Christmas is known as a time of excess.
There is the excessive spending on gifts for loved ones and friends, the joy of giving, whilst also gorging on the many seasonal treats on offer. From endless mince pies to turkey with all trimmings – and the many Boxing Day variations that can be scavenged from the left overs. `
All this merriness comes at one huge cost, and it is not the one to our wallets and waistlines. The festive period has a hugely detrimental impact on our environment.
Figures from Envirowaste claim that 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging won’t be recycled or disposed of responsibly in the UK when it comes time to cleaning up the post-Christmas chaos and disorder.
Whats more, 150 million Christmas cards – a seasonal staple, illustrated with motifs of red breasted robins in snowy landscapes – will mostly likely end up in dustbins around the country come the New Year.
Christmas trees also, surprisingly, pose as a risk to the environment after they have served their limited purpose. Figures from former Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne in a Parliamentary debate stated that only two million of the country’s real Christmas trees are recycled by local authorities, leaving six million that will be burnt or fly tipped.
However, there is some hope. Producers and consumers alike are beginning to change their environmentally destructive behaviours to ones of a more green disposition.One of these producers is jewellery designer Emma Aitchison who has a popular business based in and around Hackney, east London. Under the title Emma Aitchison Jewellery, she has created a sustainable brand by using recycled materials and being as globally conscious as possible. While, in her personal life, taken an anti-consumerist and anti-materialistic approach.
Artefact went to speak to her while she ran at her stall on Chatsworth Road Market, something she does every Sunday.
It was an unmemorable grey and gloomy but somehow a festive early December afternoon. The street was bustling and the constant chatter and murmur of Christmas shoppers came from all directions as they browsed different stands, ranging from artisan chutneys to gemstones, along this hipster hideout.
From her company’s instagram feed it’s apparent that she has grown to object to materialism, we asked how this came about? “From working in fashion, then starting my own brand, it’s really evident consumerism has gone a little bit mental. When you do more research on it, that I have done for my own brand, it’s made me realise more about the climate change issues it brings up and pollution issues of over consuming.”
This issue of over-consumption is a topic hotly discussed around this time of year, both Black Friday and Christmas are massive retail events. The by-product of this is a huge amount of waste. Artefact contacted Recycle for London to understand what the company is doing to tackle this problem.
“Raising awareness of what is or isn’t recyclable to begin, glitter makes paper and cardboard items unable to be recycled, so encouraging people to avoid these items is key. Also encouraging re-use and repair through our series of workshops on how to mend and upcycle your clothes, and how to do basic repairs to your electrical items,” they said.
A sustainable ideology is one that Aitchison stays as true to as possible as well: “It is the heart of my business. I am a newbie so I try to do as much as I can, there is obviously a lot more I want to do. That’s what my branding is about, thats what everything I make is about, the packaging, the posting, trying to use less paper. It is everything, and actually, people are demanding it as well!”
We followed this further, asking whether her customers support this: “Definitely. I have some people that come because of it, and others I can change their minds on it. Instagram is obviously really great for that, you can just write stories to cover those topics.”
Using platforms such as instagram and facebook is also a method reiterated by Recycle of London to get their green message out: “Using social media, PR and advertising to encourage people to recycle more by getting a second bin or container just for recycling inside their home. We also publicise the ways in which Londoners can get their Christmas trees recycled every year, by putting all the different councils’ information on our Recycle for London website.”
Recycle for London were also able to offer Artefact advice on how best to to dispose of items that may not longer be needed after the festive period has past. “There are plenty of ways to sustainably dispose of old items, many websites or local charity shops will take on functioning items for distribution to people who can’t afford new ones. If they’re broken, you can usually take them down to your local recycling centre. Look on the Recycle for London website (www.recycleforlondon.com) and use our postcode locator tool to find your nearest recycling centre.”
As for Aitchison, she should be commended for the work she does in all aspects of her life and serve as a reference for all of us when it comes to reducing our impact on the environment, not just over Christmas but all year round.
“In my personal life I’ve really tried cut out plastic, I use reusable water bottles, coffee cups, try to have no plastic in the bathroom, bamboo toothbrushes, not using disposable shavers and trying to buy food that’s not in packets,” she told Artefact.
Her business is an area which can be particularly complicated to refuse waste from especially during Christmas when demand is high, she informs us: “it doesn’t make a difference really that it’s the festive season because I try to do it all year round, my tape, packing and postage is always recycled materials; I definitely don’t use plastic.”
And there are other aspects of her business which are sustainable: “I don’t do printed invoices. In my studio the acids they are all eco-friendly so they aren’t harmful when I flush them down the sink. My footprint isn’t far, most of my customers are from London so they either come to collect it or I can drop it to them. It’s not like I’m posting abroad and using lots of air miles. Maybe one day I will, then I’ll have to rethink.”
Her designs also take their inspiration from the environment, geology and meteorology: “My graduate collection was based on the weather, using the feeling you get from the weather and making them tangible and into something you have. I wanted to keep using that and through my more recent collections, through natural development its gone into climate change awareness and getting people to relate back to the earth.”
Aitchison continues with an increasing sense of pride about her products: “Having something that looks more handmade rather than just churned out. My collection have one eco-warrior item which the profits will go to a charity thats to do with that collection. I did an ice and rain collection and the profits of the eco-warrior piece went to the Greenpeace save the artic campaign. I try to communicate problems through my jewellery, I want to try and do that a bit more, but it’s a process in getting there.”
While we must all enjoy this time of year, there also needs to be a consideration of the immense impact our actions will have for coming generations. By taking the advice from Recycle for London and consider buying gifts from sustainable sources such as Emma Aitchison Jewellery, then maybe as a collective, we can start to change things for the better.
Featured image by Nick Amoscato via Flickr CC