Have Yourself a Merry Little, Sustainable, Christmas

For many people the Christmas season officially starts with the putting up of the Christmas tree (of some kind) and by adorning their space with all of the festive decorations that go along with it. However, there is no denying it, Christmas can be a major trip hazard for conscious consumers.  

From tempting festive disposable coffee cups to plastic toys handed out by Santa, Christmas is literally littered with rubbish. But just because “single- use” is the Collins Dictionary word of the year, it doesn’t mean that followers of the sustainable life should have to miss out on all of the fun. 

The Christmas Tree  

The classic festive tree has divided up opinions for years now. What is best ? A real Fir or a plastic fake Fir? Ask anybody and they will give you there humble opinion, but research has shown that the real deal is best and is more sustainable from an environmental point of view.   

Speaking to the BBC, Dr John Kazer, from the Carbon Trust, said that an average artificial tree is made of plastic which comes from oil. This accounts for two thirds of its carbon footprint and that another quarter of its environmental impact comes from the industrial emissions produced when the tree is manufactured.   

Dr John goes on to say that a 2m artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill – and more than 10 times that of real trees that are burnt. 

 However, with the average cost of a real tree costing anywhere between £40 and £200,the sustainability of your finances might be compromised. ” if you have an artificial tree at home you would need to reuse it for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree,” Dr John also said.  

Or you could do neither and create your own festive wonder, such as this rustic but natural alternative made out of fallen branches and held together with Ivy and twine.  

The Decorations 

Some like a sparse decoration, others like to bring Santa’s Grotto to life and go all in with the glitz and the sparkles whilst a few are just happy with whatever the spouse puts up. Either or,  there are many  simple ways to keep the festive decor as minimally environmentally impactful as possible but whilst still obtaining that jaw dropping seasonal decor that will have the Aunt who swears she only got the same curtains as you because “she saw them first” copying next year.  

The first rule of thumb is to just use what you already have and up-cycle the excess. If we are perfectly honest, there is no real need to dramatically switch up the festive vibes each every year but a small selection of ornamental additions is often more than enough to add that extra sparkle.  Or if you desperately are in need of making a festive statement, see if you can make it yourself.  With a bit of glitter and walk through the woods, wonders can be made. Would a colourful garland just add that extra pop of colour to the living room door frame?  Then venture to your wardrobe, see what no longer fits and then get scissor happy.  

Other sustainable decorating ideas are to incorporate nature into your scheme. Add a few dried branches and fallen leaves from your local wood to a bowl with some LED lights and some ‘on theme’ baubles and voila! You have yourself a new table centre piece that can be partly saved for next year and the rest give back to nature.  

It does take time to wrack your brains, but there is a way to get things done with a little bit of creativity.  

The Presents 

Gifting presents is an age-old tradition at Christmas time and in modern society many have become accustomed to receiving and giving gifts within colourful, plastic and cardboard packaging. But 2018 has taught that there is a massive problem with this.

According to cbenvironmental.co.uk, “Each Christmas as much as 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper ends up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands.”. And that is just the wrapping paper.  

In 2016, research conducted by the London Cleaning System shown that: 

  • 300,000 tonnes of card packaging is used at Christmas; enough to cover London’s famous landmark, Big Ben, almost 260,000 times 
  • 1 billion cards end up in the bin, when they could be recycled 
  • The amount of wrapping paper used for presents is enough to wrap around the equator 9 times 
  • 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away 

Alternatives to contributing to this huge issue include gifting experiences instead of physical items, making products yourself and presenting them in reusable packaging (such as a jar ect.). One idea is to wrap up smaller presents in some new socks; gifting two presents together with no waste from either.

If none of the above are viable, make sure the packaging on the presents you choose are recyclable at the very least and is actually sent for recycling.  

The Dinner  

It is the main event; Christmas Dinner. The golden moment that pulls the day to a finale. It’s the one dinner that most look forward to all year round and Christmas isn’t complete without it. But did you know that “Approximately 2 million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and 17.2 million brussel sprouts are thrown away every Christmas” (London Cleaning System, 2016)  However, it is the traditional turkeys that is responsible for the un-sustainability of our festive feast.

A study conducted by the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science at Manchester University found that a traditional Christmas dinner serving 8 people had the same carbon dioxide emissions equivalent of 6000 car trips around the world! And 60% of that carbon emissions number comes from the production of the turkey, considering all of the stages from rearing to slaughter to ending up on the table.

Professor Adisa Azapagic, from the University of Manchester, said: “Food production and processing are responsible for three quarters of the total carbon footprint (of a traditional Christmas dinner), with the largest proportion — 60% — being related to the life cycle of the turkey. All stages in the supply chain have been considered, including raising the turkey, growing the vegetables, food storage, consumer shopping, cooking the meal at home and waste management. This includes the emissions of carbon dioxide due to energy consumption along the turkey supply chain and the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide generated due to the agricultural activities to raise the turkey.” (postconsumers.com)

In order to combat those high emission figure efficiently,  the best thing to do is cut the turkey out altogether and consider ‘tofurkey’ alternatives.  This is not only environmentally effective it is also ethically effective. BUT,  everyone is entitled to their own choices and opinions so the alternative is to source the turkey locally and make only what you need for the dinner and leftovers and compost the uneaten.  



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