Are you dreaming of a green Christmas? Follow our A-Z of tips and find out how you can enjoy the festive season without costing the earth.
A is for artificial trees These are not necessarily greener – although they last for longer, they are made from plastic, not recycleable or from a renewable source and have probably been shipped great distances. There are also question marks over where they are made and the labour used. Real trees also help to remove carbon from the atmosphere while they are growing (more on real trees below under C).
B is for batteries New gifts at Christmas often mean that households go through a lot of batteries. Batteries contain toxic chemicals, do not biodegrade and are difficult to recycle. As an alternative, Nigel’s ecostore recommends using rechargeable batteries or trying the new AA size USB rechargeable batteries. By opening the cap and plugging into a USB connector, you can recharge them pretty much anywhere.
C is for …
Candles Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are no good for your health or for the environment. Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.
Cards Recyclenow.com has teamed up with the Woodland Trust card recycling scheme which will allow people to recycle their cards throughout January at participating retailers. With an average of 17 cards in the UK for every man, woman and child, that’s a lot of trees saved. Can you send an e-card instead? Purchase recycled or charity cards or cut up last year’s and re-use them?
Compost Compost all your food peelings or get a wormery to help break down the vegetable food waste into rich soil nutrition.
Clothes Over 80,000 tonnes of old clothes will be thrown away this Christmas. so if you do get a new wardrobe, make sure you donate your old clothes to a local charity shop.
Christmas trees Real trees are the more eco-friendly choice, as long as you consider where and how they have been grown.
Make sure you get one from a sustainable source. There are over 400 Christmas tree growers across the UK registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, where trees are grown according to strict guidelines governing everything from sustainable seeds and cultivation to protecting local wildlife.
The Soil Association also certifies some trees as organic, which means that no pesticides will have been used during growing.
You could also choose a tree with roots so that it can be replanted. The best way to use a real tree, though, is to use a live one. You can grow your own with a kit from Ecotopia – although it might just be a bit late to start growing one for this year – or you can try Pines and Needles who offer healthy Nordmann fir and Norway spruce trees in pots (and can recycle them afterwards too). This means that they will stay fresh all the way through Christmas, won’t drop needles all over your floor and you can even plant them in the garden in January. Failing that, take the tinsel off and keep them indoors all year round.
For something altogether different there’s always the Woodland Trust’s new “‘eco trees” made of recycled card that you can fold down and use year after year. Or you could just forego the whole palaver and dedicate a tree – it’ll offset some carbon emissions, too.
Recycle your tree after Christmas. Six million trees brightened up homes and offices across Britain last year, of which only 10% were recycled. The rest went into landfill, a wasted opportunity to create biomass that would have provided nutrients for depleted soil. Many local authorities and garden centres will be recycling Christmas trees after the festive period.
D is for …
Decorations Use recycled decorations – Revolve uses CDs and juice cartons to make your tree sparkle. Or decorate your tree with products that are fairly traded and ethically sourced. The WWF has some ideas here. Or get creative and make your own – ideas here.
Defrost your freezer before Christmas It will work more efficiently and create more space to store leftover food, so that it doesn’t go to waste.
E is for eco-bags Use a cotton shopper bag instead of all that plastic. Bags of Change recently won two gongs at the Green England awards and offer organic hemp-cotton bags. Or, if you sign up and complete 12 pledges in our green community we will give you one for free.
F is for food shopping For some horrifying statistics on how much food we throw away, read this story.
By the time the ingredients that make up the average British Christmas dinner arrive on our plates, they have travelled a combined distance of 49,000 miles. Turkeys from Europe, vegetables from Africa, wine from the southern hemisphere, cranberries from America – the turkey and trimmings add up to the equivalent of 6,000 car trips around the world, new research from the University of Manchester has found. Try this food foodprint calculator to check some of your ingredients.
Buy an organic turkey. Ten million turkeys are eaten every Christmas, so try to make sure it has been reared in humane conditions.
Buy local or buy less. Produce bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint. Shop at a local farmers’ market, or try growing some of your own vegetables where possible.
Buy your fruit and vegetables loose and ditch all that wasteful plastic packaging. Make sure the goods that are packaged are made from recycled materials.
Buy drinks in bigger bottles rather than small ones. One large bottle generates less waste than several smaller ones.
Try to avoid serving people with paper or plastic plates and cups if you are entertaining.
Pack all your goods into a re-usable shopping bag or re-use old plastic bags.
Don’t forget to put the vegetable peelings from your Christmas dinner in your home compost bin.
K is for keeping your curtains closed. This keeps heat in and saves energy and money. And with all those guests to entertain, more heat is going to be generated anyway.
L is for lights Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas produce enough CO2 to inflate 12 balloons, so turn them off when they are not needed (you can join our green community, Tread lightly, by pledging to turn off your lights for longer here – you must sign in).
If you want to be more environmentally friendly, try switching to either LED lights, choosing lights that are powered by solar power or rechargeable batteries, or installing an energy-saving bulb to offset the energy usage.
If you haven’t already – make it a new year’s resolution to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs (sign up for this Tread lightly pledge here).
P is for …
Plastic-free More than 17bn plastic bags are handed out by supermarkets a year – that’s 300 for every man, woman and child – causing nearly 60,000 tonnes of plastic to go to landfill sites (more on why plastic bags are so bad here).
Now and after Christmas, use a cotton eco-shopper (if you sign up and complete 12 Tread lightly pledges we will give you one for free) or take old plastic bags and reuse them.
You could even follow Modbury’s example, and get your whole town to go plastic bag-free.
With retailers yet to get the message on excessive packaging, try to avoid purchasing products and food that are overpackaged.
Presents Buy local or buy less. Each Christmas, 4,000 tonnes of products arrive from China. Presents bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint.
Check out some of our ethical gift ideas here.
Buy durable gifts and avoid buying or requesting presents that rely on disposable parts like batteries. Try to look for alternatives, for example, goods that are solar or wind-up powered.
Do you have to buy gifts? Could you buy an “experience” instead? Try cinema tickets, club memberships, gift tokens. Sponsor an animal, buy them some rainforest to protect – but don’t give them another unwanted gift which they will simply throw away.
R is for recycle According to Recyclenow.com, English households will throw out an additional 3m tonnes – that’s five sacks of rubbish per family – over the festive period. Much of this will be waste that could have been recycled.
If you’re not doing it already, it’s getting harder to have an excuse not to recycle, with nine out of 10 homes in Britain now having a doorstep recycling service which will take paper, card, glass and metal cans.
If you don’t have a doorstep service, take your drinks bottles and paper to the recycling bank when you next go to the supermarket, or find out whether your area has a local recycling depot here.
There are plenty of tips on which materials you can recycle and how here.
T is for …
Turning off your appliances Turning your appliances off at the mains, rather than leaving them on standby. This saves huge amounts of carbon – find out how much by signing up for the Tread lightly pledge here.
Turning down the thermostat by 1C. Not only does this save carbon and money, it’s a good excuse to resurrect the themed Christmas jumper. You can sign up for this Tread lightly pledge here.
U is for using the right-sized pan Use the right-sized pan for the vegetables you cook, and only boil the kettle with the amount of water you need.
W is for wrapping. This constitutes one of the biggest Christmas wastes – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that last year’s wasted paper would be enough to wrap up the Channel island of Guernsey. If we all recycled just half of of the 8,000 tonnes produced we’d save 25,000 trees. Try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper (WWF has some nice paper here), recycled foil or newspaper, and using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up.
So what will you be doing this Christmas? Have you got any more tips?