At Christmas many of us spend and consume a little more than usual. We do this to indulge ourselves and to celebrate the festive season, brightening up the bleak midwinter.
But the cost of energy is higher than ever, waste is becoming an increasingly serious issue, and climate change remains a global challenge.
To help with this, the Carbon Trust has put together some top tips for how to have a very merry Christmas that doesn’t cost the Earth.
There are two simple things everyone can do that will really help to reduce the overall environmental impact of Christmas.
- Share your Christmas with as many friends and family members as possible. It is much more energy efficient to cook one meal and heat one home rather than two, three or four.
- Don’t buy things that will not get used, or will immediately get thrown away.
Gifts and Decorations
Christmas trees, the presents nestled beneath them, and the decorations around the home, are all a part of creating the festive spirit of the season. But having high spirits doesn’t have to mean a high carbon footprint.
- A real Christmas tree has a significantly lower carbon footprint than an artificial tree, especially if it is disposed of properly, by chipping or burning.
- If you choose an artificial Christmas tree then you would need to use this for around 10 years for its environmental impact to be lower than real trees, so keep reusing it.
- If you are looking at buying electrical equipment such as TVs, lamps and fridges as a gift, then consider the energy use across their life span. More efficient equipment can sometimes cost more up front, but will save money from energy bills in the long run.
- If you are getting a console for Christmas, then think of getting games that the family will all want to play. If several family members are together playing on the console, this means they are not all using different pieces of equipment, resulting in a lower carbon footprint.
- Reuse wrapping paper wherever possible, or make your own using newspaper or magazines.
- Doing your Christmas shopping online can save time and stress, as well as avoiding the emissions from travel. It may also reduce unnecessary impulse buying of things that will go to waste.
- Unsurprisingly, gifts that don’t consume electricity, such as toys and books, tend to have a lower carbon footprint than those that do.
- Buying good quality toys means that these can be passed on to friends, family and charity shops, giving them a second or even a third life.
- The vast majority of gifts inside Christmas crackers never last beyond the end of the meal. Consider getting crackers with just jokes and hats, and make sure to recycle the paper and cardboard afterwards.
People often travel significant distances to visit family and friends at Christmas time – what some environmentalists refer to as love miles. These journeys matter to people, but they can be done in a more environmentally-friendly way.
- Avoid air travel if you can, this is one of the largest carbon impacts an individual can have.
- A lot of people are travelling at the same time – check to see whether you can share a car or take public transport.
- There are a number of car sharing websites - sharing a journey means a lower carbon footprint for each passenger, less traffic on the roads, splitting fuel costs and hopefully getting some good company.
- Consider whether you could replace a journey another option, such as a video chat.
Eating is the focal point of the day for most Christmas celebrations, but cutting carbon and waste out of a meal doesn’t have to have any impact on enjoyment.
- Prepare the right amount of food for the number of people you want to feed – do you really need that mountain of Brussels sprouts or a vat of mashed potatoes?
- If you are stuck when choosing what to cook for your main course, turkey has a lower carbon footprint than beef, and vegetarian options are even lower than that.
- Don’t preheat the oven for too long, or leave it on after the meal is prepared to keep food heated. If you have the over switched off but cover dishes with foil and replace them in the oven, they will stay warm.
- Let people serve themselves the amount they want to eat rather than dishing it out – food left in a serving dish can be eaten as left-overs the next day, whereas food left on plates will be binned.
- Don’t overdo it on cheese – this has a very high carbon footprint.
- Make sure to use your leftovers in the days after Christmas - if there is too much to eat then share it around.
With everyone at home over the festive period this can cause a spike in gas and electricity bills, with all the lighting, heating and watching television. But there are some simple actions that can really help keep these costs down.
- Having a lot of people around and the oven switched on for hours keeps the house warmer than usual, this means you can use less heating.
- If you wear a warm and festive Christmas jumper you can turn the heating down even further.
- Drawing the curtains when the dark December day is drawing to a close can help retain even more heat.
- Switch off lights at night, especially outside. If you are buying new lights then make sure you buy LED ones, which can be used for years to come.
- If you plug lots of electrical equipment into a single extension socket with a foot switch it makes it a lot easier to switch them all off overnight.
Christmas is a celebration that is sometimes all too short. Most of us have a higher environmental impact than usual during this period, but it can be a great time to form lasting habits and encourage broader change.
With a lot of people together, then the actions that you take have a good chance of being noticed and influencing others. This effect can be increased by telling people what you are doing and why.
And there is a good chance you can start an argument about climate change over Christmas dinner, which might make a nice change from politics and religion.