Twelfth night has been and gone and probably so have all the piles of ripped wrapping paper, discarded cards and tinsel that has seen better days. For many, Christmas already seems like long time ago as we settle into the old routines and look forward to the next celebration and holiday. But as we still may have a little resolutionary spirit left, now is a good time to reflect on what Christmas has left us with and what we could do about it.

We consume, and ultimately throw away, loads of tat at Christmas, and a quick search on the internet will bring up lots of facts and figures about the amount of waste generated. Instead of simply printing a list of statistics I thought I’d examine that most shiny of decorations – tinsel.

Modern tinsel is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish, sliced into thin strips1 and assembled into garlands. Although, theoretically, everything can be recycled, the complexity and cost of separating these compounds outweighs any benefits. So, to the landfill it goes. PVC doesn’t readily decompose, and as it degrades it leaches a number of toxic chemicals. This is the single worst plastic according to several health organisations2. It also produces dioxins (carcinogenic chemical compounds also likely to cause developmental disorders and damage to immune systems) in its manufacture. Not so shiny now.

This is just the tinsel tipped iceberg. I haven’t started to look at the excess food, packaging, unwanted presents etc. that seem to accompany the festive period. Before we hang our glittery festooned heads in shame, let’s get back to the resolutions. As well as trying to get rid of that extra Christmas Cake weight, how about trying to rid ourselves of other excesses too?

That mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ holds true. Do we really need another garland? Could we make do with what we already have or recycle other things as decorations? Christmas and other festivals can be a great time for celebration, but let’s extend that to celebrating the Earth and think about what we are presenting it.

A sustainable lifestyle may be for life not just for Christmas after all.

Catherine Palgrave