Blog Posts Archives - Sustainable(ish)

Category Archives for Blog Posts

THE (FESTIVE) WASTE HIERARCHY

The Waste Hierarchy sounds like the dullest thing imaginable, but I have to confess that I kind of love it.

I've recorded a podcast episode on the subject, but I figured that with Christmas bearing down on us it was worth a reminder and a look at how it can be applied to all things festive!

REFUSE

I guess technically you could refuse to participate in Christmas all together but there's nothing very "ish" about that is there?!
However there are still some things that we can 'refuse' without coming across as the Grinch who wants to steal Christmas:

  • Christmas cards - a billion Christmas cards end up in the bin each year, and lots of people are now choosing to make charity donations instead, or to send e-cards.
  • Presents for grown-ups - 81 million unwanted gifts are received each year, an average of 3 per household. Have 'that conversation' with friends and family and think about whether you could only buy for the kids, and make all go out for a nice meal together instead.
  • Anything new! 
    It's totally possible - we did it when we spent our year buying nothing new (check out this post here for all the nitty gritty). Buy secondhand, make, or gift experiences instead of 'stuff'.
REDUCE

If you can't REFUSE some or any aspects of Christmas entirely, then at the very least try to reduce them:

  • All of points in the REFUSE section can be REDUCED if total refusal would cause family upset!
  • Food waste - around 250,000 tonnes of food is wasted in the UK alone over Christmas. Meal plan, and make sure you include what you're going to with any leftovers.
  • The amount of plastic entering your home - buy loose fruit and veg and use re-usable bags; look for drinks in glass bottles rather than plastic. For other tips for shopping plastic-free at the supermarket, check out this post here.
RE-USE

Christmas has not only become a retail festival, it also seems to have become a celebration of both excess and single use. See how many things you can re-use this year, here are some suggestions:

  • Christmas jumpers - according to research done by the guys at Hubbub we spend around £220 million on Christmas jumpers each year in the UK and a quarter of those will end up in landfill or are only used once. Wear the same jumper year on year - make it a part of your Christmas traditions.
  • Your office party Christmas outfit - I guarantee you no-one will notice if you wear the same outfit again. And if they do, that they will even care. Make a 'thing' of it and use the opportunity to start a conversation about all that is wrong with fast fashion 😉
  • Christmas cards - cut off the fronts from your favourite cards, and use them as gift tags next year. Alternatively turn them into festive postcards to send instead of needing envelopes.
REHOME

If there's anything you no longer want or need, don't ditch it, re-home it!
Try out these different options for decorations, artificial trees, unwanted gifts and anything else to:

  • eBay - if you've got unwanted gifts you might get lucky selling them on eBay and go a little way towards replenishing your bank account at the same time as saving things from landfill.
  • Freecycle/Freegle
    Pass on anything you don't want anymore to people in your community via your local Freecycle or Freegle group.
  • Charity Shops
    This is a great option, but just be aware that most charity shops will be inundated with donations after Christmas  and resist the temptation of using them to salve your conscience about sending stuff to landfill. Only donate stuff that is clean and in good condition. 
REPAIR

This isn't an obvious one for Christmas time - the most obvious thing I can think of is the fairy lights! Have a go at fixing them before ditching them - you might be pleasantly surprised.

RECYCLE

Note that this is the last resort before 'rot' - if you've paid attention to all the other ideas in this post and the others on this blog, hopefully you won't have too much to recycle.

  • Christmas cards can be recycled in the bins that appear outside the supermarkets in the New Year.
  • Glittery or metallic wrapping paper CAN'T be recycled. Do the 'scrunch test' - scrunch your paper into a ball and it it stays in a ball it can go in the recycling.
  • Batteries - if you've not got round to replacing your regular batteries with rechargeable ones, make sure you recycle them - many supermarkets have recycling points, if not there should be one at your local recycling centre.
ROT

​Hopefully your waste to landfill should now be pretty minimal, but do remember that 'rot' also includes composting. 

  • If you have a food waste collection, make sure you use it!
    If you don't, consider asking Santa for a hot composter to go in your garden - these can take cooked and uncooked food, as well as meat.
  • If you had a real tree, most councils will run a special kerbside collection of them in the New Year, and will take them away to mulch. If not, then you should be able to take it to your local recycling centre to add to the garden waste.
How many of the '7 R's' will you be doing this Yuletide?
And what have I missed? Comment below with more suggestions to add to each of the categories!

GET YOUR 
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

MINCEMEAT CUPCAKES WITH MARZIPAN BUTTERCREAM

I'm a big mince pie fan, especially with a disc of marzipan in the bottom before the mincemeat is dolloped on top (I LOVE marzipan. I could sit and eat a block of it.), but I needed to do some festive baking for someone else and thought that mince pies might be a bit old hat. So I came up with these, and they are a pretty good substitute if you fancy ringing the changes.

This is what you need:

  • 175g butter at room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour 
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A jar (approx 300g) mincemeat

For the icing:

  • 150g icing sugar
  • 100g marzipan (I use the white marzipan rather than the golden, but the choice is yours)
  • 100g room temperature butter
  • Almond essence to taste (I love the taste, so went with about 1.5tsp)
  • A couple of teaspoons of milk
  • Festive sprinkles (optional)

This is what you do:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  • Pop 12 cupcake cases into a muffin tin
  • Combine the butter, sugar, flour, eggs and baking powder and mix together until smooth
  • Fold in the mincemeat
  • Portion out between the 12 cupcake cases and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes until risen (they don't rise massively, I suspect because of the mincemeat) and golden brown
  • Leave to cool

    To make the icing:
  • Chop the butter roughly into cubes into your mixing bowl
  • Grate the marzipan using the large hole grater side on a box grater and add to the bowl
  • Add the almond essence and then whiz these together until light and fluffy
  • Add the icing sugar and whiz again, scraping down the sides if necessary
  • Add a little milk if it's a very stiff mixture and mix again
  • Scoop into a piping bag - use a star shaped nozzle if you want to make 'trees'
  • Add sprinkles according to taste!

