All I want for Christmas is… Sustainability!
Christmas, and the first thing that comes to mind is celebrations, family, food, presents, and decorating. But just how much does our ‘festive spirit’ affect the environment? As we think of the ‘perfect’ Christmas, that ‘unique’ present, let’s stop and think just how ‘eco-friendly’ it actually is.
Following this year’s COP26, we should all be aware of how important it is to make every effort to be more sustainable. Small changes can make all the difference in reducing our environmental footprint, especially over Christmas, when the potential for wasting, over consumption and mass shopping is at its peak.
First things first, what does "eco-friendly" really mean? Words like "environmentally-friendly," "green" and "earth-friendly" are heard a lot. I personally prefer the word "sustainable", meaning there is at least one way that the product benefits the environment in the long run. The most common definition of sustainability comes from the 1987 Brundtland Commission report for the United Nations where sustainability is defined as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Keeping this in mind and the festive season that is approaching, I will be sharing some realistic, easy to follow ideas on how to make this coming Christmas with our children a more sustainable and eco- friendly one.
❖ Christmas tree
Needless to say, the Christmas tree is one of the highlights of Christmas. Have you ever thought about what an artificial Christmas tree is made of or where it actually comes from in order to reach your local shop? Well, this year, instead of buying a new Christmas tree you could instead buy a real tree that is available through the forestry department in all areas of Cyprus. To clarify, these trees come from forests where trees are cut down due to dilutions of the forest plantation according to frameworks that aim to improve the growth conditions and reduce the over growth of trees. For more information on how and where to pick up a tree this Christmas, please contact the following departments directly.
● Athalassa Forest Station,
● Larnaca Forest Station (Faneromeni 60),
● Fasouri Forest Nursery,
● Geroskipou Forest Office,
● Gialia Forest Station
● Platanias Forest Station
Once Christmas is over you may be wondering where you should dispose of the tree. Ask your local municipality about drop-off points in your area, where your old tree will be recycled into chippings for local parks and woodland areas. Alternatively, take it to your local recycling plant where you can add it to the other green waste or chop it up and stack the wood in your garden to create a habitat for birds and bugs.
❖ Wrapping - Use recycled paper or fabric for wrapping up your presents
When it to comes to wrapping paper one would think it’s easy to recycle as its just paper, right? Wrong! What many of us don't realise is that many wrapping paper rolls contain non-recyclable elements like foil, glitter or plastic! There is a way to find out what kind of paper you own by using the scrunch test. If you want to know if your wrapping paper can be recycled or not, use this method to find out. Take a piece of wrapping paper, scrunch it in your hands and then let it go. If the paper stays scrunched up then it can be recycled but, if it unfolds, then it likely contains non-recyclable elements. This is the kind of wrapping paper to avoid.
As an alternative you can opt for recycled wrapping paper found at your local bookshop or you can create your own with the children at home by using plain recycled paper as shown in the picture below. Decorate your paper with different kinds of designs, stamps, decorations by using homemade paints, glue on dried leaves, flowers etc. Another option is old fabrics. Fabrics are not only eco-friendly but they can also be reused several times and also give your presents a nice stylish look. Bring out those old clothes you don’t need anymore and get creative with the children.
❖ Christmas Cards
Even though some may think sending Christmas cards is a tradition that belongs in the past, some of us still like to keep this heart-warming tradition and continue sending them to friends and family around the world. Christmas cards are also a great idea when handing out Christmas gifts to our loved ones. Therefore, how about if this year we extend our season’s greetings by sending out forest friendly or plantable Christmas cards that way ensuring we are not costing the planet any further weight.
Plantable cards are fairly new and are cards made out of plantable, recycled, biodegradable paper which usually have native grass or wildflower seeds embedded in them. There is a variety of options to choose from such as herbs, carrots, strawberries and so on. Once the Christmas season is finished, instead of storing the cards or even throwing them out, all you have to do is put the cards in soil and voila! The seeds will start to grow into beautiful flowers, herbs or vegetables. What better way to look at a beautiful pot of flowers and remember those special wishes?
If you still opt for normal Christmas cards be mindful when buying them and look out for cards with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark. This ensures that the cards you are buying come from sustainable and ethically produced paper.
Whatever your final choice, please remember that both types of cards can then be recycled or disposed of in your compost!
❖ Christmas crackers
Everyone, especially children, anticipate Christmas crackers on Christmas day. This year consider buying Eco-friendly Christmas crackers that are made from biodegradable recycled materials. Most of these crackers also allow you to add your own personalised gifts therefore avoiding those unwanted plastic gifts that are usually found in crackers. Additionally, if you are feeling creative, you can make your own Christmas crackers by using leftover cardboard tubes (toilet roll or kitchen roll holders work best). You can once again choose a variety of personalised gifts to be added in your crackers. Once you have decided what goes in your crackers you can then use leftover wrapping paper or fabric to seal them shut. As an alternative you could change them up a bit and instead of gifts add questions or quizzes to each cracker and make up a special family game day.
❖ Advent calendar
Many parents (including myself!), are guilty of buying advent calendars for our children. Who doesn’t enjoy watching the joy of children as they open their advent calendars day after day to see what is included in every day’s ‘secret’ compartment. However, at what cost for the environment? From my personal experience, there are many types of advent calendars fillers ranging from chocolates to well-known plastic toy figures. Let’s take a minute to think of what an advent calendar is actually made of. Paper, plastic and foil – and lots of it! Yes, all three can be recycled but keeping in mind the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we can see that recycling is the very last option.
So, what can we do instead? There is a wide selection of reusable advent calendars that can be found in all local shops. What’s best is that similar to the Christmas crackers, you can once again add your own personalised daily gifts for each day’s surprise. Following your child, you can create their very own personalised calendar based on his/her interests. Some examples to consider are homemade truffles (which you can make together!), flower seeds to plant each day, craft material to make Christmas decorations and so on. If you have more than one child you could have a variety of calendars with different games and activities the children could do together. The choices are endless!
