Have yourself an eco-friendly Christmas
Christmas is hands down the love of my life, so it’s hard for me to see its flaws. No longer just a religious festival once celebrated only by people of faith following Christian observances however, some would argue that it’s now transmuted into a gift-giving, over-consuming period of intense materialism. Others would argue that the festive period’s worst trait – all of its waste and an enormous carbon footprint – is a great big environmental smack in the face to our planet. Opinions on the material side will differ from home to home, but in terms of us all being a bit greener, small changes can actually go a long way – here are some tips to help you celebrate the most wonderful time of the year in an eco-friendlier fashion. BY POLLY HUMPHRIS
Cut your own Christmas tree
In the UK, an estimated six million Christmas trees are sent to landfill every year, which approximates to 9,000 tonnes of extra waste. What’s more, each tree sent to landfill has a carbon footprint of about 16kg – when you consider the average UK person has a yearly carbon footprint of around 1,000kg, that’s pretty hefty – and costs local authorities over £2.30 to shift.
Don’t be tempted to switch to an artificial tree though, they’re generally made of all sorts of hazardous, non-recyclable materials and are often shipped in from far and wide adding to that already sizeable carbon footprint. Instead, head to a local, sustainable Christmas tree farm and cut down your own pesticide-free tree; it’s fun, so the whole family can get involved, plus it eliminates the transportation required for shipped trees (check out the British Christmas Tree Growers Association website for more info: www.bctga.co.uk). Always recycle your tree too – local pick-up points for used trees are easy to find, and Christmas trees are usually shredded into chippings and reused locally in parks or woodland areas.
Deck the halls mindfully
Reuse and recycle are the key points here. There’s simply no need to buy new Christmas decorations every year; surely a bauble’s a bauble, right? If your baubles are looking a bit tired, revamp them by recovering them with recycled papier-mâché or even newspaper and magazine cuttings to create a cheap and quite quirky look that saves money, packaging and energy. If you want to go one organic step further, holly, branches, berries, dried fruit slices, fir cones and ivy are all very usable and can be transformed into really rustic and homely Christmas centerpieces and table decorations. You can always reuse old cards to make garlands and knock up some red and green bunting from unwanted material to hang liberally too.
Obvious, but essential advice – don’t leave your Christmas lights on all day and if you have a lovely, large outdoor display, buy and set a timer, or just be careful to have them shining bright in all their seasonal glory from dusk until bedtime when they’ll make their greatest impact. LED and low-energy Christmas lights are not only more affordable, but are widely available from most big shops now. Additionally, LED lights generally don’t produce heat, so they’re a worry-free option for decorating your Christmas tree.
Consider your cards
On average, 150 million Christmas cards are delivered every day by the Royal Mail in the run up to Christmas, which is staggering. More surprising is that, considering that cards and paper are one of the easiest things to recycle, on average, one billion of them still end up in landfill taking up to 30 years to decompose – if these cards were recycled rather than thrown away, it would help save the equivalent of over 240,000 trees. For many of us, sending Christmas cards is a tradition that simply won’t be compromised, so if you do send them, make sure you use recycled cards and envelopes, and hand deliver those that are being sent within walking distance to cut down your carbon footprint. If you’re happy to switch things up, why not opt for sending Christmas e-cards, saving paper, money and fuel pollution in the process.
This is a good one fact fans…according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we waste over 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper over Christmas, which equates to 83sqkm of rubbish and is enough to wrap up the entire island of Guernsey. Strewth. If you’re intent on using pretty printed paper, make sure it’s recycled, or use brown, or recycled paper, which, when tied with raffia particularly, looks very stylish. Remember to save the wrapping paper, boxes and gift bags that you receive presents in throughout the year, so you can reuse them at Christmas, and always recycle as much wrapping paper as you can on the day.
Not everyone has the time (or the inclination) to candy fruit for their loved ones, or sit and work on handmade ornaments throughout the year, but if you do – brilliant; DIY Christmas gifts are by far the eco-friendliest option, especially when hand delivered. If you prefer to shop for presents however, remember to give green. Reduce your carbon emissions and support your local economy by browsing nearby boutiques, farmer’s markets and family-run businesses for unique bargains, and, if you are casting your purchasing net a little wider, just make sure what you catch is kind to the environment. Check out p119 for some organic beauty gift ideas that avoid chemicals, parabens and nutritional nasties.
The big one: food
Think about the impact of your festive feast
The UK’s food wastage is outrageously high throughout the entire year – 7.3 million tonnes of household food waste was binned in 2015 at an eye-watering value of £13 billion – so it’s something that we all need to be more aware of anyway. At Christmas, a time at which we buy some 16.5 million turkeys, it’s likely that these levels peak, but there are ways and means to be more mindful about it.
If you’re a supermarket shopper, have a look in your fridge now and you’ll be amazed at where you’ve sourced your food from – on quick glance in mine, I’m rather ashamed to admit I’ve spotted kale from Morocco, lettuce from Spain and sugar snap peas from Peru! By the time the ingredients that make up the average British Christmas dinner arrive on our plates, they’re estimated to have travelled a combined distance of 49,000 miles – taking into account turkey from Europe, vegetables from Africa, wine from the southern hemisphere and cranberries from America, the turkey and all its trimmings add up to the equivalent of 6,000 car trips around the world. Food Carbon’s Footprint Calculator is an interesting tool to gain some perspective here – head to www.foodcarbon.co.uk to check some of your ingredients.
The question as to whether opting to eat a vegetarian Christmas dinner over a meat-based one is in fact far greener rears its head annually. It seems, beef is the biggest culprit here though. The environmental impact of eating beef dwarfs that of other meats and research has shown that eating less red meat could be as effective at cutting your carbon emissions as giving up your car. It requires 28 times the amount of land to produce beef than chicken or turkey and 11 times the amount of water, a process that overall results in five times the amount of climate-warming emissions being released.
In that light, choosing turkey is a far more ethically-conscious choice than choosing beef at least, but whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or a meat eater, the eco-friendliest way to eat is to buy locally and organic wherever possible, which will reduce the impact of your meal on the environment and taste better too – millions of turkeys are eaten every Christmas, so if you’re one of the many that can’t resist, make sure it’s been reared in humane conditions.
We do seem to adopt an irrational, supermarket sweep sort of mindset when doing the ‘big Christmas shop’ too, so treats and mandatory cheeseboards aside, do try and plan what your family and guests will eat and what they won’t to avoid buying too much surplus, and, whenever you do cook, make sure you put your vegetable leftovers in a compost bin, or compost heap in the garden. Buy your fruit and vegetables loose and ditch all that wasteful plastic packaging; make sure the produce that is packaged is done so in recycled materials; buy drinks in bigger bottles rather than small ones as one large bottle generates less waste than several smaller ones; try to avoid serving people with paper or plastic plates and cups if you are entertaining; and, don’t forget to pack your shopping into reusable shopping bags.
In a nutshell, it’s absolutely possible to have a very merry and yet much more green Christmas, so plan ahead and your eased eco-conscience will savour every bite, sip and fuzzy gift-giving feeling just that little bit more.