CUTTING back on festive waste is helping families across Warwickshire embrace the true spirit of Christmas.
The recent rise in plastic-free and eco-conscious buying has encouraged a greener approach to the most commercially hyped occasion on the global calendar.
And now more families are abandoning the shiny plastic toys dominating ad breaks in favour of secondhand and homemade gifts, vouchers and the good old fashioned gift of time.
Not only does it cut back on waste but it leads to a cheaper, less stressful occasion with the focus less on our present haul and more on each other.
From wooden calendars to wrapping paper made out of food packets, the Observer spoke to families turning their backs on a designer Christmas.
According to Find a Gift, the amount of money spent on unwanted Christmas gifts in the UK comes to around £700million and research suggests the biggest spend is on children with an average of £67 per child. And with plastic synonymous with the latest must-have toys some families are boycotting the 10billion toy industry in favour of a cheaper, less wasteful approach.
Katy Hickin only buys her boys second hand toys and said they did not know the difference.
And this year she has made them a wooden advent calendar each.
“Calendar wise I have done a lot this year to really reduce our plastic use, so I often feel guilty to buy things in plastic, so I didn’t want to buy four plastic advent calendars. I’m also quite crafty and like making things so I brought the wooden calendars from Hobby Craft with all the paper bits and wooden decorations. I am hoping these will last my kids forever!
“I’ve been given lots of ideas of things to put in them, but I don’t think my boys will care what it is as I think they will just love opening the doors and finding something.”
Mum of six and grandma of five Karen Deasy says her thrifty upbringing growing vegetables, repairing clothes and a streamline wardrobe has influenced her and her family’s responsible consumerism.
The seamstress handmakes or upcycles gifts, bakes goods or even gifts excess veg from the garden to friends and family – wholesome traditions which have passed down the family.
She said: “My eldest son is very talented and usually does drawings as gifts and as a chef he often bakes too. My eldest daughter is creative with pre-loved goods and does sewing too. Another daughter draws and sews and another son is good at spotting antiques.
“I find that younger children who are used to seeing mum or dad cooking or baking, sewing or drawing, will be very happy to receive something similar. Teens are harder to please but my two like a mixture of gadgetry and some things made by family.
“I only buy what I need foodwise and I’m not seduced by marketing. I don’t like Christmas being commercialised and wish it could go back to being simpler with less pressure to buy, buy, buy. I spend a great deal of time teaching and explaining to friends and customers the basics of slow and circular fashion of which I’m a passionate advocate.”
Wrapping paper is another small yet impacting detail symptomatic of festive marketing hype.
It is estimated around 230,000 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away and an average of four rolls used per household. Not only that but some six million rolls of sellotape will be sold in the UK in the run up to the big day.
To combat the wrapping waste, Helene Phillips is using crisp packets and even drawings made by her son to wrap her gifts this year.
She said: “I use the type of packaging that have shiny silver layer on the inside such as crisps.
“For the family, I will be using drawings that my son has done over the year. I keep some for myself as a keepsake of course but lots can be used as packaging.
“I have found fab red ribbons in the bin where I teach at and I will be using them to make presents even nicer without having to buy anything. If you find things here and there over the year then you can end up collecting some very useful stuff.”
Lindsey Singh shocked her husband when she suggested exchanging £5 Santa gifts.
She said: “In India festivals are about giving and, to a certain extent, those gifts being extravagant within whatever your means are. He was horrified – what kind of a celebration could this be? But he’s now totally on board and says he wouldn’t swap it for anything!”
The couple also runs a zero-waste store and Lindsey explained customers had been bringing their Christmas cake, pudding and mincemeat recipes in.
She added: “We’ve weighed out their precise requirements – no waste, no landfill, and no dried out raisin leftovers a year later at the back of a cupboard! Lots of customers have done it and I think we’ve all loved it.”
It is estimated around 50million platefuls of food get thrown away at Christmas time. And in Warwickshire it is estimated the average festive food bill is around £169 per household.
Get Cooking coach Anne Marie Lambert advised ready made pastry, or wraps and pitta breads were good for stuffing with leftover vegetables and meat, and frying them up with spices like smoked paprika and lemon added a zesty twist. Or leftover meat could be frozen and used in sandwiches, stews and stir fries.
To use up raw sprouts, she recommended grating them for a slaw, adding carrot, beetroot, celeriac or fennel and mixing with natural yogurt or mayo.
And best before dates should always be taken into account when buying in bulk to ensure it can realistically be eaten up.
She said: “Remember Christmas dinner is only a Sunday roast with a bigger bird and extra veg. It’s about who is around your table not what is on it and that it has been prepared with love.”