As far as the environment is concerned, Christmas is the least wonderful time of the year, as the highest heights of consumption are scaled through miles of wrapping paper, mountains of turkey, and rivers of petrol. But fear not! There are ways to keep Scrooge from darkening your door while making your Christmas more environmentally friendly too.
We do hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but as far as the environment is concerned, Christmas is the least wonderful time of the year. The highest heights of consumption are reached with miles of wrapping paper, mountains of turkey and rivers of petrol. But fear not! Scrooge need not darken your door. There are some easy ways to make your Christmas more environmentally friendly without removing the jingle.
Give green presents
A few years ago, it’s likely that a recycled Christmas present would have met with resounding disappointment and false tones of gratitude. The early shoes made from recycled car tyres never quite garnered universal appeal. Since then, recycling has moved on a long way and pre-loved plastic is being used by top brands; recycling never looked so good. A beady-eyed shopper will be able to find recycled versions of most of the contents of any Christmas list.
If recycling isn’t for you, think carefully about anything else you do buy and try to avoid products with excessive packaging. Look out for microbeads which can be found in a surprising number of goods, so check labels carefully before you put anything under the tree.
Grow your own Christmas tree
Every adult is familiar with the sharp piercing of pine needles as they attempt to fasten over-priced trees to the roofs of their cars. Suddenly, the most elegant of households embrace flashing lights and decorative fairies. The purchase of a Christmas tree is, of course, an annual ritual held dear to most households. Sadly, this tradition is also dear for the environment.
There is some debate over the benefits of artificial trees versus real, but the former may not be the best solution. Artificial trees are toxic to produce, non-recyclable and carry a hefty carbon footprint. A two-metre artificial tree is estimated to have a carbon footprint equivalent to 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions; more than twice that of a real tree even if it ends its life in a landfill.
If your Christmas wouldn’t feel the same without a real tree, its carbon footprint will be greatly reduced by disposing of it correctly. The Carbon Trust estimates that a two-metre real tree will have a carbon footprint equivalent to 16kg of greenhouse gas emissions if it ends up in a landfill. Burning the tree on the bonfire, planting it or having it chipped to spread on the garden will reduce the carbon footprint by about 80%.
The most environmentally friendly solution is to grow your own tree and pot it every year to bring into your home. That way, nothing is wasted at all (just a bit more time, effort and space in the garden required).
Don’t overbuy at the supermarket
There can be something slightly manic about the look in a fellow shopper’s eye on Christmas Eve. Trolleys heave with enough potatoes and brussel sprouts to feed an entire village. It can feel like we think the shops are going to shut until February.
Running out of food at Christmas is not an option, but some shoppers overcompensate for this fear by buying an awful lot more than they need. There is a limit to how much one family can eat in three days and often a shopper’s eyes are far bigger than a family’s stomach. This overbuying simply means that a well-intentioned food shop ends up in the bin, wasted.
Love Food Hate Waste estimate that we throw away the equivalent of 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies. The same research found that over a third of us admit to throwing more food away over Christmas than at any other time of year. Plan your meals carefully and try not to round numbers up too much, just because it’s Christmas. Some of the most delicious meals are made from leftovers, so try to use up as much as you can. Compost any veg unworthy of a leftover meal, only throwing away what you absolutely have to.
Go meat-free for one day
You may be familiar with Meat-Free Monday, a campaign started by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney in 2009. The campaign’s website lists research by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) which claims that the livestock sector is 'one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale, from local to global.’ The FAO estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions.
Try to bring Meat-Free Monday into your Christmas. We know you probably will have overbought every other type of food (see out third point!), so it’s unlikely the family will starve by going veggie for one day.
Reduce paper waste
Forests worth of Christmas cards and wrapping paper end up in the recycling as part of the Christmas clear-up. It’s almost a novelty now to receive a card by post at any other time of year, yet we continue to dig out dusty address books when 1 December comes around. We use our email for everything else, why not use it to send your festive greetings?
There are hundreds of e-cards online, including a selection that are clever and funny. Not only can the quality of an e-card outshine most paper versions, but you will also save a few pounds on the cards themselves and the endless books of limited-edition stamps.
For those that do still want to put a card in the post, try to find some made from recycled paper. The same goes for wrapping paper as recycled versions are widely available. Where possible, make your paper choices wisely.
Make your own decorations
Crafting suits Christmas almost as well as turkey. Those completely adverse to prit stick for the remaining 11 months of the year seize it with joy come December. Talents aside, a ‘crafternoon’ over Christmas is a wonderfully wholesome affair. And what better goods to craft than your own decorations? Not only will the activity occupy any stray children or grandchildren, but it will also benefit the environment.
The plastic baubles that adorn most Christmas trees will be adorning landfills for hundreds of years to come. Stop buying these plastic adornments and make your own instead. Pine cones, holly and dried orange will create a better atmosphere than any amount of tinsel and they will be far more cherished for many more years to come.
Avoid buying canapés
Most of us eat more canapés in December than we do over the other 11 months of the year combined. Different drinks parties every night are great fun, but they often come at an environmental cost: those delicious canapés are rarely homemade. In a commendable effort to ensure that the product arrives with the customer in perfect condition, it’s likely that canapé suppliers will have absolutely covered their wares in single-use plastic.
Making canapés doesn’t need to be stressful. There are some straightforward recipes out there which will hugely reduce the amount of plastic that has to go straight in the bin.
Try to share car travel where possible, or take public transport
The roads are notoriously busy at Christmas, so avoiding them where possible is probably sensible advice anyway. Transport networks are seriously tested as we all move all over the country at exactly the same time. It may seem obvious, but if there is space in the car, try to share lifts where possible. Not only will you have accompaniment for some carpool-karaoke caroling, but you will also be halving the carbon footprint of your journey.
Public transport is the most environmentally friendly option, so if you can get yourself and all of your presents onto a quiet-ish train, the planet will wish you a Merry Christmas.
A final thought
Before you set out to do any Christmas shopping, think carefully about what you want to buy and the companies you wish to endorse by doing so. Shop at the businesses whose values and ethics align to your own. The power of your festive pound is immense.
We wish you a merry Christmas and although we can’t promise it will be white this year, it might just be green.