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Waste minister urges Britons to have more sustainable Christmas

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Waste minister Jo Churchill, who became a grandmother in 2021, has urged Britons to make simple changes in a bid to protect the planet’s future. She said: “It’s always exciting to have children in your house on Christmas morning, but this year as an Environment Minister it’s made me think about leaving our planet in a better state than we found it.

“It’s why I am supporting the Express’ Green Britain campaign for a sustainable future. I know Express readers will be keen to celebrate Christmas in a way that also celebrates our environment.”

Mrs Churchill, 57, said packaging is one of the biggest contributors to waste during the festive season, with around 300,000 tons of cardboard being used in homes across the country.

The minister urged people to buy products with less packaging and to recycle as much as possible.

She said: “I try to buy gifts from local markets and shops wherever possible ‑ this avoids the ‘unseen’ plastic in the supply chain from items that have come from the other side of the world. 

“I think a more sustainable Christmas might be one of the best gifts we could give our environment this year. Even if we all make one small change, these will accumulate and start to make a difference.

“I sometimes use old newspapers to wrap gifts or even recycle last year’s paper.”

Mrs Churchill told how “giving the gift of time” is a great option or planting a tree for someone which is a lovely present “not just for the recipient but also for the environment”.

Jessica Hickie, the programme manager for the Environment Agency’s plastics and sustainability team, said around 277,000 miles of wrapping paper was sent to landfill in 2018 – enough to wrap around the earth about 11 times.

Ms Hickie believes environmental issues could be a topic at the Christmas table because of awareness raised about the climate emergency this year.

She said: “If the environment hasn’t been a topic at the Christmas table before, perhaps with COP26 and G7 taking place in the UK this year, Christmas 2021 could be the year to begin this tradition.”

Concern for climate change among the British public is at its highest level since records began, a YouGov poll showed.

And nearly two thirds (64 percent) of adults who celebrate Christmas will try to be more “environmentally friendly” this year compared to last, a poll for the World Wide Fund for Nature found.

Ms Hickie said: “There is nothing to lose and everything to gain when it comes to making sustainable changes to our celebrations.  

“We should never underestimate how our own positive actions can influence those around us.”

Comment by Jo Churchill

Christmas will be extra special for me this year ‑ it is my first as a grandmother.  

It’s always exciting to have children in your house on Christmas morning, but this year as an Environment Minister it’s made me think about leaving our planet in a better state than we found it.  

It’s why I am supporting the Express’ Green Britain campaign for a sustainable future. I know Express readers will be keen to celebrate Christmas in a way that also celebrates our environment.  

There are so many simple changes we can all make to help our planet.  

Did you know we waste 4.5 million tonnes of edible food in the UK every year ‑ enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 90 times over? So much turkey ends up in the bin, but you can keep food in the freezer for at least three months.

You can make your veggies last longer by storing them correctly in a cool, dark, dry place. And we need to make the most of our leftovers.

When it comes to gift-giving this Christmas, I will be picking presents with less plastic packaging and avoiding using wrapping paper that is laminated or made from plastic.  Plastic litter lasts for centuries in our landfills or as litter in our countryside or ocean and the best way to tackle this is to reduce the waste we produce in the first place.

Real Christmas trees can be recycled: local authorities have special collections or organise drop-off points, or you can take them to your household waste recycling centre. 

And don’t forget to donate your unwanted clothes ‑ or any of your unwanted Christmas presents ‑ to charity shops or recycling banks, and consider buying second hand. 

We all have a role to play in protecting our planet, including the Government. Our new reforms in the Environment Act will give us powers to ensure producers cover the cost of recycling their packaging, make recycling easier for households; and enable us to ban single-use items that litter and pollute our environment. 

We want to have eliminated all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and all avoidable waste by 2050.  

So, for our grandchildren and the generations to come, let’s work to make simple changes that together ensure we all have our greenest Christmas yet.

Jo Churchill is waste and resources minister

How you can have a more environmentally friendly Christmas:

1. Use recyclable wrapping paper. If it’s got foil or glitter on it then it can’t be recycled and could contain plastic

2. Use old newspaper or fabric to wrap gifts

3. Try to prevent food waste by donating to food banks or checking cupboards before buying.

4. Plan meals carefully to avoid buying food you and your family won’t eat

5. Create beautiful Christmas displays using decorations from previous years or buy from second-hand stores

6. Use reusable gift bags when giving presents.

7. Opt for recyclable or even reusable crackers in a bid to reduce plastic waste

8. Switch to LED Christmas lights

9. Instead of buying a new Christmas outfit, consider renting clothes or buying from second-hand stores

10. Support small businesses by shopping locally

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