Plastic free/zero waste tips:

  • Flour, caster sugar and icing sugar can be found in paper/cardboard easily at the supermarket
  • Some makes of butter wrapper will separate after soaking so you can recycle the foil and paper
  • I ordered baking powder from the Plastic Free Pantry and re-fill the plastic pot I got from the supermarket
  • I use silicone reusable cupcake cases for cakes we will have at home. If I'm gifting them to people, I use these ones here which are compostable and unbleached.
  • I've not found a source of plastic-free sprinkles or marzipan (I know you can make your own) - if anyone knows of any, please do let me know!
  • I bought a roll of 'disposable' piping bags about 6 years ago before I knew any better and have been re-using each one until it falls apart. I'm on my last couple now so will invest in a proper re-usable one.

What do you reckon? Will you give these a try?
Let me know!

GET YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

SUSTAINABLE(ISH) OPTIONS FOR NATIVITY COSTUMES

My youngest has just moved into Key Stage 2 and in our school that signals the end of Nativity plays for us. I'm equal parts sad and relieved - it really does feel like the end of an era, but at the same time there's no more late night panics trying to throw together a Nativity costume at the last minute.
I'm proud to say that we managed to get through our Nativity Days without ever having to resort to an Amazon or supermarket special - which are kind of like the fast fashion of the Christmas Story - cheaply made, mass produced synthetic fabrics, and will only be worn a handful of times. However that doesn't mean that I spent October and November glued to a sewing machine - our costumes have I think epitomised all the things a Nativity costume should be: thrown together using stuff we had lying around; evidently homemade; and ultimately probably a little bit crap compared to some of the other shop bought wonders. But for me, that's what it's all about - after all, what's a Nativity without a tea towel head dress?

Here are some easy ideas to help you avoid having to resort to splashing the cash on a mass produced monstrosity made who knows where and for who knows what, that even if doesn't especially damage your bank balance will be damaging the planet.

1. SWAP

We have class Facebook groups, and at Nativity time it's such an easy way to find out who has what outfit lurking at the back of their cupboards, and to all lend to each other.

2. SEARCH FOR SECONDHAND 

- I just did a quick search on eBay for "Nativity Costumes" and after ticking the 'used' box in the search criteria, it still came up with over 400 results - everything from shepherds to stars and camels to Kings.
- Check out your local charity shops - many have dressing up sections, and this time of year will probably be dragging the nativity costumes out of storage to see what they can pass on.
- Put out a WANTED request in your local Freecycle or Freegle group - there's bound to be someone near you who has what you need and is prepared to gift it or loan it to you.

3. RENT

I've just spent a fruitless half hour searching the interweb for nativity costume rental. I was going to say that someone is missing a trick here and that there must be a gap in the market, but I'm guessing that sadly as they are so (relatively) cheap to buy new, it's just not viable to rent them out 🙁
Do let me know if you know of any rental places that will hire out nativity costumes, and I can amend this post.

4. MAKE

Making a costume is really not as hard work as it might seem. If you hit lucky and get shepherd, inn keeper, Joseph or King, any version of a pillowcase tunic and a curtain cloak will work a treat 😉
If that's not cutting it, check out this post here from The School Run with 8 No Sew Nativity Costumes.

5. BUY ETHICAL

Whilst searching for rental options for nativity costumes I stumbled across While Shepherds Watched - a UK based company that use Fair-trade cotton to make their costumes. Some are made in India and support local craftspeople, and some have been made in the UK by a Workers' Co-operative.

Do you still 'nativity'?
What's been your favourite homemade outfit? Or what tips have you got for avoiding the fast fashion monstrosities?
Let me know in the comments!

GET YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

HOW WE (JUST ABOUT) SURVIVED CHRISTMAS BUYING NOTHING NEW (AND HOW YOU CAN TOO)

Those of you who have been following for a while now are probably aware that my whole Sustainable(fish) journey began when I slightly randomly and naively decided that a year buying nothing new with my family would be a 'fun' thing to do.
And it was fun. On the whole. But it turned into so much more. It really forced me to confront the effects of our modern, disposable society on both people and planet. And when Christmas rolled around that year, I have to confess that it was probably the first time I'd ever really thought about the impact of all the extra 'stuff' and food on the environment, and started to question why we give presents. 

It was a real eye opener - we were about four months into our year buying nothing new (it randomly started in the September!) and I was just starting to get my head around the fact that there might be another way. A way that involved LESS, rather than more. And here I was faced with the biggest consumer festival of the year. And my mum. Who would always go a bit bonkers on the present front.
I remember them coming over for the day and unloading the car, which was crammed with presents, and then seeing this massive pile start to accumulate under the tree, and for the first time ever instead of feeling excited, my heart sank and I started to feel a little bit sick.

