A Comprehensive Guide to Shopping Ethically This Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The trees are up, everyone is planning their gifts and Mariah Carey is on repeat.

After the bizarre year 2020 turned out to be people are eager to have a bit of normality again, but what if our ‘normal’ is detrimental to the planet?

Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most wasteful.

According to The Telegraph, Britain threw away 227,000 miles of wrapping paper in 2011, enough to wrap around the world nine times.

If that wasn’t enough, the University of Manchester discovered that the combined carbon footprint of all our festive feasts is the equivalent of a car travelling 6,000 times around the globe.

Many of us are aware of the need to reduce these levels of waste, but it can be challenging to shop ethically, especially at Christmas.

The pressure is on to buy show stopping presents that don’t harm the planet, but it isn’t easy when shop shelves are stacked full of plastic and throwaway items.

So where should people even begin when trying to shop ethically this Christmas?

“I think people should look beyond the high street and major online retailers and try to find a lower waste alternative from a little independent supplier,” says Lee Shelton, co-founder of Zedbees, a zero-waste subscription box service.

“If you can find something that is unique and from a small supplier, I think that is probably going to be that little bit more special and last that little bit longer.”

Having seen the waste that bathroom products create, Altrincham based Shelton and his wife, Zoe, wanted to tackle the ever-growing plastic problem.

They opened Zedbees just last year, delivering eco-friendly toiletries straight to your door to make the process of buying plastic free as painless as possible.

From handmade soaps to clay face masks, all products are compostable or recyclable, saving thousands of plastic bottles from going to landfill.

“It’s a really straight forward, affordable way to get simple, good quality, plastic free products to people,” said Shelton.

“If you like the product and the products work for you then you can commit to it and then they just drop through your door every month.”

The zero-waste movement encourages people to create as little waste as possible but cutting out plastic completely can seem unviable.

Children’s Christmas presents are often plastic-coated toys and even fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic packaging. It can be hard to escape it.

But Shelton says that even small changes are important and worthwhile.

“It’s about people doing what they can in very small, slow stages and steps that build up to make a difference,” he said.

“There’s no pressure on people to drop everything they do now and start buying everything that’s completely plastic-free.

“Just reuse what you have, repurpose what you have and recycle where you can’t repurpose.”

With the fashion industry making up 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, buying sustainable fashion is another great way to shop ethically this Christmas.

Sustainable fashion is growing in popularity, with the rise of apps like Depop, which means that there’s plenty of options when looking for gifts.

But buying vintage clothing is not always easy.

While fast fashion online retailers have copious amounts of on trend clothes all well categorised, customers need to look a little harder to find what their searching for in vintage and charity shops.

“I used to work in a big vintage store and I would find the most incredible pieces that were so well priced but that was because I was going through the rails, tidying them every day,” says Elizabeth Morgan a curated vintage store owner from Stretford.

“The shop was swamped with so much other stuff and I think that kind of thrift store vibe put so many people off who wouldn’t usually shop vintage because it felt a bit like a jumble sale.”

Morgan, frustrated by this lack of organisation, started selling curated vintage clothing online three years ago, before opening The Norah Store in Stockport 18 months ago.

“I just wanted somewhere where everything was handpicked,” she said.

“I don’t buy anything in bulk, every piece is something that I personally think is amazing quality, an amazing timeless piece.”

The Norah Store is a retro dream, packed with classic pieces, floaty 70’s floral dresses and statement jewellery.

The carefully chosen selection makes for a more consumer-friendly experience than other vintage shops.  

When we have grown so used to the fast fashion brands that line the high street, the transition to sustainable fashion is a leap of faith. “It can feel really daunting,” agrees Morgan.

“I know some people, my mum included, can get really anxious about shopping and can feel really overwhelmed.”

But much like Shelton’s advice, Morgan suggests that small steps can create change: “What I would say is you don’t have to go cold turkey straight away.

“Oxfam GB do an amazing thing called Second-hand September where they encourage people to only shop second-hand just for that month.

“So just starting small and making those small choices will really make a difference.”

Even though the cheap prices of fast fashion labels may tempt you, it’s important to remember that the cheap prices are often concealing unethical work practices.

“I just think the bottom line is human rights,” said Morgan.

“So you’ve got to think that if a dress is too cheap to be true, then it probably is and it means that somebody along the line has been exploited for you to have that dress that’s reduced to 9p.”

Perhaps buying sustainable clothing isn’t convenient, but it encourages us to treat our clothes carefully and get us out of a throwaway mentality.

As Morgan points out, “we need to be cherishing our clothes and picking things that we know we’re going to love for a long time.”

As for curbing our over excessive eating habits at Christmas, it all comes down to planning ahead.

We often find our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and order crazy amounts of food that ends up going to waste.

But by only buying what we need we can ensure that everything is used up.

Sanam Akhtar, a vegan baker and caterer from Cheadle Hulme, agrees that Christmas can be an overindulgent holiday.

Rather than binging over the Christmas period, she suggests that the key is to listen to your instincts.

“Listen to your body,” she said.

“We’re given set times, set amounts that we should eat but we all have different bodies. Some people eat more, some people eat less.

“Plan meals and try not to overbuy because we buy so much and then we feel like we have to finish it all. Don’t treat your stomach like a rubbish bin.”

Akhtar started her business Sanam Sweetcakes back in 2016, while she was on maternity leave.

After years of a meat-eating diet, she became vegan “literally overnight” for her health.

“I got into yoga and eating vegan food and I instantly became more mindful and compassionate, starting with myself,” she said.

“My family and friends thought I was going through a phase because my transition was so drastic.

“I used to drink and smoke and eat crap and had no standards whatsoever and now my standards are so high.”

It’s well known by now how beneficial a vegan diet can be for your health and the environment and more people than ever are joining the bandwagon.

In 2019 it was estimated that there were 600,000 vegans in Britain alone, 1.16% of the population.

Now there are so many options for a Christmas dinner, there couldn’t be a better time to go vegan.

If you aren’t tempted by a nut roast, then maybe you will be by Akhtar’s vegan lotus biscoff cakes and jam coconut slices.

For first time vegans, Akhtar suggests that starting off slow is the best way to make the lifestyle change and to avoid processed fake meat as much as possible.

“Just be kind to yourself and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone, you’re doing it for you and your own conscience and don’t feel embarrassed because it can sometimes be difficult with family and friends,” she said.

The changes you make this Christmas to become more ethical may seem small but make a world of difference.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and enjoy yourself! After the year we’ve had you definitely deserve it.

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