Dreaming of a green Christmas

Sustainability during the holiday season goes beyond purchasing eco-friendly items. It’s about you, being human on a planet, and embracing the responsibility that comes with that very fact.

’Tis the season to be jolly. But why should this be the season in which we negatively impact the environment to respect our Christmas traditions?

In practical terms, we can avoid creating excessive rubbish this festive season. Local NGO ‘Żibel’ tells The Journal’s readers how.

Żibel co-founder & chairman, Andrew Schembri, points out the obvious: “Christmas comes every year, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.” As simple as this sounds, it makes us realise that we have an entire year to source objects that can be recycled and given purpose for this special occasion.

Żibel co-founder & chairman, Andrew Schembri


This is a major area where thinking ahead is necessary. Not only does it enable us to stock up on items such as recycled paper, but we can also avoid unnecessary shipments and dedicate ample time towards thinking about which kind of experiences we can provide to the individual.

  • Use brown paper, repurpose paper from previous gifts, or create unique wrapping using different textiles.
  • Use sentimental items like small boxes that you can make or buy second-hand.
  • As you get creative, look out for matt, rather than glossy cardboard and paper. The production process for matte finishes often involves fewer coatings and additives, making it simpler to process during recycling.
  • If you must use tape, opt for paper-based tape, such as masking tape. Preferably, opt for woollen or cotton string and plastic-free ribbon instead.
  • Avoid commercial plastic toys and opt for eco-friendly alternatives. Choose high-quality toys for long-term value.
  • Consider gifting experiences and activities rather than physical objects. You can explore various experiences like subscribing the person to local NGO activities, giving them tours, Aquarium visits, or courses in kayaking, diving, surfing, and sailing.
  • Always choose local options to reduce additional cargo costs whilst contributing to the local economy.
  • There are many vintage stores around the island, offering a wide array of retro items. Consider them instead of buying brand new items.
  • Don’t only shop local but do so mindfully.  Shops like ReRoot pride themselves on being “a zero waste and environmentally friendly lifestyle shop”. Of course, there are others that are just a Google search away.
  • When shopping online, consolidate purchases and order all your gifts in one go. This minimises multiple shipments and therefore avoids excessive carbon footprint.
  • When it comes to beauty products, look for organic, vegan, and cruelty-free products. Seek out products that come in refillable containers.
  • Consider making DIY perfumes or body-care products and other self-care items at home.

Now for the tradition of decorating homes…

Here’s a fun fact: decorating one’s abode during the winter festivals predates Christmas itself. In ancient times, people would adorn their homes with greenery, such as holly and ivy, as symbols of hope and renewal during the winter solstice. It’s only natural that we stick to tradition. However, there are ways to do it without harming the environment.

  • Avoid tinsel since it’s made of PVC, therefore it’s not recyclable.  It is a significant pollutant when discarded and it causes potential harm to pets if ingested.
  • Stay away from glitter because it is a micro-plastic.
  • Many decorations, including Christmas trees, are made of synthetic materials. Don’t buy a new Christmas tree every year and don’t just throw away a tree that you already have, to replace it with a non-synthetic one. If you must set up a new Christmas tree, consider using plants or homegrown branches, like olive or palm branches. Of course, be mindful when trimming olive trees.
  • Choose durable decorations and store them properly to prevent damage for reuse in subsequent years. Decorations that are not stored properly can go mouldy or develop all sorts of damage.
  • opt for energy-efficient LED lights over older tree lights. Explore options like iPhone-compatible or USB versions of lights for versatile use all year-round. Dispose of old electrical decorations, including bulbs, at civic amenity sites or local councils with WEEE sites.
  • Customise Christmas decorations using existing items. Even though synthetic decorations last many years, they will end up discarded one day.  Instead, choose sustainable materials like wood and ceramic for decorations. They will still last a lifetime and are easier to recycle. If you’re the type to want to change decorations year after year, opt for paper options.
  • Avoid decorations made of composites, which are materials made from two or more distinct substances with different physical or chemical properties. These are more difficult to recycle.
  • Be aware of the unfair targeting of specific ways in which you might be targeted and encouraged to buy decorative items and gifts. Women, for example, are still more targeted than men.  

What’s Christmas without a full tummy?

