Christmas in UAE: How residents can make sustainable choices for the celebrations

With heightened awareness of the reuse, recycle and reduce mantra, a lifestyle that supports environmental initiatives is becoming a conscious choice of many UAE residents

By Karishma Nandkeolyar

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KT Photo: Ehaab Qadeer
KT Photo: Ehaab Qadeer

Published: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 1:21 PM

Last updated: Sun 24 Dec 2023, 9:04 PM

By now, we have all seen the writing on the wall — our planet is getting warmer and we all want to lead more sustainable lives to retard the decay. We want to leave the Earth a bit better than we found it. But in a world where conventional living equals caustic consumption, it can be a tall order, especially during this time of the year when it’s very easy to go overboard with festivities. However, some UAE residents are taking matters into their own hands and insist on minimising their carbon footprint and emissions, not just during the indulgent festive period, but throughout the year.

But first, what does living sustainably mean to you? As per The United Nations’ environment programme, “Sustainable lifestyles are considered as ways of living, social behaviours and choices that minimise environmental degradation (use of natural resources, CO2 emissions, waste and pollution) while supporting equitable socio-economic development and better quality of life for all.”

As we get closer to Christmas, we asked a few sustainable advocates in the UAE about the changes they’ve made to their lives to make the season more earth and environment friendly.

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Eco-conscious way forward

Dubai-based Lebanese expat Ghyna Kabbara, who has been in the UAE for nine years started living sustainably three years ago. One of her top tips is to ditch the festive wrapping paper. She says, “In the spirit of mindful gifting, I've been inspired by the Japanese tradition of Furoshiki, the art of wrapping gifts with fabric. I carefully clothe each present in reusable fabric wraps, creating an eco-conscious and elegant ritual.”

The author of Facebook handle Green Project, meanwhile, suggests regifting along with reusable wrapping to minimise over-indulgence and wastage. Giving someone gifts we don’t have a use for and have never used serves a dual purpose: it means saving money and giving the present a chance to be used. Nahla Nabil, an expat from New Zealand who is an Abu Dhabi-based Sustainability and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) strategist, adds: “Explore the world of digital gifting with options like online course subscriptions, e-books, or service vouchers, which offer meaningful experiences without the environmental cost of physical resources.”

Another element that can add to wasteful spending during the holidays is buying clothes that one may not really need. Kabbara found a new, thrifty way to outfit herself and her family that not only stops her from going excess, but also helps her declutter her home (and cupboards). “Dubai's eco-friendly community has uncovered a gem — Bjerg & Hav's Clothes Swap Initiative,” she explains. The way it works is, you swap your used clothes for vouchers. “This local brand specialises in handmade organic clothing, contributing to a sustainable fashion scene. By participating in it, we declutter our closets, support a noble cause, and reduce fashion's environmental footprint.

“My children have embraced organic clothing, enjoying both the comfort of organic fabrics and the concept of a clothing exchange. This sustainable practice extends the lifespan of their outfits, allowing us to use them for various celebrations while swapping gently used items for vouchers to use in future purchases. It's a practical and eco-conscious way to dress up for special occasions,” adds Kabbara.

Additionally, Kabbara has chosen a real fir tree for Christmas this year. “This year, a natural Christmas tree graces my home, filling our space with the enchanting scent of pine. The authenticity of a real tree adds a touch of genuine magic to the season, all while staying away from plastic,” she says.

According to the World Bank, a person generates about 0.74kg of waste every day on average. This is 2.01bn tonnes of municipal solid waste annually. And often, it’s the used Christmas tree and ornaments that add to the trash. The passionate eco-warriors urge the storage and reuse of old baubles come Christmas time.

Speaking of baubles, Kabbara uses LED candle lights and handmade ornaments on her tree. “These are crafted with love during a local workshop to celebrate the artistry of little hands while staying true to sustainable choices,” she adds.

Homemade baubles

Nine-year-old Vaishika Satheshwaran, a Dubai-based expat, has been busy making ornaments for her tree too. She says, “I’ve been crocheting ornaments, which are made out of scrap yarn. And then, I've been cutting down the Amazon boxes and making cardboard ornaments. I’ve also been making natural ornaments, using things like pomegranate skins or orange skins, shaping them into stars or hearts.” As for decorating her house, she’s been upcycling fabric, she says.

Satheshwaran’s brush with eco-anxiety (anxiety caused by the state of the environment) began two years ago. “I dived into research and became anxious about the world suffering due to pollution caused by us,” she says. She began to learn about ways to live more sustainably. This led her to making changes in her life, including the way she celebrates the season.

This Christmas, she has decided to make handmade presents for her family. She says people should buy less plastic as it eventually will go into the bin. She also urges people to support local business as their goods will have a smaller carbon footprint than internationally made and transported things.

Romanian expat and mum-of-two Clementina Kongslund believes Christmas is not an occasion to splurge. “We focus on the presents. The presents should be something that we need, not caprices. For example, one year, my daughter needed new school shoes as she had outgrown the ones she had, so Santa brought her a new pair. We also split the Christmas list. Santa brings only small things like sweets, candles, books. For more expensive things, those come from us with T&C (such as good behaviour) attached,” she laughs.

One of the areas where people tend to go overboard with scant concern about wastage and its aftermath is food, and Kabbara is highly eco-conscious of how and what she serves in a happy meal. “I pick sustainable, reusable options that align with our values. Additionally, we make a pledge to reduce food waste, embracing seasonal produce and supporting local farmers.”

Amruta Kshemkalyani, Founder of Sustainability Tribe and AK Sustainability Advisory, who has been living a sustainable life for years, calls for collaboration in sustainable living by getting friends and family involved. “Generally speaking, when it comes to Christmas, there are a few guidelines I have for people. One of which is firstly, think about the food aspect of Christmas. So, if you're inviting your friends and family, and are cooking for them, don't go overboard and don't waste the food because food waste creates greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change. So, make sure that you ask your friends and family to RSVP before ordering or cooking the food.

“Secondly, serve smaller portions so that they can take extra portions if they want, and let your guests know that you are taking these efforts to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions for this Christmas so that they also can contribute,” adds the sustainability expert.

Even when it comes to the kind of food we eat, there are sustainable options like eating plant-based meat instead of conventional meat. “I know, for Christmas, there are certain set menus in families based on their family culture or heritage. However, you could incorporate local ingredients and that could also be local seafood if it's sustainable, and why not serve more plant-based food too?” she asks. As per US-based The Good Food Institute, plant-based meat emits 30 to 90 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional meat, making it a great choice for those vouching for sustainable eating.

There is no end to how inventive and enterprising we can get if we want to save the environment from exploitation. Small tweaks can make a difference and save the world from catastrophe; so why not gift us the idea of sustainability this festive season and make it a habit in the New Year and ever after? It begins with one bauble, one meal, one present at a time.


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