Whilst I wasn't able to do anything about my mum's over-consumption that year, our buying nothing new challenge meant that I had to get a bit creative with the gifts that we gave, and I'm not going to lie, it was a challenge. Made more so by the fact that I try never to do anything Christmassy before the 1st December. Oh, and I decided that we would have to make all the decorations ourselves, including the tree...
But it really, really did force me to re-evaluate all things Christmas, especially the gifts. I decided I was going to make most of the presents we gave, and time was limited (both the kids were still pre-schoolers), so I figured that if I was going to spend my precious time making gifts, they needed to be really appreciated (this turned out to be a work in progress - see later). This meant we bit the bullet and pruned our gift list as a first step, putting an end to the slightly pointless Amazon voucher swap that had somehow evolved with hubby's brothers.

Buying nothing new is a brilliant strategy if you're looking for a quick way to re-dress your relationship with consumerism. If you've fallen into the trap of buying for the sake of buying (especially gifts). It really does make you stop and think about it, partly because it's harder to find the thing you want, so you have to really, really want it! And it's one of the easiest ways to reduce the impact of your consumption on both people and planet - you save things from landfill, new resources aren't needed to make those things, and you're stepping out of being part of the demand for fast fashion/fast electronics/cheap plastic tat.

Here are some of my learnings, and some top tips if you want to have a go too.

START EARLY!

Don't do as I did and wait until the 1st December. 
If you're looking for secondhand bits, start regularly whizzing around your local charity shops to see what you can find - I've managed to pick up some great stocking fillers in the past, as well as some perfect books for family members.

REMEMBER THAT PLASTIC TAT IS STILL PLASTIC TAT

One year I was absolutely delighted to find a load of secondhand stocking fillers on my charity shop trawls, but it was only when the New Year cam round and I was faced with a load of plastic tat to find a home for/throw away that I realised that even if it's secondhand, it's still pretty much 'instant landfill'.

PRUNE YOUR LIST

If you end up buying for Aunts and Uncles, and second cousins once removed, consider having 'that conversation'. Do any of them actually need anything? Could you all go out for a day out together in the New Year, and have a proper catch up rather than spending your hard-earned money on something they probably actually don't need or want, out of some sense of obligation to give 'something'.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS

If you're going to make some of your gifts, be realistic about your skills, and the time you  have available. I made some pretty hideous gifts in hindsight, that I'm pretty sure have never seen the light of day since. And that's just as wasteful as buying something new to give that isn't used.
Since then I've come to terms with the fact that my skills with the sewing machine might need some work, and that actually baking is the way to go. I  now batch bake biscuits, or things like fudge and macaroons. They all get packaged up in old jam jars, and are generally pretty well received.

RE-USE

Re-use what you already have. This applies to:

  • Decorations
  • Trees - if you have a fake tree, please please please use it to within an inch of it's life!
  • Cards - last year's cards can be used for gift tags. If you didn't keep them, make a mental note not to ditch them this year!
  • Wrapping paper - if you're anal about how the kids open their presents (like me!) you might have been able to save some of last years paper to use again. If not, why to use newspapers or magazines - they can look really stylish when tied up with (re-usable) ribbon or yarn
BEWARE PINTEREST..! 

When I randomly decided that we would need to make a Christmas tree for our year buying nothing new (being unsure whether buying a real tree technically counted as buying something new) I took to Pinterest to search for some 'pinspiration' for upcycled trees. 
And settled on one that used green egg boxes. Can you guess which one was the Pinterest beauty, and which was our attempt to emulate it...?

RE-TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO THINK LESS IS BETTER

My childhood Christmas' were all about stacks of gifts, and somewhere along the way our society (and the retailers and advertisers) has persuaded us that more is better. That stuff = happiness. Logically, when we stop and think, we know that this isn't true, but so often when we shop (and it seems especially at Christmas) there is very little logic there - we buy 'because it's Christmas)

RE-CONNECT WITH WHAT YOU WANT CHRISTMAS TO MEAN

Earlier on in our year buying nothing new we had got the news that my mum had cancer. And as much as we all hoped against hope that it wouldn't be the last Christmas we would all get to spend together, sadly it was. I was aware that year that instead of all the gifts and the stuff that my parents had loaded up the car with, all I really wanted was some quality time with my mum - where she wasn't stressed about the gifts, and making sure it was all fair, and worrying about what to buy.
I still struggle with this one. My head knows that Christmas should be about family and friends, about people and experiences, not presents and stuff. That memories are made in the silly games, and snuggling up in front of the fire to watch a film, or dragging the kids out on a Christmas afternoon dog walk. Not in the gifts they're given that are so quickly forgotten. But it's not easy. Pushing back against a lifetime of somewhat excessive gifting. Knowing firsthand the joy and excitement as a child seeing a whole stack of presents. Resisting all the incessant messages from society and advertisers that buying the perfect gift will make for the perfect Christmas is HARD.
But take a minute to stop and think about what you want to Christmas to mean for you and your family, the messages you want to give to your kids about stuff, and the memories you want them to have.
And then start to think about what small changes you can make step by step to get there.

DON'T DO IT ALL AT ONCE

Buying nothing new at all for Christmas is possibly a little extreme. And unless you've already started will probably result in additional stress, and the odd tear or two. 
Could you pledge to source a percentage of your gifts 'preloved' or homemade this year? What would feel do-able?

A cricket ball hat I made for my brother. I cringe now eve to think about how crap it was!

SHOPPING FOR A 
SECOND-HAND CHRISTMAS

  • Charity shops - great for stocking fillers, books and Christmas jumpers
  • eBay - useful if you're searching for a specific make or thing 
  • Freecycle or Freegle - if you're on the look-out for decorations, then post a WANTED in your local group and I pretty much guarantee you success
  • Vintage fairs and shops
  • Local Facebook buy, sell and swap pages
  • Have a toy swap with friends (without the kids there!). Get together for coffee and cake, and bring the toys that your kids no longer really play with, and swap!

