Blog: Staying environmentally friendly this Christmas

Author, William Pearce is a 1st year Economics student at the University of Liverpool.

As a student, it can be hard to remain environmentally conscious. On a limited budget, you are often restricted to the cheapest foods which all seem to be housed in plastic. Those products that opt for a less harmful packaging more often than not tell you about it at length in their ‘green ideology’ but then go on to charge you £50 for a vegetable pie!

Christmas appears only to exacerbate the problem, and it can feel as if there is nothing you can do, whilst drowning in all the cheap, non-recyclable wrapping paper. But, obviously this blog wouldn’t end here because that would be incredibly depressing, so here is what you absolutely can do to help…

1. Cut down on harmful paper usage

Festive wrapping paper can be ostentatiously elaborate, with Utopian winter scenes, sparkly stars or twee reindeer covered in glitter, and it’s all just really, really shiny.

Never trust the shine.

Any metallic paper, textured paper, glittery paper, {insert any fancy adjective} paper, most likely cannot be recycled. Some wrapping however, like the lovely thick brown paper you can find in the post office, is most certainly recyclable. A horrifyingly massive heavy-duty tube of the stuff can be picked up for about £6, and it just never runs out. It’s cost-effective, it looks nice, and the planet might last a bit longer if we all used it; so you really might as well. Nobody will miss the glittery reindeer!

Also, another paper-saving tip; go onto your banking app (or give them a call) and switch to paperless bank statements. In fact, find out whatever businesses are posting random junk to your door and opt out of everything that you don’t want to be receiving. They won’t print it if they can’t send it.

Finally, and a lot of students might hate to hear this; take notes on a laptop if you can. It doesn’t take as long as you’d think to scribble through an entire notepad’s worth of paper, and it all adds up.

2. Eat less environmentally damaging foods

You have probably already been made aware of the dangers of the meat industry, the CO2 emissions etc… and you probably didn’t click on this blog to hear somebody preach about it. That’s fine, and you don’t need to stop eating meat. What is important, though, is experimentation when it comes to food. A whole lot of vegan and vegetarian alternatives work out to be cheaper than meat, and some taste a lot like it as well.

Having an environmentally conscious diet doesn’t mean cutting out meat and dairy altogether, it just means occasionally exploring other avenues. Maybe for Christmas dinner this year, you could swap the meat gravy for vegetable; swap the goose fat for olive oil, or you could make the bread sauce with a non-dairy milk.

A greener diet reduces an individual’s environmental impact enormously, but for a student on a budget it can feel quite unachievable. That’s definitely not the case in Liverpool.

Not only is the city centre home to so many affordable vegetarian/vegan cafés and restaurants, but the Guild itself offers an array of green alternatives. The vegan hot dogs and Quorn nuggets are particularly good!

3. Shop zero-waste

Liv is an organic and natural food market in the Liverpool city centre. Inside, is a large packaging-free selection of spices, pulses, fruits, grains and cereals that can be purchased in bulk. For students, it is a fantastic way to stock up on dry foods in a cost-effective way. There are so many places like this that are easily accessible from the University – Little World being another one.

It is the ‘packaging-free’ element that is so important. All you need is one reusable bag and the element of waste disappears. Think about all of the food that you get through every Christmas, and imagine how much plastic you could cut down on if you sourced just some of that food zero-waste. You would most likely save money too, which is always nice.

Another great way to avoid waste is by using charity shops. Buying things second hand, and giving things away to be sold second hand, is as beneficial to the environment as it is personally rewarding. Nothing is more satisfying than finding a true bargain and they’re always full of them. My biggest achievement to date is bagging a mug that says “You’ve been amazing! Well done!” on one side, and inexplicably has the DPD logo on the reverse. I don’t understand it at all, it was just 50p, and I love it as if it were my own child!

The Oxfam on Bold Street has an entire clothes rack dedicated solely to Christmas jumpers. Seize that opportunity, and do it in the name of the environment.

Plus, if you’re really struggling for money, try selling your un-wanted belongings on a platform like Depop. This saves people from buying things from the source, which means less production, and less waste.

4. Watch your water and electricity consumption

The Guild is running a campaign called ‘Student Switch Off’, which automatically enters the different student halls into a sustainability competition. Those that save the most water and electricity, alongside good recycling habits, can win massive prizes for the entire hall. This is just one of the many ways in which the University encourages environmental consciousness, and it is well worth checking out Student Switch Off  for tips and to see your position on the leader board.

Christmas is, to quote the great Andy Williams, “the most electrical time of the year”. Fairy lights and extravagant trees and tacky penguins without volume buttons that dance around and sing, all consume a whole lot of electricity. Some of the more eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that I swapped out “wonderful” for “electrical” in that famous line, and you would be correct. It’s not the most wonderful time for the environment, sadly.

So, what can you do? Well, obviously turn things off when you’re not using them, but everybody knows that. What you might not know is that devices sometimes consume electricity even when turned off, so be sure to unplug things as well.

In regard to water consumption, if you’re a student, combine your clothes washes with others! Fill that washing machine as high as it lets you and just pay half each. Make ‘small washes’ a thing of the past. You’ll save money, and more importantly, you’ll save a whole lot of water and energy. I probably shouldn’t tell you to shower with others as well, but you could at least cut down on the time you spend in there!

5. Be actively conscious

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, find out what you can do to help. The ‘People and Planet Society’  is a good place to start; they are consistently proactive in pursuing their goal to protect the environment.

Furthermore, make sure to vote at every opportunity. The UK General Election is taking place the day that this blog is published, so if you happen to have found this blog incredibly quickly, please make sure you’ve placed your vote.

I’m not here to tell you who to vote for, just read the manifestos if you can, read the different environmental policies, and vote for the change that you want to see.

Of course it’s the big corporations that do most of the damage, but until they show signs of changing, these little things can still make a difference.

Have a great election day, a fantastic holiday, and if you try something vegan this Christmas, I recommend Linda McCartney sausages. They’re magical!