Saturday, 18 January 2020

We’re dreaming of a green Christmas

We’re dreaming of a green Christmas

BRITONS are expected to splash £4.8 billion this Christmas, almost four per cent more than last year. But how much of that will be spent on presents and packaging, particularly plastic, that will soon go to waste? AXEL FITHEN spoke to six women from the Henley area not caught up in the spending splurge and who instead plan to enjoy a “greener” Christmas.

JULIA CAREY, 41, a jeweller, lives in Reading Road, Henley, with her husband Paul, an entrepreneur and former music business executive, and their three children, Phoebe, six, Charles, four, and 11-month-old Louise. She campaigns to reduce plastic waste and co-founded the Henley Refill campaign, which encourage businesses to welcome people wanting to top up their water bottles.

“We really can cut down on our rubbish. When we buy Christmas presents we generally get a whole lot of rubbish which the children don’t play with.

“I worry when I think about all these houses filled with toys and what happens to them when the children stop using them and all the stuff that we buy for a pound and discard.

“And just think about what’s happening to all the millions of these gifts which haven’t been sold and are just sitting there. I think it’s crazy.

“We are not thinking about the consequences. It’s easy not to consider them but it seems to me that they’re important right now.

“I believe in climate change and from my perspective it’s important for us all to do our bit. At the end of the day, we are contributing to the destruction of our earth.

“I would like my grandchildren to look at me and think at least we did our bit. The children are watching us and we want to be a good example to them.

“Buying fewer gifts is more difficult with the children, I have to be honest. There’s too much pressure on people and that leads to a huge negative impact on the environment. It puts monetary pressure on families as well.

“Look for the wooden toys, or, again, second-hand ones. Think about longevity before you buy. What I really enjoy buying is old books. They always look so beautiful. Things like that are priceless. The pressure is out there because at Christmas everyone is exposed to advertising. We have to be pretty disciplined to be immune to it.

“It would be really nice if there was some kind of promise made within families to at least have a maximum spend so people are forced into looking at alternatives.

“It’s not very realistic, I know, because people do not have time or the inclination but taking the time to look and saving money is good.

“I think we do need to buy fewer presents. It would be so nice if everyone just had one and the whole day was centred on the amazing meal.

“I just enjoy the whole process of coming together as a family and doing things in the old-fashioned way.

“Christmas is not about opening presents and then going off individually to enjoy the gifts. It’s about coming together and really connecting with our family, which can be difficult.

“In our family the adults are only giving each other one gift this year. We want to try to connect to the spirit of Christmas, which our crazy consumerism has taken away.

“We are happy that we are able to enjoy it together.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Decorate your tree with holly and berries.

Used recyclable coloured paper chains instead of tinsel.

Make your own crackers.

“Think about making gifts instead of buying something new.

“Decorate a picture frame with shells, write a poem for a loved one, put a hamper of food items together avoiding plastics or make your own chocolates and put them in a decorated homemade box. There are so many fun ideas.

“Christmas is a time of year when we put extra effort into making thoughtful gifts for people we love.

“Time put into making things is far more thoughtful than buying something new online using Amazon.”

Visit second-hand and antiques shops to find gifts.

“You can find real gems at second-hand shops. The monthly Sue Ryder sales are another good place. They’re so amazing. You can buy really beautiful things for a fiver.

“Antique doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. For example, a pretty china cup and saucer with some homemade chocolates inside neatly wrapped in newspaper or brown paper and string could be a memorable and beautiful gift which needs zero plastic.

“There are some wonderful antique shops in Henley, which are perfect for finding that special plastic-free gift for someone you love.

“It’s so important for us to shop locally and it’s lovely when you visit the artisan shops like the Creative Duck. Handmade products are great because they’ve had a lot of thought put into them.”

ANNE-MARIE EVANS lives in Caversham with her husband Treve and has three grown-up children. She runs Frangipani Home in Church Street, Caversham. She started Plastic Free Caversham and hopes to help the area achieve plastic-free accreditation with the marine conservation charity and campaign group Surfers Against Sewage.

“We have to move away from Christmas consumerism because we are in a crisis.

“We can’t have a situation of perpetual growth where gifts are continually manufactured because they are damaging the environment and animal life.

“We don’t need these products. We can live without them.

“Christmas should be about spending time with our loved ones. Spending time with each other and playing games is much better than the pressure to spend, spend, spend.

“The sustainability of the high street is a concern — we should support our local shops so they don’t go out of business.

“Christmas markets are another great place to shop for handmade and hand-crafted gifts. They make such nice presents.