Christmas spiced fudge - this is way more successful than my hats...

​Could you/would you do a Buy Nothing New Christmas?
If you'd love some additional resources, idea and suggestions with clickable links for Sustainable(ish) alternatives, check out the Essential Guide to a Crap-free Christmas! 

GET YOUR 
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources
Insert Image

12 EASY IDEAS FOR A SUSTAINABLE(ISH) CHRISTMAS

Christmas - "It's the most wonderful wasteful time of the year" (feel free to sing that bit. In your head. Unless you're alone.)
I've already freaked the bejaysus out of you with my 12 Not so Fun Festive Facts, so to re-dress the balance I'm countering each of those slightly scary stats with a sustainable(ish) solution.

1. 27,000 MILES OF WRAPPING PAPER IS USED EACH YEAR IN THE UK ALONE

'Upcycle' old newspapers, magazines or maps to wrap presents in. Use some re-usable ribbon to pretty them up (ask for it back to use again 😉 ) and then make sure the paper is recycled afterwards.

2. ONLY 1% OF CONSUMER GOODS ARE STILL IN USE 6 MONTHS LATER

Don't by crap people don't need or want.
So that means NO novelty gifts for the office Secret Santa or to irritate your brother with.

3. ONE BILLION CHRISTMAS CARDS END UP IN THE BIN EACH YEAR 

Recycle them!
Avoid cards with glitter on them, and if you can buy a pack in a cardboard box rather than wrapped in plastic you get double brownie points from Santa.

4. THE AMOUNT OF WRAPPING PAPER USED TO WRAP CHRISTMAS PRESENTS IS ENOUGH TO GO AROUND THE GLOBE NINE TIMES!

Try out 'furoshiki' - it's a Japanese technique of wrapping things in fabric and tying it up cleverly. It looks great, and if you use secondhand fabric from the charity shop you're definitely on the nice list (just make sure it doesn't get thrown away - ask recipients to return it to you if you don't think they'll re-use it!)
There's a great video here from Lisa at Less Stuff.

5. THE EQUIVALENT OF 2 MILLION TURKEYS END UP IN THE BIN EACH YEAR
  • Don't buy it if you don't really like it
  • Buy the right sized bird - ask your butcher or look on the pack for the recommended number of servings if you're not sure
  • Use up leftovers: turkey sandwiches, curry, soup etc etc
  • If all else fails, freeze it to eat later in the year when people aren't quite so fed up with turkey
6. 500 TONNES OF FAIRY LIGHTS ARE THROWN AWAY EACH YEAR

Repair or recycle! 
Often it's just one bulb that needs replacing. Or the fuse in the plug.
If you can't fix them yourself, you might be lucky enough to have a Repair Cafe near you where you can take them to see if one of their volunteers can have a  go for you.
If you have no luck with the fix, they can be recycled at your local recycling centre.

7. FIVE MILLION CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS HIT THE BIN EACH YEAR
  • Don't buy it if no-one likes it
  • Just buy a small one (unless you really, really like it!) - it's quite rich so usually people only eat a small bit
  • Use up leftovers - eat it cold, or there's some great suggestions here from BBC Good Food.
8. ONE IN TEN UNWANTED CHRISTMAS PRESENTS ENDS UP IN LANDFILL

Don't buy people crap they don't need or want. (It bears repeating!)
Gift experiences (days out, cinema tickets,) or even things like babysitting vouchers. 
Anything rather than more 'stuff' for the sake of it.
(If you're struggling there's a whole list of ideas for experiences in the Crap-free Christmas course)

9. WHEN CHILDREN HAVE SO MANY PRESENTS THEY ACTUALLY STOP ENJOYING PLAYING WITH THEM

If you have a lot of kids in your family, how about a Secret Santa, so that each kids ends up with one decent present, and everyone has to spend less time and money.

10. WE WASTE AROUND 250,000 TONNES OF FOOD EACH CHRISTMAS 

Meal plan.
Yes, I know it sounds dull and grown-up. It IS dull and grown-up, but just because it's Christmas doesn't mean we get out of doing dull and grown-up things.
When you know who is going to be where and for what meals, do a quick back of the envelope meal plan and then shop accordingly.
And remember - the freezer is your friend!

11. 81 MILLION UNWANTED PRESENTS ARE RECEIVED EACH YEAR

Don't buy crap people don't need or want (are you sensing a theme here...?)
Make this the year you grab the bull by the horns and have 'that conversation' with family - the one where you suggest you all just buy for the kids (there are 'swipe files' of wording suggestions in the Crap-free Christmas course if the thought of this makes you want to curl up in a ball in the corner!)
If you feel obliged/want to buy a gift for your kids hard-working teacher, why not club together with some of the other parents to get them a voucher for afternoon tea, or even a book token.

12. THE UK GENERATES THE WEIGHT OF 3.3 MILLION EMPEROR PENGUINS IN PLASTIC WASTE EACH CHRISTMAS

Plastic-free(ish) principles still apply at Christmas.
Buy loose fruit and veg. 
Look out for cards and paper that aren't encased in plastic.
Avoid overly packaged gift sets.
Buy kids toys secondhand - my kids are quite accepting of the fact that Lego doesn't always come in a box!

Which steps will you choose to embrace this year?
If you'd love some additional resources, idea and suggestions with clickable links for Sustainable(ish) alternatives, check out the Essential Guide to a Crap-free Christmas! 

GET YOUR 
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO A CRAP FREE CHRISTMAS

This post could essentially be just three words long:

BUY. LESS. CRAP.

