Meet the Havering businesses and groups putting sustainability first, even at Christmas
- Credit: Courtney's Cakes
Sustainability is important at all times of the year, but especially over the holidays when consumerism and waste peaks.
According to recycling charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), over the festive season, UK households consume 300,000 tonnes of card packaging – enough to cover Big Ben nearly 260,000 times.
In a bid to look after the planet and tackle the amount of waste created at Christmas, many Romford businesses have made their models eco-friendly.
Jenny Allan from Romford, owner of non-profit fashion brand Jenerous, has chosen to wrap her presents in recyclable brown paper and has bought second hand Christmas jumpers for her growing girls, rather than new.
She has also bought upcycled baubles for her Christmas tree.
Jenny said: “There is a general understanding now that we need to change what we’re doing and look after our planet.”
Jenerous offers a preloved service, whereby customers can return their items to be sold on the site at a reduced cost in aid of charity.
Courtney Gwaktin, founder of Courtney’s Cakes in Romford Market, is also doing her bit to ensure Christmas is green.
She said: “This festive period and all year long, we use biodegradable packaging to be as friendly to the environment as possible.
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“Everything from our logo stickers, cake boxes and carrier bags are all eco-friendly.”
Hornchurch-based Sarah Vargerson, who owns eco-friendly grocery delivery service Pantry Shelf, said she has bought a lot of second-hand gifts this year.
The mother of two has also been baking gifts and wrapping presents using furoshiki: the Japanese art of fabric wrapping and choosing to use ribbon and string instead of plastic sticky tape.
She said: “The pandemic has taught us all that seeing people in person and doing things together is more valuable than a present.”
Amanda Jenner from Collier Row runs Di’s Diamonds, the social age group for Age UK Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, which works closely with the Havering team.
Within the group, Amanda has been creating handmade Christmas decorations with members.
She encouraged people to look for another use for everything: “When you make something, it’s unique and made with love.”
Amanda, who is an artist, said she makes her own wrapping paper, paints her own cards and even reuses paper she has received gifts in - something she said her grandad taught her.
Data reveals the annual waste in the UK
According to WRAP, nearly half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we consume.
A report by the charity highlighting UK households' yearly waste found 100,000 tonnes of poultry ends up in the bin every year.
Over the festive period, when most people eat turkey, the charity urged people to freeze the excess.
In the same report, WRAP noted 710,000 tonnes of potatoes are thrown out in the UK each year.
WRAP suggested reusing the vegetable in meals such as bubble and squeak or freezing them to use another day.
It said artificial trees need to be used for up to nine Christmases to have a lesser impact on the environment than natural alternatives.
A spokesperson for the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said people could make their own Christmas crackers using leftover fabrics, wrapping paper or wallpaper swatches if they want to reduce the impact of non-recyclable festive items.
They also suggested repurposing decorations from previous years or buying second-hand, adding: “Alternatively, having a decoration-making session at home with the family adds a wonderful personal touch to the season.”
Putting it into practice
Member of Age UK group Di’s Diamonds, Barbara Barr, who is in her 80s and from Havering, has been tapping into her creativity and putting a newly-learned pandemic skill to use.
She said: “I took up knitting at the start of the pandemic and have been finishing a scarf which I will gift to my friend on Christmas day.”
Barbara has also been creating watercolour Christmas cards with the group, which she said she has sent to friends.
She said a gift "means more when you’ve made it”.
Speaking of the group, Barbara said: “I couldn’t have existed in the lockdown without our classes on Zoom.”
Khim Lee, 65, is a member and volunteer at Di's Diamonds, and has been creating sustainable Christmas gifts by repurposing upcycled jars and handmaking cards.
She said: "People like to receive handmade things as it's a heartfelt creation. It's also therapeutic to make and rather than just buying a card and writing in it, it's more meaningful to make one."
Mimi Tan, 69, who joins Khim as a volunteer and member at Di's Diamonds, she prior to joining the group she wasn't an artistic person, but has now picked up lots of creative ideas.
She said: "I have been making my own cards and they have been appreciated much more than shop-bought ones.
"It takes time and is done with love and every card is different."
The women said they will continue to make their own Christmas cards and gifts next year as it can "work out cheaper" and helps to minimise waste, keeping Christmas sustainable.