Walking in a Winter Wasteland?

Dec. 8, 2021, 10 a.m. • By Nisha Sarki

Dubbed as the most ‘wonderful time of the year’, Christmas brings a lot of joy to those who are celebrating but the question we want to know is: is it an environmental disaster or can it be salvaged?

There’s a festive variety of food, families travel from all over to come together, overflowing presents under the tree, and decorative lights so bright you can see them from space.

This sounds incredible, right? How can anyone have an issue with a festive tradition that is associated with nothing but joy and love?

Well, there are two sides to every coin. 

The ‘festive variety of food’ masks the environmental damage of our excessive eating habits during this period. According to a University of Manchester study, as a nation, our intake of food during the Christmas period exceeds 80% of what we would normally consume. The UK’s Christmas eating habit has the same carbon footprint as a single car travelling 150 million miles. That’s a lot of miles. 

Similarly, families coming together is a beautiful moment. Travel is a necessary means to get to your loved ones. However, if planned at the last minute, the carbon emissions to travel home can be extraordinary - especially if planes or cars are involved. For example, a short 1hr 20 flight from Paris to London Heathrow and back generates about 228kg CO2 per passenger. There are 8 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in an entire year. To give another example, driving from Manchester to London and back generates around 74kg CO2. If a family of 10 were coming together from all over the country, or even the world, the amount of damage done to the environment is substantial. 

Then, we move on to the presents. The biggest environmental problem of Christmas is not the act of giving, or presents itself. The problem lies with the excessive number of superfluous presents. Often presents that are given just for the sake of giving, rather than out of necessity, are disposed of after only a couple of uses. Approximately £42 million of unwanted presents are thrown in the landfill every year. This doesn’t even touch the problem of non-recyclable packaging and wrapping used for the festive season, which equates to about 108 million rolls of wrapping paper every year. 

The problem isn’t the celebration of Christmas - it’s the amount of waste and unnecessary consumption promoted by this holiday. But the question remains: how can you have a more sustainable and environmentally friendly Christmas moving forward? 

Let’s go through this by category. 

Food 

  1. Plan carefully to avoid food waste. 
  2. Only buy what you need.
  3. Try to buy local - think about how far your dinner had to travel to get to you. That adds to the overall carbon footprint of your meal. 
  4. Try to buy seasonal and organic food instead - this way you’ll be supporting farmers who farm with fewer pesticides, helping the overall quality of the soil.
  5. Try to go plant-based if possible. 
  6. If not, consider buying ethically sourced meats from the butchers.
  7. Try to buy loose fruit and veg to cut down on packaging.
  8. Use your freezer afterwards and love your leftovers.
  9. Compost all the scraps.

Transport 

  1. Try to use public transport where possible. Buy tickets in advance to save money.
  2. If you have to use a car, try to see if you can carpool if possible. This reduces the number of cars on the road. 
  3. If you’re coming home from overseas, try to offset your emissions with a high-quality offset provider. There are means to pay for carbon-neutralising equalisers, which might cost a bit more. However, it might be worth it to have a more eco-friendly Christmas.

Presents 

  1. Try to be an ethical consumer this year. Ethical consumption is the idea of buying better, which includes thinking about pre-and post-purchase actions. How was it made? Will the person I’m giving this to use it for a long time? Can it be recycled after its use?
  2. Buy less than initially planned. Remember you don’t need to be excessive to show love. There are less stressful, less wasteful alternatives to the prepackaged marketing ploys that are out in the market this time of the year.
  3. Give a gift of experience - whether it’s quality time away with family, a pottery class, or even concert tickets, take time to give something they will remember. 
  4. Think about buying from greener brands that have a lower impact on the environment. 
  5. Buy second hand if possible; give the item a second life. Taking the time to truly think about a person’s preference and to thrift can show how much you love them.
  6. Purchase practical items. Think about their actual taste and what they will find useful to avoid presents ending up in the landfill.
  7. Or make the present yourself. It could be handmade chocolates, or knitted clothing or even making them a scrapbook. This can end up being the most sustainable and thoughtful option.
  8. Wrapping paper: avoid the papers that cannot be recycled. Better yet, use fabric or reusable material to wrap the presents. 
  9. Any presents you don’t like, re-gift them to someone who might love it. 

Decorations 

  1. Christmas Tree:
  • If you already have a plastic tree, try to reuse it for as long as possible. 
  • However, the more eco-friendly option would be a real tree. You would have to reuse the fake fir for at least 10 years for it to be greener than the real version. 
  • If you do choose to get a real tree, make sure you recycle it rather than let it end up in a landfill. Most councils offer this service. 
  • If possible, try to buy a tree that’s locally sourced and grown. This way, it removes the extra miles it would take to transport the tree to you.
  • You could go further and rent a real tree from a British farm. Find out how you can rent a tree using this guide.
  • You could also get a potted Christmas tree so you can reuse it every year. Here are some tips on how you can take care of it so the tree can be beautiful every single year. 
  1. In terms of the decorations, try to reuse items from last year. 
  2. Have a fun DIY session with your friends and family and create Christmas decorations using recycled materials.
  3. If you want to buy certain pieces, have a look at your local charity shops to give some real gems a second life. Alternatively, have a look at some sustainable brands for some options and buy items that last a long time.
  4. Invest in a reusable advent calendar and refill it with a variety of gifts to bring joy to your friends and family. 
  5. Switch to LED Christmas lights. They’re far more sustainable than traditional incandescent lights as they use 80% less energy.
  6. If possible, switch to solar-powered lights for outdoors. This not only is better for the environment, but it also saves you money on your energy bills.

C Free Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s easy to get caught up on what Christmas has become in recent years and feel the need to consume as much as possible in the name of celebration. However, the outcome doesn’t have to be so wasteful and damaging to the environment. Let’s not forget what Christmas is all about: a time for friends and family to come together; celebrate love, and bring joy to those around us. 

Let’s join together in making our winter wonderland a little bit greener this year

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