Because it's not rocket science is it?
If we want less crap in our Christmas, and in our lives, we simply need to buy less crap right?
Well...yes and no.

If it really was as simple as that we wouldn't need posts like this, and I've have no-one signed up to my Crap-free Christmas course.
Because buying stuff isn't as simple as the financial transaction - it's an emotional thing. And at Christmas, those emotions that we associate with 'stuff' and gifts and giving get ramped another good few notches.

I will hold my hands up and say that we don't have a perfectly crap-free Christmas.
My kids still want stuff. Even they have enough Lego to build a life sized Millennium Falcon there is apparently still the desire (and they insist the room..!) for more. Despite my fervent wishes, our kids are not immune to the lure of stuff, and bright shiny plastic crap.
And to be honest, I still have a tug of war between my heart and my head when it comes to buying them presents - In my heart I want them to be happy, to have a magical Christmas, to be so excited they might burst. In my head, yes I want them to be happy, but I logically know that that happiness shouldn't come from 'stuff' (and that if it does it will be fleeting)
So it becomes about compromise. 

And I'm guessing I'm not alone.

If you're fed up with feeling guilty about the sheer volume of stuff that somehow finds it way into your house each Christmas.
If each year you swear you're going to do it differently, but then leave it too late and it all gets too busy and stressful to do anything other than 'Christmas as usual'.
If you love the idea of less crap at Christmas, but you have no idea how to get the in-laws on board, I've got some suggestions here for how to go about it without ramping up your stress levels.

1. DON'T TRY AND DO IT ALL AT ONCE

This applies to all things Sustainable(ish) (the 'ish' is there for a reason!).
Think of any changes you make as a diet - if you crash diet and got at it hell for leather, you'll end up miserable, cranky and resenting the choices you've made.
Plus the family will think you've lost the plot and you're unlikely to be able to bring them along with you if you suddenly go all evangelical and start berating them for their choice of cracker.
Slow and steady (as dull as it sounds) wins the race.

Pick one or two things to work on first.
Go for the 'low hanging fruit' (i.e. the easiest changes!) first, and pick your battles. 


2. BE BRAVE

Be the one who makes that phone call suggesting that maybe only the kids get pressies this year.
Or that the grown-ups do a Secret Santa.
Or that you do a Secret Santa for the kids if you have lots to buy for - they get one decent present they really want, everyone saves time, stress and money.
#winning

I've got swipe files with suggestions of e-mail/conversation wording to use in the Crap-free Christmas course if you're filled with dread at even the thought of suggesting this!


3. MAKE IT EASY FOR PEOPLE

If your house is already full to bursting and you hold your head in your hands and weep when you peek into the kids bedrooms, your inside voice may well be screaming "NOTHING!!!" when you get asked by anxious relatives what the kids want this year.
Have some suggestions ready for them. 
EITHER for stuff the kids genuinely do want and you know they'll love and play with for a long time
OR for days out/experiences you can all do together - I always think National Trust membership is 'the gift that keeps on giving' for families.


4. SHOW DON'T TELL

Families are complicated beasts at the best of times, and even more so at Christmas.
As much as you might be visibly wincing as you see that Aunt Mildred has wrapped up the gifts in glittery metallic paper (a total no-no, it can't be recycled) don't berate her. 
But make sure that your gifts are wrapped up in re-usable or recyclable options - e.g. brown kraft paper, 'upcycled' newspapers, magazines or old maps, fabric wraps. And if anyone comments or asks, just have a sentence or two at the ready like "Yes, I'm really pleased with them - we've been looking at how to make our Christmas a little bit greener this year".


5. ENJOY IT!

Christmas is stressful enough for lots of people.
Do what you can.
Focus on the positive changes and the different choices you HAVE been able to make, and don't feel guilty about the things you might not have got around to. The last thing Christmas needs is more guilt attached!

Where these helpful?
How do you tackle 'crap' at Christmas?
If you can feel your blood pressure rising already, check out The
Essential Guide to a Crap-free Christmas below for all the resources you need at your fingertips!

GET YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

12 NOT SO FUN FESTIVE FACTS

Christmas is coming - there's no escape!
We're on the downhill slope to the biggest consumer festival of the year, and I think it's about time for a sanity check.

We all want to create magical memories for our kids, but in the process of doing that we're building an appalling legacy for them - plastic clogged oceans, over-flowing landfill sites, and potentially a climate and landscape that may well be pretty much uninhabitable. 

Check out these 'not so fun festive facts' that reveal just how wasteful and damaging our festive consumption can be:

1. 27,000 MILES OF WRAPPING PAPER IS USED EACH YEAR IN THE UK ALONE

And much of it ends up in landfill.
Metallic paper and paper with glitter on can't be recycled and mess up the waste streams. Do the 'scrunch test' - scrunch a piece of wrapping paper into a ball - if it stays in a ball it can be recycled.

2. ONLY 1% OF CONSUMER GOODS ARE STILL IN USE 6 MONTHS LATER

This is a crazy reflection of the sheer speed with which we buy, upgrade or discard and then move onto the next shiny new 'must have'.

3. ONE BILLION CHRISTMAS CARDS END UP IN THE BIN EACH YEAR 

When they could be recycled. Most supermarkets have a Christmas card recycling bin available in the New Year, so no excuses!

4. THE AMOUNT OF WRAPPING PAPER USED TO WRAP CHRISTMAS PRESENTS IS ENOUGH TO GO AROUND THE GLOBE NINE TIMES!

'Upcycle' old newspapers or magazines which can then be recycled 🙂

5. THE EQUIVALENT OF 2 MILLION TURKEYS END UP IN THE BIN EACH YEAR

That's the leftovers that don't get eaten when everyone is fed up of turkey.
If you're going to eat meat (and we do) at least ensure that you honour the animal by making sure none it goes to waste.

