green your christmas

Submitted by sprout group hug on Wed, 2010-12-01 17:15

In 2008, scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute reported that the carbon footprint of Christmas - including food, travel, lighting, and gifts - was 650 kg per person in England.

In 2008 consumers in the UK consumed approximately 10 million turkeys, 25 million Christmas puddings, 250 million pints of beer and 35 million bottles of wine. The UK spends £20bn on Christmas, with £1.6bn going on food and drink, of which approximately 230,000 tons of food worth about £275 million is thrown away. Let's face it, Christmas is a nightmare holiday when it comes to the environment.

Another large contributing factor to the carbon footprint of Christmas is the miles that food, gifts, decorations and the like travel to reach you. By reducing the distance that these things travel, you can reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas. Supporting locally made gifts, locally grown food, local wine, locally made decorations and travelling locally are all ways to help the environment, and won't cost the earth, literally.

The Great Christmas Tree Debate

According to, Americans bought 28 million real Christmas trees last year, and spent 11 million dollars on fake trees. Whilst in the UK, consumers bought 7 million real Christmas trees in the 2008 festive season. Is chopping down real trees better than buying a fake one made of plastic?

Here are some of the reasons why a real Christmas tree is better for the environment than a fake one:

  • Real trees are grown here, fake ones are shipped in from China
  • Most artificial trees are made from metals and plastics
  • Fake trees are not better for the environment
  • Fake trees are not biodegradable
  • Real trees are a little poor on biodiversity, but can be recycled

However, the Christmas Tree Association advocates that an environmental study has found that using an average artificial Christmas tree has a smaller carbon footprint than a consumer using an average farm-grown Christmas tree. The idea is that buying and using an artificial Christmas tree over ten years reduces one's carbon footprint (if you can find a tree that lasts that long).

The best option in South Africa, is to buy an indigenous tree in a pot, and plant it in your garden, or in a public area if you don’t have a back yard, after Christmas. If you’re a business and you really want to earn brownie points, contact Greenpop or Food and Trees for Africaand purchase a tree, which they can plant in under-greened areas.

Another idea is to use a dried tree, branch or flower stalk (like a massive agave or sisal stalk after it has flowered and died) to hang Christmas decorations from. We're using our old tree tomato (they're quite short lived) that croaked last year. It is stuck in a 20l painters bucket full of sand to hold it upright and will be draped with Christmas lights and homemade decorations.

Christmas cards

In some ways one misses the nostalgia of receiving letters and Christmas cards, but on balance, it is better for the environment to send an e-card or an email. Every year approximately 750,000 letters are sent to Santa by children, and that's just in the UK.

Several billion ordinary Christmas cards are sent out every year. That’s a lot of paper and air miles. But you don’t have to sacrifice the celebration of Christmas to make it sustainable. Send Christmas ecards:
World Land Trust
Friends of the Earth
Or buy charity, recycled or locally made Christmas cards instead of imported ones.

Green gift ideas

Once one starts actively looking, it isn't difficult to find great local gift ideas. Making local markets your main source of gifts is really a lot of fun. It does entail a little more planning, it's true, and leaving it for the last minute is probably not going to work in your favour, but there are many local Christmas markets now in cities in South Africa and you can easily give overcrowded shops, playing overzealous music a skip! Have a look at our guide to the Christmas Markets happening around the country.

Another idea for present (and waste) minimisation: put the names of all the family members attending the traditional lunch in a hat and draw one person to buy a gift for, rather than trying to buy a present for everyone that often is far from anything they really want. You'll save both money and the environment.

When buying gifts try and buy gifts that are eco friendly, or come from a sustainable source:

What to avoid:

  • Plastic, PVC, or unsustainable goods
  • Overly packaged items
  • Anything made from endangered wood

What to buy:

  • Durable gifts (quality, long lifespan)
  • Think less materialistically – see below for a list of ideas
  • Support the little guy - avoid big brands and supermarket chains
  • 2nd-hand (books, clothes, CDs, antiques, local markets)

Lookout for part 2 of our Green your Christmas 2010 guide, when we look at some specific gift ideas.

And in part 3 we'll take a look at the Christmas meal and some low carbon holiday pointers!