7 ways to a greener Christmas
Christmas is one of the most environmentally damaging times of the year, as our general tendency is to over consume on everything, but it needn’t be that way. Jim Keoghan suggests some simple ways to enjoy Christmas without it costing the earth!
Make your own cards
Over 1.7 billion Christmas cards are sent every year in the UK, an amount that accounts for over 200,000 trees. One simple way to help the planet is to either choose recycled cards now available on the high street or to make your own.
Simply cut out designs from last year’s cards and stick them on to a piece of folded card, recycled if possible, to create something that is personal, inexpensive and much more beneficial to the environment.
Alternatively, choose an e-card. Delivered online via e-mail, these are free and have little impact upon the environment. Both the British Library (www.bl.uk/ecards/indexxmas.html) and the Worldland Trust (www.worldlandtrust.org/ecards/index.htm) have a wide variety of different cards to choose from.
Give a good gift
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, but many of those we buy have a negative impact upon the environment. Whether it’s the amount of packaging, the distance travelled, the energy used in their production or the energy consumed through their use; these gifts contribute a significant amount to greenhouse pollution each year.
Try to buy gifts which are made locally, such as something from a craft fair or farmers market. Alternatively, you could buy one of the many products that possess an environmental dimension, such as a wind-up radio, recycled stationery or wooden toys. These can be bought from a number of online shops such as the Carbon Neutral Company (www.carbonneutral.com) and Ecotopia (www.ecotopia.co.uk).
Another option is to give someone an activity gift, such as tickets to a play, membership of a gym or a voucher for a spa treatment. If none of these options appeal, then you can still improve your carbon footprint when buying conventional gifts by choosing those with limited packaging.
Wrap up in style
Last year, around 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper was used at Christmas – the equivalent of 50,000 trees. Look for 100% recycled wrapping paper - available online from the Natural Collection at www.naturalcollection.com (Tel: 0845 3677 003). Even greener is recycled brown paper, available from the World Wildlife Fund at www.wwf.org.uk (Tel:01483 426444).
For those of you with more creative flair, another option is to make your own wrapping paper. Use interesting pictures from newspapers and magazines or even leftover wallpaper and use old scraps of lace, buttons or old Christmas decorations to make your gifts look extra special.
For the more more adventurous, take a sheet of plain paper, recycled if possible, and paint your own designs. It’s a great way to add a personal touch and also something the whole family can get involved in.
Get creative with your decorations
Many of the decorations we hang on our tree or around the home are manufactured industrially, made out of non-biodegradable substances and imported. If you prefer to buy traditional baubles, look for those made of natural substances and produced locally.
To be a little greener, make some edible decorations. Shaped biscuits, such as stars, snowmen and Christmas trees are easy to make and very popular with children.
Another option is to make simple decorations using what you have around the house. “When I was a kid we made paper chains," says Gavin Markham, who edits the Green Guide. “Nowadays you go out to the high street, buy the cheapest thing available, and then throw it away. Kids like making stuff and getting involved. It's getting back to what Christmas should be about.”
Choose a natural tree
If you’ have already got an artificial tree, then it’s best just to keep it, but if you’re looking to buy a new one, a faux tree is not a great choice as it’s usually made from a petroleum-based product. By contrast, as real trees grow they absorb the greenhouse gas CO2 and so help limit the progress of climate change.
At one time many of our real trees were imported, but there are now several specialist growers in the UK. Details are available from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association online at www.christmastree.org.uk or by telephone on 0131 6641101.
Sometimes, these growers use chemical fertilisers and pesticides to control things such as aphids and rust mites. If you would rather opt for an organic tree, then The Soil Association, (Tel: 0117 314 5000 www.soilassociation.org) has a list of suppliers that have its approval.
Shop locally for your Christmas dinner
According to the environmental group Sustain, the average Christmas dinner travels over 24,000 miles before it reaches our plate because so much of it is imported. If we bought our food locally instead, this figure would only be 376 miles, which would represent a huge saving in carbon emissions.
“I think in terms of advice, the best thing to do is buy local and buy seasonal” says Jeanette Longfield of Sustain. “The Christmas dinner was once probably designed around exactly these principles, hence the traditional ingredients. Disastrously, the traditional ingredients now come from who knows where and at great cost to the environment.”
Details of local food producers can be obtained from the Good Food Pages (www.goodfoodpages.co.uk) or from your local authority. Alternatively, you might want to visit one of the many farmers markets taking place during December. To find out when and where these are happening log on to the National Farmers Retail and Markets Association’s website at www.farmersmarkets.net or call them on 0845 4588420.
Don’t waste a thing
Here in the UK, our waste goes up by 10% per cent over the Christmas period and most of it ends up in landfills. Check with your local authority about what can be recycled and where facilities are located.
By recycling, not only do we limit the amount that goes into landfill, but we also cut down on energy use as recycled products use less total energy during the production cycle than newly created ones.
We also throw away a great deal of food, which also ends up in landfills. Much of this - vegetable peelings, fruit peelings and tea bags - can be recycled via garden composters, which are offered at subsidised rates by many local authorities. Smaller kitchen composters with the added benefit of breaking down cooked food are available to buy online from Wiggly Wigglers at www.wigglywigglers.co.uk (Tel: 01981 500391