6. 500 TONNES OF FAIRY LIGHTS ARE THROWN AWAY EACH YEAR

Repair or recycle! 
Fairy lights can be recycled at your local recycling centre.

7. FIVE MILLION CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS HIT THE BIN EACH YEAR

And that's before we even add in the plastic waste that comes with shop bought Christmas puddings.

8. ONE IN TEN UNWANTED CHRISTMAS PRESENTS ENDS UP IN LANDFILL

This makes me hold my head in my hands and weep - a complete waste of money, resources, and the efforts of the people sweating away in god-forsaken factories somewhere far away to make these things.

9. WHEN CHILDREN HAVE SO MANY PRESENTS THEY ACTUALLY STOP ENJOYING PLAYING WITH THEM

When did it become ok to teach our kids that more is better, than excessive consumption is not only good, but to be encouraged at Christmas?

10. WE WASTE AROUND 250,000 TONNES OF FOOD EACH CHRISTMAS 

That's the weight of the Empire State Building or 100,000 elephants!

11. 81 MILLION UNWANTED PRESENTS ARE RECEIVED EACH YEAR

Working out at an average of 3 per UK household

12. THE UK GENERATES THE WEIGHT OF 3.3 MILLION EMPEROR PENGUINS IN PLASTIC WASTE EACH CHRISTMAS

I love the 'penguin-ification' of this stat, but all that plastic will be sitting in landfill for the next 500+years - this isn't the legacy of a magical Christmas that I want for my kids.

Do you despair at the waste at Christmas?

GET YOUR
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO A

 CRAP-FREE CHRISTMAS!

Crap Free Christmas

Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:

  • Advent Calendars & Christmas Cards  
  • Food & Nibbles
  • Gifts, Alternatives & Tricky Conversations
  • Festive Family Guilt

Let's take out the plastic and waste from Christmas

  • Grab your copy now!
  • Instant download
  • check
    Stacks of ideas, suggestions and clickable resources

PLASTIC-FREE(ISH) PARTY BAGS

Party bags.
OMG. Is there a parent alive who actually likes them?
They are an additional source of stress and expense for kids parties, and whenever I speak to any fellow parents about them, I get them same rolled eyes and pained expressions.
But the kids LOVE them.
I have no idea why a piece of cake, a balloon and a handful of plastic tat that breaks within 3 minutes is so exciting, but apparently it is - I'm embarrassed to say that my youngest seems to think that they are the most important part of any party.

One option is obviously to take a stand and simply not do them. 
And if I was braver I would love to do this. But my youngest simply cannot compute having a party, and not having party bags. So I've had to get inventive, dare I say even creative, with our party bags to avoid buying and giving out 'instant landfill'.
Here are some ideas for plastic-free(ish) party bags:

The bags themselves

- Good old paper bags are a great option
You can buy recycled paper ones here online from Eco-craft - the plain ones are a great idea as you can get the kids to decorate them, which depending on whether you have boys or girls at the party will take anything from 30 seconds to 45 minutes. All of which time they are seated and not marauding around destroying things.

- Make your own paper bags
If you're feeling crafty and have time on your hands (if you do, please can you come and organise my kids parties for me) you can make bags from newspapers or magazines - there's a tutorial here.

- Make your own fabric bags from old t-shirts or pillowcases
If you're a whiz with the sewing machine, this might be an option for you!
T-shirts are super easy to make bags out of - turn it inside out and sew up the bottom of the t-shirt, enlarge the neck hole and chop off the sleeves, turn it the right way round again and you're done!

Image from Life with Crazy Rachel

Edibles

Some ideas:

- Cup cakes, or a piece of cake wrapped in a good old paper napkin, greaseproof paper or foil (avoid clingfilm!)

- Number shaped biscuits - I use this shortbread recipe here and number cutters for the appropriate number for the age of the birthday boy/girl and pop a couple in the bag

- Chocolate buttons - these go down a storm.
Melt a couple of bars of fair-trade chocolate and then use a teaspoon to smoosh giant buttons onto a lined baking tray. Decorate with sprinkles and leave to set.
You could either do little jam jars of these in lieu of a party bag, or pop some into a small paper bag inside the main party bag.

- Chocolate coins or chocolate eggs - if you remember at Christmas/Easter time stock up on foil wrapped Christmas coins and eggs!

- Pick 'n' mix - who wouldn't love a bag of pick 'n' mix - my kids would have to wrestle me for it. Just don't put it in those plastic cones!

Gifts

- Books
This one will earn you brownie points with the party go-ers parents, but maybe some less enthusiastic from the kids..!
The Book People often do packs of books where the individual books work out at less than £1 each, so this can be quite an inexpensive option. 
Either gift on their own, or as part of a party bag if you're feeling very generous.

- Seeds
A pack of something like sunflower seeds can work well if you have a spring/summer party. Have a competition afterwards to see you can grow the tallest sunflower.
Or cress seeds to make a cress head can also be quite fun.

- Colouring pencils
Kids can seemingly never have enough colouring pencils. Or at least mine can't.
Check out these ones here made from actual twigs - they're fab!

- Recycled crayons
If you have a stash of crayons that have seen better days, break them all up and melt the in silicone ice cube trays in a very low oven. We did this once with a lego brick mould and they were fab!

- Colouring books

- If you really want to get little eco-warriors excited about all things plastic-free, then their very own metal straw might go down well!

