand-crafted in eco silver and brass jewellery, forged in my small studio in Glasgow and made in micro batches. The silver I use is certified eco silver, including the solder. Eco silver is collected from scrap jewellery, giftware and electronics. It has exactly the same properties and value as regular silver, it’s just kinder to the environment. It is slightly more expensive than regular silver due to the work it takes to harvest it, but I believe it’s worth it.”
Another jeweller using recycled materials is Kat from Tula and the Whale, who uses repurposed leather, which has been collected as offcuts from the fashion and shoe industry, and which would otherwise end up in landfill. This circular approach, taking waste and turning it into something new and desirable, is shared by Nell from Hem: Handwoven who explains:“I weave my pieces on antique looms from my home studio in the Peak District using natural, sustainable fibres, most of which are “mill-end” – leftovers from the British textile mills that would otherwise end up in landfill. I believe it’s important not to let such high-quality yarns go to waste, so I turn them into unique heirloom textiles.”
3. Ask for a wish list or do a Secret Santa
Research by the Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA), suggests we will each receive two unwanted Christmas gifts this year. Worse still, 1 in 10 of these will end up in landfill, according to Jen Gale from Sustainable(ish). That’s a whopping £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents simply thrown out and into landfill each year.
So what can we do to reduce this waste?
One idea is to make a wish list to let people know what gifts you’d like to receive – and ask them for theirs. Most people will be grateful for the ideas, and by getting the presents you actually want, there’s less likelihood you’ll need to throw anything away.
If you’re part of a large family or have a lot of people to buy for, think about clubbing together and buying each person one special gift from all of you. As well as reducing the amount of “stuff” in the world, this takes some of the stress out of shopping – which can only be a good thing!
Similarly, doing a Secret Santa reduces the amount of stuff bought, but it’s also loads of fun. To do a Secret Santa, add everyone’s names to a hat or box, mix them up, and then each person draws out a name, without revealing it. This is the person they will be buying a gift for. The idea is that the gift should be thoughtful and based on what they know about the recipient. The identity of the person buying the present has to remain a secret, although it can be quite fun guessing!
4. Shop local
With the additional customs duties post-Brexit, buying gifts from abroad can now be more costly and your order can take longer to arrive. Shopping from UK-based makers removes the risk of unexpected fees and means parcels are less likely to arrive late, but there are other advantages to buying from UK-based businesses too – especially if you choose to buy local. And it’s not just good for you and your pocket, but helps the environment too! It’s all to do with the carbon footprint of your gift: the more local you shop, the fewer miles your order will have to travel and, therefore, the better for the planet.
Makers often use locally sourced materials too, which helps reduce the carbon footprint even further. For example, Raif Killips from Killips Carving used a piece of English ash from a storm-damaged tree in the Peak District National Park that surrounds his family home to create this hand-carved Wren and Ivy Spoon. While soap and candle-maker Becca Bannister from Devon Wax Pot, uses honey from local bees to make her Goat’s Milk & Local Honey Soap Set. They are just two of many makers working with ingredients sourced as close to their doorstep as possible.
Find makers in your region using our shop local feature – Shop Local on Folksy >
5. Check for environmentally friendly packaging
Last but not least, seek out sellers who use recycled or compostable packaging. Many illustrators and artists now send their cards plastic-free, either “naked” or in a compostable sleeve. Many other makers are committed to reusing packaging materials, giving a second, third or even fourth life to old bubble wrap, envelopes, tissue and cardboard – protecting your order at the same time as protecting the planet!