A poor one indeed, we hear you say. Andrew says that, although traditionally, Maltese love their large portions, he believes that this is changing over time.

“What people need to realise is that although you should use your organic bag for food leftovers, you really should be aiming to have less leftovers,” said Andrew.

“Throwing away ready-made food, that you have cooked, in the organic bin is the definition of waste,” he adds.

Here’s what to do:

  • Plan meals with proper portions to reduce food waste.
  • Keep leftovers for future use and donate excess trays or perishable items to local food banks.
  • Share leftovers with family and friends.
  • Choose glass Tupperware for durability and recyclability.
  • Use a dishwasher for water efficiency in cleaning.
  • Buy sustainable and organic washing-up liquids, supporting local brands.
  • Replace sponges with brushes for more eco-friendly options.
  • Be aware that any imported food involves an environmental impact due to the logistics in product transportation.
  • Explore shops offering refills for nuts, coffee, and other products.
  • Reuse bags consistently rather than accumulating a collection.
  • Choose glass and metal packaging for food, as they are recyclable.
  • Pickle items in jars for sustainable food storage. You can remove stickers from jars with hot water and soap for reuse.
  • Do not mix organic waste with non-compostable items.  

Some of you might be tempted to forget all the hullabaloo and opt to fly away instead.

Sadly, you’re also polluting, if you don’t do it right. Here are some tips regarding travelling, whether overseas or not.

  • When going abroad, buy local products and hand-made items. The less the object must travel, the better.
  • Consider carbon-offset options when flying, especially for long-haul flights. Carbon offsetting is when people actively compensate for the environmental damage they are causing. A simple example is planting a tree or reducing car use when back in Malta.
  • Acknowledge the environmental impact of air travel. Transatlantic flights generate half a ton to a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). Perhaps you can select a closer destination. Of course, set realistic sustainability goals when you’re on holiday without compromising enjoyment. Take small steps towards sustainable travel rather than attempting a perfect transformation in a short period.
  • Explore carpooling and public transportation options for more eco-friendly travel. Cycling is an eco-friendly alternative to travel, especially during certain times of the year.
  • The holiday season is a great time to experiment with public transport and services with almost door-to-door options.
  • Consider sustainable transportation options as gifts, such as bikes or scooters.
Photo: Getty Images

If you’re reading this from your office or workplace, there are things you can do there too.

  • Avoid meaningless gifts among colleagues and bosses. Prioritise thoughtful and purposeful giving and discourage giving gifts for the sake of the tradition. Instead, support charity drives that aid NGOs focused on humanitarian and social issues.
  • Encourage corporate companies to engage in regular giving and build Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) beyond annual donations.
  • Align corporate donations with specific causes or themes, recognise organisations focused on waste-related issues and contribute to their initiatives.
  • Rather than give material objects, encourage corporates to offer their time strategically throughout the year.
  • Collaborate with NGOs to address spikes in volume for specific causes.
  • Promote individual participation in waste clean-up efforts or encourage organisations to undertake small yet impactful activities for waste reduction.
Photo: Utopix Pictures Pictures

Some final words of wisdom from Żibel

Andrew’s concluding words strike a chord:

“Christmas revolves around people. We shape the essence of Christmas, not the other way around. Sustainability during the holiday season goes beyond purchasing eco-friendly items. It’s about you, being human on a planet, and embracing the responsibility that comes with that very fact. Make sure that Christmas this year is part of a broader commitment to live with consideration for your surroundings and very existence.”

What is Żibel?

Founded in 2017, Żibel is a registered voluntary organisation and environmental NGO (eNGO)  that aims to reduce  the overall waste generated on our islands and restore our natural environment to its most natural state.

Since their inception, they have collected over 130 tonnes of waste from natural habitats and embarked on various interesting projects together with many collaborators. Żibel is not just an eNGO but it has branched out  to become an entire community. On its website, it thanks “over 5,000 volunteers that have been with us through thick or thin”. The NGO has founded various environmental projects such a Project Xibka, which focuses on the retrieval of ghost nets from the sea, and Project Impact, in collaboration with MCAST, on the recovery and research on microplastics. As an NGO, their main objective is to raise awareness, educate, and inspire action for a cleaner future.

More information on zibel.org

Main photo: Monstera Production

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