‘Tis the season… to reduce your plastic consumption! As we start stocking up for a day of festive feasting, Beatrice Murray-Nag looks into the ways in which you can lower the impact and up the eco-credentials of your Christmas food shop by eliminating single-use packaging.
Oh, Christmas. While it might be the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also one of the most wasteful. Between all the food packaging, decorations and gift wrapping, we generate an extra 30% of rubbish in this period compared to averages for the rest of the year. At a time when excess and indulgence become part of the everyday, it’s easy to forget that once the celebrations subside much of our waste will be heading to landfill where it will stay for thousands of Christmases to come.
When it comes to festive food, a huge 125,000 tonnes of plastic food wrapping is predicted to be discarded over the holidays – and that in itself is almost enough to put us right off our brussels sprouts. While cooking for your friends and family is enough of a challenge, cutting the plastic from your seasonal shopping list doesn’t have to be quite so complicated. As the collective voice of environmentally-concerned consumers gets louder, producers around the country are beginning to take note, offering up festive foods that are both convenient and lower impact. From shopping locally to seeking out lower impact ranges on the supermarket shelves, here is our guide to taking plastic off the menu this Christmas.
Sourcing your vegetables
A colourful array of roasted roots, spouts and rich red cabbage are essential in any festive food spread. Since most of the classic Christmas veggies will be in season at this time of year, you can be selective as to where you source them – where possible, pick local produce. Head down to your nearest farmer’s market or greengrocers with plenty of reusable bags to stock up, without any need for plastic packaging. If in doubt, the Christmas boxes from Riverford organic farmers are a great way to get everything you need – sweet parsnips and full flavoured carrots included. They can be delivered straight to your doorstep for the big day, and use 77% less plastic than the equivalent organic shop in a supermarket.
Selecting your centrepiece
In times of climate crisis, the traditional Christmas dinner menu has expanded further than just turkey. For those preparing a hearty nut roast, going down to your local zero waste store means that that you can pick up all the dried nuts, seeds and pulses you need, without reaching for the plastic bags. If you’ll be serving up vegetarian meat substitutes, head to the frozen aisle and look for cardboard boxes – they are much less likely to contain the inner plastic tray than their fresh counterparts. If meat is on the menu, sourcing from a local turkey farm or butchers helps to pare back the plastic packaging. Look out for free-range and organic options, and don’t forget to bring a spare container for any extras you want.
Preparing in advance
We know, we know – cooking Christmas dinner is no easy feat, and with so many different dishes to think about it’s no surprise we reach for a few ready-made options. The issue is that these prepared foods often use excess amounts of packaging to keep them fresh; unpacking a pre-cooked side dish can feel like a game of plastic pass the parcel. One way to get around this and take the stress off on the morning of the 25th is by starting early. Popular sides and sauces such as red cabbage, bread sauce, and cranberry sauce are known to freeze really well, meaning you can get cooking on a quiet weekend beforehand and simply defrost on Christmas eve, reducing the need for ready-made items.
Don’t forget dessert
Another thing you can organise well in advance is the sweet treat at the end of your dinner. Pre-made puddings often come in unrecyclable packaging made from a combination of cardboard and plastic which can be avoided through home baking. Fruit cakes and puddings can be prepared weeks (or months, for a Christmas cake!) before the big day, giving you plenty of time to get this ready. You can even source all the dried fruit and baking ingredients you’ll need from Plastic Free Pantry, who will deliver it straight to your door. Our top tip? If you’ll be a guest in someone else’s house this year, a seasonal sweet is the perfect thing to bring with you – it will take the pressure off the host and help them reduce waste in the process. When time simply doesn’t permit, we suggest picking up some plastic-free chocolate stars from Cocoa Loco instead. Low waste and delicious.
The last-minute additions
Reducing our packaging is all about progress not perfection. There’s no denying that making from scratch requires a certain time commitment and privilege, as does scouring the farmers’ markets. We will all inevitably need to pick up the odd extra from the supermarket but the good news is that, as conscious consumers around the country have been protesting plastic, big chains are starting to listen. Head to Iceland to find their new plastic-free Christmas range, which includes stuffing balls and brussels sprouts. If you can’t avoid plastic completely, it’s all about waste management: pick recyclable options and clear plastic options over black plastic trays and, where possible, head to supermarkets with in-store recycling schemes.
Wrapping your leftovers
The plastic-free mission doesn’t stop with the food shop. Even once your dinner has been served, there are things you can do to lower your overall waste. Before you reach for the cling film to cover your leftovers, remember that this too is plastic and it can last for decades without breaking down. According to National Geographic, not only is this plastic wrap expensive to recycle but when it does end up in our environment it can release the a highly toxic chemical dioxin. Opt for reusable Tupperware or metal lunchboxes such as Elephant Box to store your surplus festive food, or choose beeswax wraps as a plastic-free alternative to cling film.
Getting creative? Discover our ideas for low waste Christmas decorations.
Feel like cooking? Try Danielle Copperman’s dairy-free mince pie recipe.