If you would like to get creative you could also create your very own advent calendar by upcycling material found at home. Similarly, to the Christmas crackers, Kitchen and toilet roll holders are the most popular material to use. When making your own advent calendars considering that Christmas is all about giving, how about if this year we skip unneeded gifts and replace them with an eco-friendly list of tasks? Please see below two examples of what tasks can be used and work together with the children to help develop their sense of empathy and companionship.
❖ Christmas lights and decorations
Who doesn’t like gazing at the Christmas lights? Unfortunately, Christmas lights come at a cost, that of, energy consumption. Keeping in mind eco-friendly Christmas decorations it is best to opt for LED lights as they use up to 80% less energy. You could also choose solar-powered lights for outdoors and have both sets on timers ensuring that you are not wasting unneeded energy.
Usually the best decorations are family heirlooms that you bring out year after year after year which is what makes them so sustainable. However, if you are like me and like to add at least one new ornament to the tree every year to remind you of that special Christmas year, you can opt to make your own at home. The list of material to use is endless. Choose from ribbons, paper, twine, holly, mistletoe as well as threading personalised biscuits with your children’s handprints, names, initials on ribbon. These decorations are not only eco-friendly and sustainable but will have special sentimental value for the years to come.
If you would like to use candles look for eco-friendly candles that come from sustainable sources and are made from soy or bees waxes and do not contain paraffin.
❖ Shop for local products
Choose your food and drink products wisely by buying from local producers and local farmers. Buying locally is not only convenient – nearby, but it also helps support local producers that have recently been struck by the effects of the pandemic. Buying from a local business or charity shop, whether from a market stall, an actual shop or an online shop, is a great way to support them both financially and figuratively by showing you appreciate what they do. This means they’ll be able to continue doing the great work that they do. You are also helping reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding travelling to other places to buy products as well as buying food items that have been imported. Organic and sustainably products such as meat, vegetables and wine put less strain on the environment as producers avoid the use of pesticides and antibiotics. Lastly, unlike bigger shops that carry a bigger variety of products, small local businesses are more likely to focus on the quality of the things they are selling rather than the quantities. Therefore, this Christmas be mindful of what and where you shop!
❖ Gifts and presents
Maria Montessori was a strong believer that children learn by using real materials. ‘Real’ toys are made of natural materials such as wood because they are healthy, safe and inspiring to children. A simple wood-crafted toy can capture children’s attention without overwhelming them and inspire their imagination without directing it. Simple, real toys leave space for open ended experience of play. If you place a plastic toy set and a variety of pots and pans on the floor for your child you will be surprised to see that s/he is more likely to play with the pots and pans rather than the plastic toy set. That is because the toy set can only be played in the way that it is designed to be played with. On the other hand, pots and pans offer various opportunities for exploratory play.
This Christmas, before buying toys for the children ask yourself these questions. Is all this plastic necessary? What is my child gaining out of this ? Does my child really need it?
The WFF website highlights some points to think about before buying presents this coming Christmas.
1) Quality not quantity: Many adults admit that they have received gifts they don't want and will never use. Buying fewer but better-quality gifts reduces the chances of gifts going to waste and can be better economy wise. Why not do a Secret Santa with your friends or family, avoiding novelty gifts that will inevitably be unused or get thrown away.
2) Gift an experience: Reduce demand for physical resources by gifting an experience to your loved ones instead. Whether it’s gifting your time or a pre-bought experience, it’s a great opportunity to bring people together. How about tickets to see a concert, theatre or visit your local museums.
3) Think about materials: Look at the materials gifts are made from and keep sustainability in mind. Ensure wood and paper are made from recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified materials, avoid single plastics items that can’t be recycled, and look for things like Organic-certified food and clothing. Buying second-hand items like vintage clothes, furniture, and refurbished technology, are also great ways to gift more sustainably as it saves on resources to make new products!
❖ Make a homemade Christmas Wreath
Similar to the Christmas ornaments and advent calendar, this year you can choose to make your own Christmas wreath that will greet your guests at the door when they come to visit you. Christmas wreaths can be made from inexpensive natural material found in your back garden or your local forest. All you need to make a wreath is a grapevine wreath base, some fresh cuttings and greenery of your choice such as pine fir, eucalyptus, pine cones, holly etc.), floral wire and shears. Once you are finished using your wreath you can put all the leftovers in the compost!
❖ Remember the true meaning of Christmas
Last but not least, ask yourself what is truly important at Christmas. Is it the presents, the food, the decorations and special clothes we choose for the day? Or is it spending time with loved ones, reflecting on the year passed and the year ahead, and being grateful for what we have at present?
Overall, now more than ever we should start thinking of the world we are creating for our children. COP26 is at its peak and we need to start considering how we can make the world a better place – a better tomorrow for our children. Let’s start to think of ways we can contribute to cutting down emissions and reach zero carbon emission. There is no time to lose when it comes to building resilience as many countries have already started feeling the effects of climate change.
COP26 aims to bring governments, businesses and people together to help transform the ways around which we generate and consume power, we grow food, develop infrastructures and move ourselves and our goods around the world. Let’s help make the change we want to see in the world. This year choose to have yourself a very Merry sustainable Christmas!
Natasha Vondiziano is Little Gems' Deputy Manager working closely with Carola. She is a Montessori pedagogue guiding the children in Nicosia's Emerald classroom. Natasha is also Little Gems' ECO coordinator (hence this article!) and burns for a more sustainable future for our little gems. To learn more about sustainability, contact us on (+357) 22 351319 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.