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Low-impact Christmas entertaining

Living

WASTE NOT Little things, like home-made decorations, cloth napkins, beeswax candles and organic meat and veg, can make a big difference.

Going green for your festive parties, gatherings and meals is easier than you think

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Hopefully your low-impact gift search is going well. Now, how can we lighten the impact of our Christmas entertaining?
The biggest issue for people is that planning and hosting parties, gatherings and meals can be time-consuming, and so it’s tempting to try to find ways to cut down on the preparation and clean-up. Unfortunately, that often means turning to single-use disposable items or ready-made decorations and foods that are not only more likely to be wrapped in plastic, but also to be more expensive.
I come from a family where we would reliably see at least 40 relatives at my grandparent’s house on Christmas Day, and the only disposable items I ever saw were paper napkins. This worked because everyone knew what to bring and what their job was on the day. Every family attending was expected to bring a side dish for the meal or a dessert, along with a suitable serving plate and utensils.
Several people who had less of a gift for cooking were asked to bring a set of plates, glasses or utensils to ensure there were plenty to go around. Kids set the table, and teenagers and young adults did the washing up, and it never took too long.
Nowadays, I would add cloth napkins to the mix, because they are nicer for the table setting and it isn’t too much trouble to throw them in the washing machine after.
For Christmas dinner this year, I am hosting. One family member will be bringing a ham, and I’ve ordered an organic turkey from Western Shore Organic Farm in Belmullet. I’m also going to increase my regular locally grown vegetable order from Glasraí Farm of Hollymount.
Another family member will bring drink mixers in aluminium cans or glass bottles (instead of plastic), as these are easier to recycle. Cakes and baked goods will be homemade or bought from an independent bakery, where I can have them placed into my own container instead of them being pre-packed.
The one challenge is the snacks that everyone seems to indulge in after the meal, and so I do accept that there may be some packaging to deal with—our shop and other organisations accept crisp packets and biscuit wrappers for recycling with Terracycle, and I’ll let my daughter stuff other soft plastics into an Ecobrick for use in a community project.
We will use decorations we already have—our parents have given us some of the ornaments they have collected over the years—or that we can collect or make. Kids can also be set to work cutting strips of newspaper to paint and make into paper chains, or can make ornaments from papier-mâché or salt dough as well.
There are lovely wreaths woven from willow, into which you can stick cuttings from holly and evergreen trees, and those cuttings, along with cinnamon sticks, star anise and bits of dried citrus fruits make a nice arrangement on the table. When it comes to candles, I like to go for natural beeswax ones made in Ireland.
These small steps will help you to make Christmas gatherings even more special, without compromising on atmosphere or hurting the world around us. So the only thing you’ll have to feel guilty about is overindulging!

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.