I’m dreaming of a green Christmas …
From eating and drinking to giving and receiving, it is the time of year when you do things to excess. So can you still have a good Christmas – and be kind to the planet? Yes, says Aida Edemariam, you just need to be a little more creative
You could go nowhere. “Advances in modern communications technology make it possible to see and hear your kith and kin via the internet, and investing in a simple webcam set-up can bring you closer, if not physically,” suggests The Green Guide for Christmas 2006. If that doesn’t appeal, you could cycle – which might be a bit parky, especially if in the end it’s a white Christmas rather than green. Failing that – and most of us will – take public transport. Christmas train and bus schedules generally do not make this option easy, but try to plan ahead. As for flying – well, that’s the big sin, isn’t it. Cross the Atlantic and you produce as much CO2 as a family car does in a year. The trouble is, if you’re flying for Christmas it’s usually because you haven’t seen your family for a while, and the trip is less likely to be negotiable. You could deny yourself air travel for the rest of the year, or make the rest of your Christmas so green that you offset your evil ways.
More than seven million Christmas trees are grown and sold in the UK each year, most ending up as landfill. In 2001, according to Defra, 7.5 million Christmas trees were bought and only 1.2 million were recycled. The other 6 million or so created enough waste to fill the Albert Hall three times over. The obvious answer is not to have one. But if that’s too bah humbug, too depressing, make your own. Vicki Hird, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, cuts one out of cardboard and gets her children to paint it green. She concedes that that’s not for everyone, “but it’s quite fun for the children”.
I once spent an interesting afternoon helping a friend spray-paint fallen branches from the local park silver. It’s not a tree-option I’m going to repeat in a hurry, so for those like me, who love the smell of pine needles, here are a couple of solutions: buy British – so they don’t have so far to go; or get a tree with roots still on, and plant it in your garden after Epiphany. And if you don’t have a garden – recycle. Most councils will compost or shred trees. And if they don’t, they should.Christmas dinner
The centre of festivities, apart from the presents of course. Oh, and God, glad tidings and goodwill to all men. According to the Environment Agency, a typical Christmas dinner made from imported ingredients travels more than 24,000 miles – that’s once round the globe. A similar dinner made from UK farmers market produce travels 376 miles. So find a local turkey farmer, or at least buy free-range, and use local instead of imported berries for pudding. Treat it as a challenge, says Hird. “You can discover new shops, new markets, even get people at dinner to guess where it all came from.” Moreover, the Green Guide reminds us that “over 24 million glass jars of mincemeat, pickles and cranberry sauce will be consumed over the festive period and if these jars were recycled, it would save enough energy to boil water for 60 million cups of tea.”
You may, year after year, be using family heirlooms of blown glass and gold, but for those who aren’t and plan to refresh their stock this season, stop and think a minute. Many are made out of non-biodegradable substances, often in distant countries with questionable working practices. Look for baubles made of natural substances, and if possible under fair trade. Recycle old and tatty decorations, or make edible ones – strings of cranberries and popcorn, decorated biscuits in fun shapes (children’s cookbooks are a good source for this, notes Hird). Then you can eat them or put them out for the squirrels and birds.
“When I was a kid we made paper chains,” says Gavin Markham, who edits the Green Guide. “Nowadays you go out to the nearest Woolies, buy the cheapest tat there is, then throw it away. Kids like making stuff, getting involved. It’s getting back to what Christmas should be about.” Use that foil again – attached to cardboard backing, it can make very presentable stars. It is even possible, for those with Martha Stewart tendencies, to make your own Christmas crackers.