How can you be more sustainable this Christmas?

Updated: Jan 12

Whether you celebrate Christmas as a Christian believing in the birth of Christ, the saviour, or just because it's a nice tradition - the way Christmas is celebrated does have a huge environmental impact.


Cherished traditions and even deeply held religious beliefs apart, let's draw your attention to some aspects.


Presents, turkeys, and Christmas trees


To name but three aspects and their environmental impact we'll focus on presents, turkeys, and Christmas trees.


Trees





Christmas trees are perhaps the easiest to assess.


They come in two varieties, as actual trees and plastic imitations thereof.


On the whole, naturally grown Christmas trees appear to be climate neutral.


They are planted, grown (consuming CO2 and producing O2 in the process), and then get cut down and used as festive decoration.


The process of cutting them and transporting them to the points of sale, of course, comes with a CO2-footprint.


Also, a Christmas tree farm may use pesticides, especially if they operate large mono-cultures.


What can consumers do to minimise the environmental impact of their Christmas tree?


If possible, buy local.


If you have got a garden, the best is to buy a Christmas tree in a pot which you can then plant in your garden once the festive season is over.


If you've got a fireplace, you can use the tree as firewood.


And finally, most municipalities offer Christmas tree collection services where the trees are recycled (at least to some degree).


Plastic Christmas trees are as problematic as all non-recyclable plastic products are.


Provided the plastic tree is kept for many years the impact is low, however, at some point the tree will break down and will have to replaced.





Food




Turkeys (or geese or other poultry, depending on the local tradition) are an essential part of many Christmas dinners.


Enough has been written about the environmental impact of meat farming to be repeated here.


As consumers we find ourselves torn between meeting the comic book-like expectations of tables bending under mountains of food on the one hand and the much-needed call for some moderation on the other.


It is true: If you couldn't over-indulge for Christmas then when could you?


However, there is a substantial difference between a little over-indulgence and downright wastefulness.


Buying a little more and eating a little more is fine.


Buying a lot more and throwing it in the bin definitely isn't!


Presents and wrappings





We buy presents to impress people we don't care about with money we haven't got, as one cynical quip goes.


That is probably true as often as it is false.



In any case, gift wrapping carries a large load of invisible waste; producing one kilogram of gift wrapping produces 3.5 kg of CO2 as well.[1][2]


It's also a question of what we are offering as presents.


Toys that are so flimsy that they end up in landfills before spring are self-evidently a waste.


The situation is compounded if they contain electronic elements which means that they should be treated as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).


Everybody likes receiving a present, but exercising a little mindfulness when it comes to choosing the presents in question (not just with respect to the intended recipient but also to its probable environmental impact) will go a long way.


If you are environmentally-minded (and the fact that you are reading this would suggest so), here is a little list of suggestions to make your Christmas a little more environmentally benign.[3]



  • Buy presents with rechargeable batteries

  • Freeze the leftovers of your Christmas dinner

  • Shop locally if possible

  • Buy a big gift instead of several little ones to save wrapping paper

  • Use eco-friendly wrapping paper

  • Buy second-hand tree decorations

  • If you are a vegetarian, your meal will be more sustainable than if you are not, but this is Christmas, we won't make you feel guilty for having the traditional poultry.

  • Because of Covid-19,travelling will probably be a challenge... You are saving your Carbon footprint here.



To wrap it up:


Yes, there are a lot of problems with the way Christmas is celebrated and some moderation is needed.
Everything we humans do as a species does have an environmental impact - however, refraining from or abolishing everything that does have an environmental impact would strip us of our very humanity.
Moderation is the key!
That said, we wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas, a relaxing and invigorating winter break, and a successful and prosperous year 2021.


[1] https://www.businessleader.co.uk/the-dark-environmental-impacts-of-our-Christmas-season/57161/ (Last accessed on December 7th, 2020)


[2] https://www.science-by-trianon.com/post/invisible-waste-explained-in-500-words (Last accessed on December 7th, 2020)


[3] https://commercialwaste.trade/the-true-cost-of-Christmas/ (Last accessed on December 7th, 2020)


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