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Unwrapping the Truth: How Sustainable is Christmas?

A Christmas tree leans up against a rubbish bin full of discarded christmas paper

As the festive season disappears, all events turn to a distance memory. But what could we do to think about next Christmas? There are nights out (and new sparkly outfits) to plan, Christmas lunch to cook (with all the trimmings and Christmas crackers), Christmas jumpers for school or work, the tree (plus decorations) and of course the gifts (with gift wrap, stocking fillers and secret Santa joke gifts).

Christmas, often regarded as the season of giving and joy, also tends to be a season of excess, leading to considerable waste and whilst we can easily get caught up in the festivities,we often forget to ask ourselves "Just how sustainable is Christmas?"

Christmas Trees

One of the most iconic symbols of Christmas is the evergreen tree, but what is the environmental cost of traditional Christmas trees? While artificial trees are often made from non-biodegradable materials like PVC, real trees, when not sustainably sourced or properly disposed of, contribute to deforestation. It has been calculated (by the Carbon Trust) that a 2-metre-high real Christmas tree has a carbon footprint of 16 kg CO2 (if it ends up in landfill).

The Carbon Trust also found that an equivalent artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40 kgCO2 and typically cannot be recycled.

Solution: Opt for a sustainably grown, organic tree or considering alternative tree optionssuch as potted plants can significantly reduce the environmental impact.

Gift Wrapping

The art of gift wrapping gets more creative and excessive every year, but the amount of paperwasted during the holidays is staggering. According to the environmental group Zero Waste Scotland, the UK alone generates enough wrapping paper waste to cover the island of Guernsey whilst other sources have suggested we generate enough to reach to the moon! The amount of Christmas plastic packaging that was placed in the general waste bin instead of the recycling bin in 2018 was estimated at 114,000 tonnes whilst 1 billion Christmas cards are thrown away annually.

Solution: Choosing recyclable or reusable wrapping options, such as fabric or recycledpaper, can help mitigate this issue. Send e-cards instead of shop bought ones.

Single-use Plastics

Christmas parties and gatherings often come with an abundance of single-use plastics, from disposable plates and cutlery to plastic decorations and packaging. Many kids' toys are encased in layers of plastic, contributing significantly to the plastic pollution crisis. From actionfigures to dolls and electronic gadgets, the packaging often far exceeds the size of the toy itself.

Solution: Consider opting for eco-friendly alternatives, such as biodegradable or compostable plates and utensils, and be mindful of excessive packaging when purchasing gifts. Consider purchasing experiences as gifts or handmade gifts which can often be a lot more heartfelt and with a lot less packaging.

Food Waste

The holiday season is synonymous with indulgent feasts, but this often results in significant food waste. Nearly 45 percent of households said they throw away excess fresh fruit and vegetables. 230,000 tonnes of this food ends up in the bin during the festive season. 11.3 million potatoes end up wasted. Pigs in blankets are also wasted, with a whopping 7.1 million going to the bin. We throw away 263,000 turkeys annually.

Solution: Planning meals carefully, utilising leftovers, and donating excess food to localcharities are effective ways to reduce food waste.

Electronic Waste

The surge in electronic gift-giving during the holidays contributes to the growing issue of electronic waste (e-waste). Discarded gadgets, old decorations, and outdated electronic gifts often end up in landfills, releasing harmful toxins into the environment. The UK throws away approximately 500 tonnes of Christmas lights each year.

Solution: Consider donating or recycling old electronics responsibly to minimise thisenvironmental impact.

While the festive season is undoubtedly a time for joy and celebration, it's crucial to approach it with a sustainable mindset. By making conscious choices, such as opting for eco-friendly decorations, reducing single-use plastics, and minimising food waste, we can transform our holiday traditions into environmentally responsible practices. This Christmas, let's unwrap the gift of sustainability and strive for a greener, more mindful celebration. After all, the true spirit of the season lies in caring for our planet and ensuring a brighter future for generations to come.

Why not make your New Years Resolution to be a little more sustainable this Christmas?

An image showing just how destructive Christmas can be


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