If you just want someone else to do it for you

If you don't have the time/energy to spend devoting your life to plastic-free(ish) party bags, then here are some 'done for you' links:

- Plastic Free Party Bags - does what it says on the tin! There's the option of buying pre-filled bags, or just buying the gifts to fill your own.

- Not on the High Street has an option to select 'eco-friendly' when you search for party bag fillers.

- Ethical Kidz has some nice plastic-free things to put in party bags 

plasticfreepartybags.com

Avoid...

- Balloons
Sorry to be a party pooper but balloons are a no-no, whether they're 'biodegradable' or not.
If they break free and fly off when they come down they are a risk to wildlife. And even if they don't, they will spend years sitting in landfill before they even start to degrade.

- Plastic cones 
I mentioned this one earlier, but these things make me wince - plastic cones filled with sweets and then tied off with plastic ribbon.
Get a good old fashioned paper bag!

- Instant landfill
Think twice before doing a minesweep of your local Pound Shop or the 'tat' section of the toy shop. These toys break within minutes and there is nothing that can be done with them other than put them in the bin. Plus you will be making kids cry when they break. 

- Slime
This is such a 'thing' right now and I know kids love nothing more than a pot of slime, but most commercially available pots are just stretchy slimy blobs of plastic 🙁

- Glitter
God I am the totally the fun police in this post.
Glitter is essentially a micro-plastic and when you can finally get it off your hands/face/every conceivable surface of your home and even some inconceivable places, it gets washed down the sink and passes straight though the filtration systems and on out into our waterways.
If you just can't face the tantrums, then there are eco-friendly glitters available.

Do you do party bags?
Was this helpful?
Do let me know in the comments!

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Easy swaps, ideas and tips to help you get started on your plastic-free (ish) journey in achievable bite sized steps.

HOW TO CUT YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT TODAY

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the key to avoiding catastrophic 'climate breakdown' is limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C rather than the previously widely talked about 2C, but the consensus is that we need to act fast, we need to act NOW and we need to take action at every level.

Whenever I see articles on climate change in the press my inclination is to look away. 
It's too scary, too overwhelming to be forced to confront the colossal f*ck up we are making of the planet, and to think about the kind of future our kids and grandkids might be facing. Add to that the helplessness I feel when I watch the world's leaders and governments essentially fiddling while Rome burns, spending vast amounts on Brexit negotiations and the like whilst ignoring the most pressing problem of our time.

As individuals it can be easy to feel helpless and hopeless and to then simply carry on as we were before because there seems to be very little point in creating change at an individual or family level - after all, surely we need governments to make changes of the kind of size needed to even start to make a difference.
Well, yes. And no.

We have a choice.
Either to stand by helplessly and watch the planet burn up and become increasingly inhospitable, wringing our hands and waiting for government and big business to take action.
Or we step into our individual power to create change. 
To cut OUR carbon footprint, knowing that these small individual actions collectively add up to reduce the global carbon footprint. 
To put pressure on those in positions of power and influence to let them know that is important. Vitally important. That we care desperately about this, and that we will be using our vote and our voice to elect into power those that are taking this huge challenge seriously, and putting the needs of people and planet above any financial incentives or profits.

And it doesn't have to mean hair shirts and deprivation.
We can ALL make a difference.

Here's 6 ways:

1. Switch your energy supplier

I say this again and again, but it really is probably THE most powerful thing you can do to cut not only your own carbon footprint, but to reduce global emissions too.

It works twofold:
- The energy that your house is using is added into the grid via renewable resources - wind and solar being the most common here in the UK
- It creates a demand for more renewable energy, which helps new technologies to come on board quicker, and means that the price can keep coming down

If you're in the UK try Ecotricity or Good Energy, and check out this podcast here with one of the energy bods at Good Energy to hear more about why renewable energy is such a no-brainer.

2. Eat less meat

I really don't want to go into the whole vegan debate here so I won't - but the key message is to eat less meat, especially beef.
The mantra of 'buy less, buy better' really does apply here. So not only buy less meat, but when you do buy it, support your local farmer and go for meat that has been reared as 'unintensively' as possible.

Meat free Monday is a great campaign aiming to get everyone to have at least one meat free day a week, and the website is packed with recipes and ideas to help you to achieve this.
And this post here has more ideas for how to eat more sustainably.

3. Buy less, buy better

I mentioned this in the section above with regards to buying meat, but it applies to everything - food, clothes, electronics, toys, 'stuff'....

Most of our homes are overflowing with 'stuff', to the extent that there are now professional declutterers who make a living helping us to escape from under the piles of it.

Before you buy, stop and think for a minute about:
- Whether you really need something, or if you just want it
- If you just want it, how much do you want it? Wait for a week and see if you still really want it, or if you've forgotten about it.
- How long will it last? In the case of clothes, buying good quality 'classics' that will always be in fashion is an easy way to avoid being sucked into the cycle of fast fashion.
- Is this something you want to keep in your life for at least the next 5 or 10 years? Will you love it and look after it?
- What will you do with it when you no longer want it? Will anyone else want it?

4. Walk or cycle for short journeys

I'm not asking you to give up your car.
But thinking more carefully about how you use your car can have a big impact on your carbon footprint. 
For journeys under 2 miles, could you walk or cycle instead? Or get the bus?
When you next replace your car, take a look at electric ones - they are coming down in price all the time.

5. Speak up - make your voice heard

Make your voice heard.
Whether that's casting your vote with the money you spend, or actually physically speaking up and letting both businesses and governments know the kind of future that you want.
Vote with your money. Vote with your tweets. Vote with your letters of frustration.
Let people know that this matters to you. That this is important. That you care.