“I do not want to nanny people because we all like buying new things. What I would like to emphasise is to buy local, ethical and sustainable items.

“Obviously Christmas is the worst time of the year for plastic usage. There are lots of plastic decorations and all the toys are wrapped in plastic.

“We are encouraging people to buy good quality second-hand goods and handmade products because I think it’s nice that someone has taken the time and made the effort at Christmas. The time has come when we really have to stop buying cheap novelty gifts made in places where there may be dubious or unethical trading standards.

“It’s definitely time we moved away from that because a lot of it just goes straight into landfill.

“It’s not just about convenience but taking time and putting effort, thought and love into something special that someone likes. It can be simple.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Reuse wrapping paper by not tearing it and try to avoid using

“A lot of wrapping is plastic. Eco-friendly brown paper is a way around using non-recyclable wrapping paper.”

Make your own Christmas decorations instead of buying plastic ones.

Make gifts of food. “When you put love and thought into it, it makes it more special.”

Shop local and support artisans.

Make a reverse Advent calendar.

“Instead of throwing away old, unwanted items, put together a box full of items, festive or not, in order to give back to those who are less fortunate.

“Just add one item to a box each day and at the end of the month you will be able to donate this box to a charity and make someone else’s Christmas special.”

Use less plastic.

“Those much-loved chocolate tins (Celebrations, Quality Street etc) are found in most people’s homes at his time of year.

“The chocolate are clearly tasty but they’re also wrapped in unrecyclable plastic. So why not try making your own chocolate treats to share with the family?

“Also Christmas biscuits are an easy win with everyone and there are so many recipes online to choose from.”

Rethink your tree.

“When it comes to Christmas trees, there’s an argument over whether it’s better to buy a fake tree and re-use it or buy a real tree each year. Neither is ideal but there are two other options which are rarely mentioned.

“The first is to rent a tree for the Christmas period, then it’s collected and replanted in the soil to be used again next year.

“The second is to make your Christmas tree by upcycling some materials. There are so many wonderful ways this can be done. It is also a great alternative if you’re short on space at home.

“Make a Christmas tree from empty beer bottles or decorate a wooden ladder with tinsel and lights.

“A decorated pile of books can also be made to look like a tree.”

Make your own Secret Santa present.

“If you’re struggling for an idea for a present for someone, why not buy them an experience instead like an indoor skydiving lesson or a ticket to see their favourite show or comedian.”

Buy from charity shops.

“Buy as many items as possible in the shops because you will be supporting high street businesses and reducing your carbon footprint as the things you buy won’t need to be delivered to your door.

“If you’re looking for a sustainable gift for someone, why not buy them a bee bar from Waterstones — it’s full of seeds for bee-friendly flowers.

“They’ll thank you and so will the bees.”

If you do shop online...

“When you do buy online, particularly with Amazon, make sure to select the delivery date where all or most of your items can be delivered in one go.

“This might take a little longer but will be much better for your carbon footprint than having all items delivered on different

“It will also reduce the number of boxes required for packaging.”

Buy plastic-free crackers or make your own.

Buy produce from the True Food Community Co-op in Emmer Green.

It uses minimal packaging and encourages people to bring their own containers to stock up on goods.

Use beeswax wrap instead of clingfilm.

Don’t buy your grandparents something they don’t want. Organise an activity with them instead.

If you’re organising an event, serve mulled wine in a reusable cup.

LYNDSAY HENDERSON, 39, a chartered accountant, lives in Wood Lane, Sonning Common, with her husband Karl and sons Jack, six, and Charlie, four. She established environmental campaign group Eco SoCo and persuaded Sonning Common Parish Council to form a working party with the purpose of making the village plastic-free.

“It has become the norm to consume lots but I definitely think less means more.

“That was a real revelation for me because I’ve been quite an avid consumer.

“I have been having a big sort out over the last few weeks and discovered the huge amount of stuff in my house that’s not used.

“I found toys that the kids have been given and not played with because they have too many other things.

“People could have a look at what they have already and what they could release.

“I’m in a very fortunate position because I have got a lot of stuff — I’m very conscious of that. I have got a lot of stuff that we do not need, which focuses the mind.

“If people are having a clear out, use Freegle [an exchange app] — it’s absolutely brilliant.

“We have had a little discussion in our Eco SoCo group about how to minimise waste when you take part in a Secret Santa.

“Two of my friends and I are going to be giving away books that we have read. Obviously a book is read many, many times.

“We have had some ideas about making jams and chutneys or giving away vouchers.

