WASTE NOT Cloth napkins and decorations from the garden are one way cut down on single-use paper and plastic waste.
The Christmas holidays are fast approaching, and there are high expectations to end the year well after all the turmoil. Thankfully, there are many ways to celebrate mightily while also producing less waste, both of food and other resources.
For the main meal, ask members of the family what they really like, and make things that suit most people to avoid food waste.
Sometimes we stick with food traditions out of habit instead of choosing foods that more people would love to finish off, so occasionally it’s worth reassessing and adopting new traditions. The last time we had a larger family gathering for Christmas, we bought only a couple of mince pies from a bakery for one person who loves them, and made a large dark chocolate cake for everyone else.
It may sound counterintuitive, but spending a bit more on higher-quality food can be cheaper overall, as people tend to eat all of ‘the good stuff’ instead of leaving it on the plate to be thrown out or in the back of the fridge to mould. A carefully curated, smaller selection of fine foods feels really special, and encourages people to be mindful about serving and eating.
This also gives you the opportunity to buy from your local specialty food shop, butcher or deli, where you will find great Irish options for cheese boards, condiments and seasonings.
Get comfortable being flexible with recipes for baked goods or meals, so you don’t buy niche items that you will only use once and then will sit at the back of the pantry for years untouched.
Many herbs and spices have some similar flavours and can be substituted, or you can definitely replace raisins with dried cranberries if that’s your preference. Refill shops like ours (PAX, Westport), The Habit Store in Castlebar and Wild Rocket in Ballina also allow you to buy exact amounts of ingredients for a recipe, so you’re not left with half a packet of an item you won’t need again until next year.
For the must-have sweets, treats and snacks, try to buy larger sizes, instead of individually packaged – I know this may be sacrilegious for Irish Christmas, but try to buy larger bags of crisps and chocolate bars that can be shared in bowls, rather than the massive boxes with many tiny bags, or tins of loads of individually wrapped items.
For the household décor, try homemade and natural as much as possible. Some of the most beautiful decorations can be foraged in the winter garden (pine cones, greenery, holly leaves and berries), and beeswax or plant-based wax candles in jars are a great alternative to those made from paraffin.
If you love Christmas crackers, there are now reusable options, where you can replace the snaps each year, but keep reusing the outer shell and filling them with unique bits to suit your guests (we stock them at PAX). This is also the time for lovely reusable napkins and placemats or table cloths that can be washed after the meal.
So many ways to reduce what you chuck in the bin after your Christmas festivities. And who doesn’t like a lighter bin?
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.