Because this does matter. This is important. We all care.
And we need to act NOW before it's too late and we're left having to try and answer our kids when they ask "why didn't you do more?"

6. Remember...

I hope this helps.
I hope you know just how powerful you are.
And just how important it is that you step into that power and act now. Before it's too late.
Know that you are not alone - we're in this together, and we've got this.

FEELING INSPIRED TO
TAKE MORE SUSTAINABLE(ISH) STEPS?

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SHOPPING PLASTIC-FREE(ISH) AT THE SUPERMARKET

I love the idea of plastic-free shopping.
It looks blissful from what I see on social media - beautiful young hipsters wafting through their local zero waste store with their mason jars and cotton bags at the ready.
There's not a child, or a queue, or a single piece of plastic in sight. 
I want me a piece of that.

But sadly, I am not a beautiful young hipster. My default setting is 'rush' rather than 'waft'. And even if I did waft I don't have a local zero waste store to waft around.
So what are the rest of us to do if we want to reduce plastic when we're doing our weekly trawl round the supermarket, with or without whining children in tow?

Here's 9 ways to shop plastic-free(ish) at your local supermarket:

1. Buy loose fruit and veg

Go for the loose fruit and veg wherever you can and take your own re-usable bags.
Onya do a great set of really thin mesh bags, or if you're a whiz with the sewing machine you can knock some up from something like an old net curtain.
If all else fails, use the plastic bags they have at the supermarket, but re-use them again and again until they fall apart.

2. Take your tupperware

Take your tupperware to the deli counter for things like meat and cheese. 
Morrisons have now made it policy to accept these, and I think Tesco are also introducing it, so I promise you it won't be as scary as you might think!

If you're into beautiful zero waste stuff you can get some gorgeous metal tiffin boxes, or if you're like the rest of us you can wrestle with your mess of a tupperware drawer to find the lid that fits the box.

3. Use the bakery

If your local supermarket has an in-store bakery, use it!
Take re-usable bags (old pillowcases work well) and use them for bread, rolls, pastries etc.

If you've got the time and you enjoy baking, how about making your own? Either by hand or using a bread machine - flour is almost inevitably in a paper bag, so that's a winner.

Last resort - re-use the plastic bags that your bread comes in for packed lunches and sandwiches etc.

4. Go for butter

Ditch the plastic tubs of margarine and go back to butter.
If you can find butter in foil packs, you should be able to peel the foil and the greaseproof paper apart and recycle both separately. Simply chuck your empty butter wrapper into the washing up bowl after doing it and leave it to soak until the two layers magically float apart.

5. Look for paper

Look for the things that you can find easily in paper - you might be surprised just how many there are!
Flour, sugar (caster sugar, granulated sugar, and icing sugar) and porridge oats can all be found relatively painlessly in paper bags.


Biscuits are always going to be a struggle - but if you can buy the ingredients (flour, sugar, butter) plastic-free then this recipe here is super quick and super reliable!

6. Look for cardboard

Sometimes there are alternatives in cardboard rather than plastic that you just don't notice as you're so 'in the zone' and just grabbing your usual brand.
Lots of washing powders are now available in cardboard boxes - how about trying one of them instead of your usual liquid?
Several of the major supermarkets also do dishwashing powder in a box, so it's worth looking.

Pasta is a BIG staple in our house - Barilla pasta is available in a cardboard box with just a small plastic window and you should be able to find it in some of the larger supermarkets.
Waitrose do a gluten-free pasta that is available in a box made from food waste - more of this please supermarkets!
Rice is another one that can sometimes be found in cardboard boxes - just be sure to do the squidge test (see below).

7. Do the 'squidge test'

Sometimes you can buy a product in paper or cardboard, full of excitement and the very best of intentions, only to get home and find there is a sneaky plastic bag inside.
To try and avoid this, do the 'squidge test' - simply hold said product up to your ear and give it a gentle squidge, listening out for the tell-tale crackle of plastic inside (ignore any strange looks you might get from fellow shoppers - superman didn't care about wearing his pants outside his trousers, we can't let looking a few strange looks stop us on our mission...)

8. Go large

If you can't find a plastic-free solution that suits you and the family, buy the largest size that you can. 
We get the big share packs of crisps and then scoff the lot portion them out into plastic bags that we re-use for lunch boxes. And do the same for yoghurts too - get the 500ml pots and scoop it into little tupperware pots for the kids to have at school.
Totally not a perfectly plastic-free solution, but plastic-free(ish) and it keeps the kids vaguely happy, so it's a win in my book.

9. The sweet stuff

If you have a sweet tooth like me my kids you'll be pleased to know you can still get your sugar fix plastic-free.
Most of the supermarket own brand bars of chocolate come in paper and foil, and work out way cheaper per 100g than the plastic bags of chocolates. Brands like Divine are also a pretty good bet (and very yummy and ethical too).

When it comes to the pure sugar rush of sweets, think pick 'n' mix if you still have a good old fashioned sweet shop or newsagents near you. An alternative that I was perhaps a little over-excited to discover over the summer was 1kg tubs (oh yes!) of Haribo in Morrisons - I won't tell you how long 2 tubs lasted us...

What have I missed?
What are your top tips for shopping plastic-free(ish) at the supermarket?Do let me know in the comments!

FEELING INSPIRED TO
TAKE ACTION ON PLASTIC?

Get the Esse​​​​ntial Guide to a Plastic-​Free (ish) Home.
Easy swaps, ideas and tips to help you get started on your plastic-free (ish) journey in achievable bite sized steps.

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