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Shifting Christmas to zero-waste

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By Panayiotis Kleanthous

Christmas is already knocking on our doors. People buy many presents all in excess packaging and vast amounts of food and ingredients for Christmas gatherings during this festive season. But while we enjoy festive feasts and celebrations from December to January, what impact does Christmas have on the environment?

Advertisements featuring flashing lights, sparkling decorations, picture-perfect presents, and loaded festive feasts that decorate everything from Christmas chocolate to cleaning supplies for the home can significantly impact consumer behaviour and its role in Christmas waste. The overload of holiday advertising efforts can overwhelm even the most eco-conscious individuals. Even if most of us are naturally aware that marketing ramps up during this season, it may still be challenging to keep our composure, make decisions and act in ways that are as sustainable as we might typically try to be.

There are sales of approximately 750 million individual Brussel sprouts leading up to Christmas. Twenty-five per cent of the year’s sprout sales are in the two weeks before Christmas. Estimates indicate that consumers only eat half of all the sprouts sold.

Knowing the social pressure that Cyprus puts on big households to prepare the best food table and the significant impact of festive marketing, together with the concept of creating this image for our friends and relatives showing how much food, drinks and decorations we have in combination with excess packaging and modern consumerism, create an idealistic atmosphere for large companies to profit from consumers every year at the expense of our environment, health and wellbeing.

This year, let’s try to minimise our impact on the planet individually and collectively, encouraging the zero-waste lifestyle while promoting a circular economy, upcycling practices, and advocating for policy change. Here are some actions we can take for a minimal and zero-waste Christmas and New Year period.

 

Reducing food waste

Large family dinners create large amounts of waste that affect the environment. If the leftover meat slices and baked potatoes are not adequately composted, they will likely end up in landfills and generate greenhouse gases. To address the issue of food waste, it is essential to use reusable bags and shopping lists when shopping.

We should reuse and store leftovers or excess food to prevent food waste by getting it frozen in time. Making our food dishes plant-based in any way can significantly reduce carbon emissions.

It won’t be easy for some people to give up meat entirely during the holidays in Cyprus, but it can be easier if you focus on side dishes. Many classic side dishes can be plant-based, or you could always try new recipes.

Another way to reduce your meal’s footprint is to shop locally and seasonally. Many seasonal vegetables can be a great addition to your holiday dishes. If there is excess food, compost the scraps or make them into stock.

If you buy ingredients in bulk, keep in mind to avoid plastic bags or packaging. A great addition to plastic-free grocery shopping is AgnoGrocery, the first zero-waste grocery store in Cyprus.

 

Reducing unnecessary spending

Christmas advertising and marketing aim to appeal to consumer emotions, making it one of the most common strategies we can see during the holiday season. Many businesses produce advertisements directed towards children, thus creating numerous additional and, most of the time, unnecessary needs. Parents try to fulfil as many of their children’s needs as possible, resulting in excessive packaging and products. Scientific research shows that children who watched more commercial television were found to request more items, and these children also asked for more branded items than children who watched less. To avoid unnecessary shopping:

  • Make a list before you shop and stick to it! Don’t be tempted by impulse buys often driven by emotional marketing appeals.
  • Avoid last-minute shopping. This is when you are more likely to get caught up in panic buying unnecessary food and presents.
  • Try for quality over quantity when it comes to indulgence. For example, instead of buying excessive amounts of food that can’t be eaten, you could prepare one memorable meal with a range of luxury ingredients you wouldn’t usually purchase.

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Giving Gifts

Gifts can be a massive source of waste since traditional wrapping paper cannot be recycled. Alternatively, you could use reusable wrapping cloth to wrap Christmas presents. Moreover, supporting local and sustainable brands can help reduce our environmental impact during Christmas. Moreover, giving second-hand gifts from our pre-loved items should be normalised.

Specifically, if you want to make more ethical, minimal and environmentally friendly choices when giving gifts to your loved ones, ask what people want rather than guessing and what people will use: Experience-based gifts like theatre tickets, self-care and wellbeing treatments, handmade gifts, donations or vouchers are a great way to reduce plastic waste.

Let’s try to cut down our plastic-based habits and say goodbye to wasteful wrapping paper. This year, let’s make a difference. It’s not about being perfect but about helping preserve our environment with what we can and about being mindful of the planet’s resources. Sometimes, you will find that being sustainable is much easier, budget-friendly and more convenient than you think.

 

Panayiotis Kleanthous is a project officer at Friends of the Earth Cyprus and a member of the Trajectories Working Group of Lemesos 2030 – European Capital of Culture Candidate City.

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