From shopping for gifts and decorations, to feasting and travelling to visit family, it should come as no surprise that Christmas has a hefty impact on the environment.
Exact figures for the footprint of the festive season are hard to come by. But if we take wrapping paper as an example, the fact that we use 227,000 miles* of it in the UK each Christmas is enough to give you pause for thought.
Last Christmas we put together this guide to having an eco-friendly celebration. Here’s our update with some of the more unique conditions of 2020 in mind.
Which is better for the environment, a real tree or fake? The Carbon Trust comes down firmly on the side of the real deal, which racks up half the carbon footprint of a plastic tree. You would have to use a plastic tree for over 10 years to balance out the emissions, and it will still end up in landfill.
To make your real Christmas tree as green as possible, take care with how you source, look after and dispose of it. If getting a cut tree, buy locally from farms that are part of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, or look for an FSC label. When the decorations come down, arrange for it to be recycled as woodchip, or chip it yourself and use it on your flowerbeds.
An even greener option is to get a potted tree that you can reuse. Just make sure you care for your tree so that it lasts year after year. If that’s more work than you can manage, you can even rent a tree for the season.
Decking the halls
When it comes to fairy lights, choose LED ones as they’re the most efficient. And if you switch to Good Energy, every kWh you use will be matched with 100% renewable electricity from our community of independent British generators. If you’re already a customer, why not refer a friend to be rewarded for helping another household go renewable?
Look for ornaments made from natural or recyclable materials, as those made from plastic will go to landfill when you throw them away. As an eco-friendly alternative, why not make your own biodegradable decorations? For ideas, take a look at these National Trust tutorials on making paper chains, pinecone baubles and scented orange and clove slices.
Giving and receiving presents is one of the joys of this time of year. But the expectation of having to buy something for everyone can cause emotional as well as financial stress — and often leaves people with items they don’t need or want.
Having a Secret Santa system is one way to cut down consumption. Use Draw Names to set this up online. You can even add wish lists to make sure everyone gets something they’ll really appreciate.
Other alternatives to ‘more stuff’ include:
- Agreeing as a group to donate to a chosen charity
- Giving time. This could be an experience-based present such as a hobby class or day out, or even a favour such as helping with a DIY project.
- Give presents that are edible, ethical or both. Support sustainable companies like the ones that we supply. For example, clothing from Finisterre or Rapanui, tea made by Pukka Herbs, beer from Good Things Brewing and festive treats from Tracklements or Lick the Spoon.
Be smarter with online shopping
With Amazon generating carbon emissions on par with a small country in 2019, it pays to think twice before getting something driven to your door.
First, if it’s COVID safe to do so, can you support local businesses instead? If you’re able to walk or cycle to the shops, you’ll reduce your impact even further.
If you’re buying online, look into how a company ships your items. Do they use recyclable or biodegradable packaging? Will they group multiple items to minimise waste and delivery journeys? For small, courier delivered items, see if there’s an option to collect it from a shop that you can get to without driving. This reduces the number of individual deliveries the driver will have to make.
All wrapped up
As a guide, any wrapping paper that doesn’t include plastic, foil or glitter should be recyclable. Remember to remove plastic sticky tape first or use paper tape instead.
Brown paper packages, either hand decorated or simply tied up with string, have been a Pinterest favourite for the last year or two. For family presents, you could repurpose scarves or other fabric and take them back afterwards.
The conditions of 2020 mean that as a country, we’re likely to make far fewer journeys than usual. But there will still be plenty of cars on the road, as more people may opt to drive rather than use public transport.
If you are travelling longer distances this Christmas, you can offset your journey by donating to Climate Care. They operate the clean energy projects that we invest in through our carbon neutral gas.
Potatoes and parsnips, sprouts and cauliflower: Christmas is made for celebrating seasonal, British grown veg. If you can, visit your nearest greengrocer to see if you can get packaging free produce grown in the local area.
When it comes to the centrepiece, look for high welfare, free range, organic turkey, goose, duck, chicken etc. This means they will have had space to roam and feed free from pesticides and preservatives, helping to support biodiversity and soil health. Go to Good Energy partner, the Soil Association for more advice on buying organic.
As meat-based diets are still higher carbon than plant-based ones, you could also try to reduce how much meat you eat. Check out vegetarian and vegan Christmas recipes such as nut roasts and vegetable wellingtons for more inspiration.
Have plans for your leftovers
For most of us Christmas is a time of indulgence, with the Big Issue reporting that at least half of British households buy more food than they would usually. The flipside is that this also results in more food waste, including up to 2 million turkeys going uneaten.
To reduce what you throw away, start by planning and cooking a more realistic amount of food for your dinner guests. Then separate and store what’s left to use over the next few days. Go to BBC Good Food for ideas on what to cook with leftovers beyond the classic cold turkey sandwich.
Final thought for the season
From reducing consumption to learning to love leftovers, plenty of these green Christmas ideas can be carried on into 2021. These actions may seem small, but the more people who make sustainable changes, the bigger difference we can make together.