Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Happy (environmentally friendly) Christmas to you!
The nights are drawing in, Autumn Watch is on the telly, and our thoughts begin to turn to Christmas – although it’s likely to be a very different one this year.
We all want to reduce our carbon impact and help restore the natural world, right? Happily, you don’t have to be a Scrooge - switch the heating off, refuse visitors and sit shivering in the dark - in order to reduce your environmental impact this Christmas!
There are lots of fun facts to research in this detailed article on Christmas packaging: https://tinyurl.com/y5ezqb5p - for example in the UK we’re going to eat 10 million turkeys, 25 million Christmas puds and 175 million mince pies! We’re also going to waste 54 million platefuls of food over December, use 175 tonnes of aluminium mince pie cases, and chuck away 125,000 tonnes of plastic food packaging. We’ll also send (and bin) a billion Christmas cards – which took 33 million trees to make. Having said that, the main climate impact of Christmas cards is in sending them, not making them.
If you want to dig deeper, and consider the carbon footprint of Christmas, you could buy yourself as an early present (from your local independent bookshop, of course, like https://yellowlightedbookshop.co.uk or from https://uk.bookshop.org) ‘How Bad are Bananas? – The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ by Mike Berners-Lee. He reminds us that about 20% of Christmas presents will be unwanted, that on average each UK adult emits (at a rough estimate) more than a quarter of a tonne of CO2 emissions just from excess consumption at Christmas. He also points out that you can substantially reduce your carbon footprint and still be happy, festive and generous.
Here are some simple ideas to help you reduce waste and enjoy a more sustainable Christmas.
1. Presents: Can you encourage friends and family to have fun and be more creative by deciding to exchange ‘home-made’ or ‘found’ gifts? Could you do ‘secret santa’ giving instead of everyone buying everyone a present each? Can you buy local, ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, upcycled or second hand? Have you considered giving experiences or charitable contributions? Say no to excessive packaging.
2. Food: Can you source local, organic food? Can you use refill or ‘take your own container’ zero-waste retailers? How much Fairtrade food can you use? Can you agree with friends and family to have less meat and experiment with vegetarian or vegan recipes? How will you use up any leftovers? Have a look at https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ for good ideas.
3. Decorations: Can they be reused or recycled? Are they plastic free? Or compostable? Can you use local or garden evergreen clippings as decorations?
4. Trees: Trees are tricky. There’s a good article here https://tinyurl.com/yyk32yol which suggests that if you don’t already have a plastic tree, then don’t be tempted to get one, buy a real tree instead – but make sure it’s sustainably grown in Britain, and make sure it’s chipped or burned after Christmas, not landfilled. If you do already have a plastic one, then keep using that as long as you can.
5. Cards and giftwrap: Can you send e-cards, recycled cards or digital messages? How creative can you be with your wrapping? Is it reusable, like old scarves or bags? Have you got a pile of newspapers and magazines that could be used? Is it recyclable? Avoid foil wrap or plastic wrapping.
6. Travel: There might not be much travelling this Christmas anyway, but can you share transport? Use public transport? Walk or cycle for short journeys?
7. Fairy lights: If the bulbs have gone in those lights you’ve had for years, can you replace them with LED fairy lights? - but try to buy good quality and keep them for years and years. Can you cut down on external Christmas lights, and if you do like a big display outside, go for LED lamps and always put them on a timer so they don’t stay on all night. Candles are festive, but remember they create indoor air pollution, and (unless they’re very expensive beeswax) they’re just another type of fossil fuel.
8. Energy: Can you turn the heating down by 1 or 2 degrees, especially if you have a house full (which you probably won’t)? If you do go away visiting, make sure you’ve switched the thermostat right down on your own central heating.
We can all make a difference! Enjoy your sustainable Christmas!