“Another good idea is donating to a food bank instead.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Make gifts for the family.

“I’m making a green bobble hat for my father-in-law.”

Experiences make good presents.

“I’m taking the family to watch Cinderella in Reading on Christmas Eve.”

Shop in moderation.

“It’s trying to have a bit less stuff and not buying things that people don’t want.

“It’s tricky with the kids because we’ve all been brought up to have lots of things but we are now realising that it’s not great to get stuff and only use it twice. Things are valued more if you have fewer.

“We also enjoy receiving presents that have had a lot of thought put into them.

“We shouldn’t try to exclude everything new. It’s about balance and not buying stuff that’s unnecessary.

“When you are getting gifts for people, ask yourself if you can make something or give an experience instead.”

DR JENNI DREVER-HEAPS, 33, lives in Curzon Street, Reading, and is married to Joe Buckley, 39. She has a PhD in food and nutritional sciences. She launched her business, the Sustainable Way, in October. She sells handmade soaps and items such as beeswax food wraps in Caversham and Reading and says more people have shown interest in them in the run-up to Christmas — what she calls the “Blue Planet effect”.

“The environment has definitely made its way into our social conscience.

“A big factor is all the reports saying we basically have only another 12 years to deal with climate change. A lot of my clientele are young mums that are really worried about their children’s futures.

“I do think people are starting to realise that they do not necessarily want to live in such a purely capitalist way. 

“I have noticed that people are starting to think more local and make more thoughtful choices than just going off into town and buying whatever. 

“The last five or six years we have been veering away from that kind of obsessive buying.

“My family has decided to just give thoughtful presents or to charity on behalf of each other.

“However, I do wonder if I live in a little bit of an echo chamber. Maybe the changing attitudes might not be as universal as I think.

“I’m very aware of mass consumerism and it’s difficult because the way people measure our economy is always in terms of how the big businesses are doing. 

“I think people are actually starting to sit back and think, ‘I don’t want my life to be driven by these big companies that I have nothing to do with’. 

“People are becoming a lot more personally considerate and definitely more aware of the waste they are producing and a lot are making more ethical choices. 

“I feel good about it because I’m really passionate about the environment. I went from a very well-paid job doing post-doctoral research to setting up my own business, which is hard.

“I feel good that I’m doing something that fits with my moral compass.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Look for products stored in eco-friendly containers. Vegan make-up can now be bought in bamboo containers.

“There’s a lot of really great plastic-free alternatives to things that a lot of people use every day.”

Buy socks made from bamboo fibre instead of nylon and polyester, which can be found at TK Maxx.

TAMALIA REEVES, 37, from Caversham, runs MADEbyTamalia, an arts and craft and lifestyle studio in Marsack Street, Caversham. She has been selling her products, such as handmade coasters, pots, dishes and jewellery, at the Creative Duck pop-up shop in Duke Street, Henley.

“There’s been quite a lot of demand for locally made and sourced artists. I have just had to restock because the sales have been fantastic.

“Shopping in this way helps to reduce our carbon footprint.

“I think people are realising that they don’t necessarily need to buy cheap ceramics that have been mass-produced.

“There’s a real appetite for products which aren’t also covered in single-use plastic.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Look for products with less plastic.

“It’s about being more conscious of what we are buying and where we are buying it from — buying things wrapped in huge amounts of plastic is not necessary. You could even think about the food that you are buying and looking at how that has been wrapped.

“It’s about being very mindful of what we are buying, its life cycle and whether it’s actually necessary to buy it. Instead look for quality and something that’s made to last — preferably local.”

SUZ WILLIAMS, 37, is a care worker from Woodcote. She is in her second year of a three-year coppicing apprenticeship run by the Small Woods Association. She has made split hazel baskets and besoms from the wood she collects. A big basket can take two or three days to make.

“When you coppice something, it’s good for the environment. I think products like mine are coming into their own as people are becoming more aware of the damage plastic is doing.

“A lot of people my age are looking for an alternative lifestyle and this is one way to create a sustainable livelihood but also play in the woods. It’s a win, win really.

“I think people are really interested in buying local products now. Charity shops can be good places to find presents.”

How to have a greener Christmas

Consider three things when buying gifts — is it sustainable, local and ethical?

“Think about how you can have more of a plastic-free Christmas. Where could you buy local products that are loose and not wrapped in lots of plastic packaging?”

“Spend time with your family rather than spending money on them.

“We have an opportunity to re-evaluate what Christmas is really about. Although I’m not religious, I think it’s a time to spend with family, to play games, be silly and enjoy nice food together.”

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email

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