WHEN mum-of-four Linda Fitzpatrick announced that she was going to give her family a green Christmas, her husband, Rory “hurled himself onto the couch and said ‘We can’t. Christmas is Christmas’.”
But Carrigaline-based Linda, who introduced her family to waste-free eating and living in January, is adamant that Christmas can be green without being mean.
Looking back on a year of eating and consuming with a conscience — while still enjoying life — Linda says that when she started the new regime, her children, ranging in age from 16 to 22, initially laughed at the idea. But over time, they came around. And they’re old enough “to buy into it”.
Two of the children are vegetarians. They have all stepped up to the mark, buying fewer clothes. When they do buy clothes, they look for natural fabrics such as cotton. There are less packages of clothes ordered online coming into the house for Linda’s two daughters.
Linda hasn’t bought herself any new clothes this year, only allowing herself a few garments from charity shops.
Being frugal is all very well, but Christmas is surely another matter? It’s a time of excess — and it has to be said, waste. That’s what Linda, of The Zero Waste Challenge blog, objects to.
“We’ve decided not to do the excess and waste this year,” she says. “You can’t keep doing it. And it’s not very nice either.
“Once the initial buzz has worn off, you’re dealing with all the waste that people have spent money on.
“This year, for gifts, we’re very much focusing on what people need, like sports gear. It’s expensive but we’re not going to buy excess stuff for stocking fillers.
“If I am buying presents, I definitely would be conscious of buying things that are made by local people.”
Linda has five siblings. They no longer buy Christmas gifts for each other, opting instead to make items as novel tokens.
“It’s fun. I make soap as a gift. It’s really about being conscious of what is going to happen to gifts afterwards.”
It is, says Linda, important to remember people who don’t have much.
“We have a tradition over the last few years of gathering all the leaflets that come into the house in the weeks before Christmas. We stick them on the fridge and when we are organising ourselves for Christmas, we go through the leaflets and gift to others who are in need.
“At the end of the day, Christmas is about people and removing some of the excess trimmings doesn’t change any of that.”
Every family looks forward to the Christmas dinner. And Linda is going to make sure that hers is an enjoyable and waste-free feast.
“In previous years, the annual trolley dash around M&S was something I really looked forward to, but this year, I’m simplifying and sticking to things I know we like.
“For Christmas dinner, the family have approved a very large organic chicken instead of a turkey. There will be ham, red spiced cabbage, roast beet and onion with sundried tomatoes, roast potatoes and potato gratin.
“I’ll cook a double dish of that a week or so before Christmas and will warn everyone not to touch it in the freezer.”
For the vegetarians in the family, Linda will cook the Happy Pears Christmas vegan Wellington. She says it’s delicious.
“I hope to get someone else to give me a plum pudding. I’ll make a date and Baileys chocolate chestnut ganache cake and it will all be virtually zero waste — except I think we will splash out on ice-cream.
“The dinner will cut our waste to a fraction of the waste we had in previous years.”
Linda uses all the leftovers from chicken, including using the carcass for stock. With left over vegetables, she makes dips, adding sunflower seeds. She will break with tradition this year by not serving Brussels sprouts. The family hates them. When it comes to soft drinks, Linda is not going to stock up on minerals.
“We ditched fizzy drinks in general a few Christmases ago. So I’ll buy in a couple of bottles of nice French lemonade in glass bottles for Christmas lunch but that’s about it.”
What about chocolates and other sweet treats?
“I have an unholy sweet tooth to put it gently and chocolates and goodies seem to make their way to me. For that reason, I really limit our own purchasing of treats.
“However, I make a mean millionaire’s date caramel shortcake from the cupboard ingredients and will definitely make a few trays of that over the Christmas season. Any goodies we are gifted, we will just appreciate and make sure to recycle the wrappers properly.”
For their first Christmas ever, there won’t be any crackers.
“They’re wasteful, including the little plastic items that fall out of them. We’ll have to try and think of something else to replace the crackers. The good thing about crackers is that they bring interaction to the table. We’ll do something like charades instead.”
There will be a real tree in the house for Christmas.
“If we had an artificial tree, it would go up. You can replant trees, but they tend to be very small trees which I wouldn’t be interested in buying. I don’t think I’d get away with a small tree. You have to keep people on board as well.”
Linda, who works part time on project work for her husband’s telecommunications company, sounds like something of a domestic goddess. She has successfully embraced a greener way of living. An activist with CHASE (Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment), she became interested in recycling as that movement “become more prominent”. She adds: “Then you had China starting to refuse to take recycled stuff. Climate change awareness increased with The Blue Planet (David Attenborough’s film.) It blew the lid off plastic pollution and brought (eco-awareness) into the mainstream. I’ve always had an interest in it and I’ve always tried to do what seemed right.”
While Linda says there is a case for “big impact moves to be made by government and larger organisations, that doesn’t excuse us from doing something ourselves. The easiest way to start is with ourselves.”
Every family is different, she says.
“It’s a matter of keeping your eyes open and seeing what is available out there.”
Linda now buys 70% of her shopping from local producers and 30% from supermarkets. Those percentages used to be in reverse. Expenditure on food hasn’t changed since she went green. She buys meat from O’Mahony’s Butchers in the English Market. They have no problem with Linda asking for what she buys to be put in her own containers. She admits she was initially “terrified” to ask them.
Linda buys milk in glass bottles at Mahon Market. The empty bottles go back the following week and are sterilised. Any milk that goes sour is used by Linda’s husband to bake brown bread, something he never did before.
The Minimal Waste Grocery, a mail order shop in Dublin, delivers a box of cinnamon and other spices, pumpkin seeds, nuts and some grains to Linda’s home every six weeks. The goods come in light paper bags, which Linda composts.
At the Christmas dinner table, Linda and her family can look back on a year when they made a small difference to the planet and a giant difference in their eating and buying habits.