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How to shop sustainably at Christmas markets

BY Ellie Sivins

25th Nov 2022 Christmas

How to shop sustainably at Christmas markets

Christmas markets are a great way to get into the festive spirit, but make sure you're still shopping sustainably with these easy tips

Christmas markets date back to the 15th century and were originally set up in celebration of the four weeks of advent. They took place in local market squares with a small selection of stalls containing food, drinks, handmade gifts, and even Christmas performances.

Over time the markets have spread throughout Europe, evolving from religious festivities to a secular holiday tradition.

The markets are profitable for communities by drawing in tourists and allowing local people to create and sell their crafts for the holidays.

"Rather than funding a local artisan, we’re more often paying the giant corporations that we’re trying to get away from"

But years on, as the markets have grown, the stalls are now not as personal as they once were.

In UK markets alone, it is common to see the same stalls repeated over and over again selling bulk bought items, often shipped from around the world and made out of plastic.

Rather than funding a local artisan, we’re more often paying the giant corporations that we’re trying to get away from.

Here’s how to make sure you’re shopping sustainably when you’re out and about around the Christmas markets this year.

Hunt for sustainable gifts

Sustainable wooden hearts sold at Christmas marketLook for gifts and souvenirs made out of more sustainable materials such as wood

There are so many gift options around the markets, but they aren’t always the most sustainable items.

If you’re travelling abroad to these locations, the best thing to look for is something small enough to fit in your carry-on luggage. The extra shipping costs you might have to endure, or the extra bag you check, will add to your carbon footprint, so the smaller the souvenir, the better.

An important thing to do, if you think you’ve found the perfect gift, is to do a lap around the market first to make sure that it is a locally crafted speciality rather than a mass-produced dupe.

"The extra shipping costs, or the extra bag you check, will add to your carbon footprint"

Once you’ve noted that it is a local maker, strike up a conversation to see how they made it, both for your own curiosity and to make sure that the item is definitely not sourced in bulk online.

Finally, be mindful of what the products are made out of. It’s best to stick to more natural materials, like woods and metals, or recycled materials.

Locally-sourced alcohol and food

Sustainable red festive mugs used for drink at Christmas marketChristmas markets will often serve drinks in ceramic mugs, rather than disposable cups

Having a drink on holiday is great but, to cut down your carbon footprint, it’s always a good idea to support local breweries.

A lot of the time when ordering a drink at Christmas markets, the alcohol is listed on a board or bottles propped up on the counters detail where they were brewed. But if you’re not too sure, those serving are usually happy to help you pick a locally sourced drink.

The great thing about these markets is that they often provide actual mugs to reuse instead of plastic cups, which you can keep as a souvenir.

Food is much easier than alcohol and all it takes is a quick google to discover local dishes and delicacies. It is environmentally friendly to eat local foods, but it is also a great way to immerse yourself in local cultures.

At markets, the freshly made food is usually locally sourced, and the treats you’ll find will follow a similar packaging rule to alcohol, showing where they were made and what ingredients are inside.

Always opt for local restaurants over recognisable chains to fund independent enterprises rather than giant franchises.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint further you might consider opting for the vegan option too.

Plastic-free packaging

Whenever we talk about sustainability, the conversation usually leads to packaging. In the UK alone, it’s estimated that households discard 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year.

Christmas markets have a plethora of plastic packaged products. It’s best to avoid these, carry your own bags in lieu of needing a new plastic carrier bag, and when gift wrapping services are offered, check if it’s plastic or paper wrapping.

When buying fragile items, you probably don’t need excessive amounts of bubble wrap. Instead, wrap them in clothes in your luggage to keep them safe or, if you’re already at home, take an extra scarf or T-shirt with you to wrap your purchases in.

"In the UK alone, households discard 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year"

This way you save plastic and your souvenirs aren’t damaged.

Some of this advice might make you feel like you’re wasting time around Christmas markets, but to live more sustainably we have to be selective with our purchases.

Gifts, food and drink are at the core of Christmas markets, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy each without adding more waste to the planet.

The biggest way to shop sustainably around the holidays is to not shop in excess, as much as the season may encourage us to do so. It’s better for the world and our wallets to shop mindfully.

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