A Green Christmas

Penny Kemp
  • words Penny Kemp

We have been inundated this year with media stories of floods, droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, ice sheets melting as we see the effects of climate change kick in.

How does this relate to the shopping frenzy we see at Christmas and the constant pressure to buy more and more? Weíve all done it and been seduced by advertising slogan or the two for one bargain and ended up with a useless present or too much food, which then is consigned to the dustbin within a few days of the end of the festive season.

Over three million tonnes of waste are dumped during Christmas in the UK, which is enough to fill 120 million green wheelie bins. We throw away around a million Christmas cards and a staggering 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper, which is enough to gift wrap 350,000 London buses. We buy six million Christmas trees and recycle less than ten per cent. We leave tree lights on for over ten hours a day, (often when weíre not in), televisions and hi-fiís on standby, mobile phone chargers plugged in all of which contribute to climate change and cost us money. Around 15% of our electricity costs to be more precise.

I donít want to be a scrooge but we can do things differently.

Try and buy a rooted Christmas tree and plant it outside for the following year. If you are wondering whether an artificial tree is better than a real tree, itís a difficult choice. Artificial trees are normally made of metal and plastics and come from China and Taiwan and use a lot of energy in the making and transporting. Most people only keep their artificial trees for a period of five or six years. Under these circumstances, a real tree wins hands down as they are carbon neutral, absorbing as much carbon dioxide when growing as they will emit when burnt or left to decompose. But if you buy an artificial tree second hand from a charity shop and use the same one for ten years or more, there is probably not much in it.

Nigelís Eco Store has some brilliant outdoor fairy lights run on solar power. They are designed to work with the British climate and when fully charged will sparkle for up to three days without the need for more sunlight. Visit http://www.nigelsecostore.com for more information. For indoor lights, buy LED Christmas lights which, as well as lasting longer than conventional lights, use 80% less energy.

If you have time, it is great fun to make your own wrapping paper from pictures in old magazines stuck on to newspaper. There is even a video on the website which shows you how. http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-make-your-own-wrapping-paper If you donít have the time, Natural Collection a winner of the 2007 Observer Ethical Awards sells recycled wrapping paper and gift tags. http://www.naturalcollection.com

Send Ecards where you can and donít forget to recycle the Christmas cards you receive. The Woodland Trust will take your cards. Check out their website for details. http://www.woodland-trust.org.uk

One of the best presents to buy for friends and family is The Good Shopping Guide, which provides comparative ethical shopping rankings for over 700 companies and brands. The book is supported by ethical consumers and NGOs alike. Penny Newman, Managing Director of Cafedirect Ltd says, "The Good Shopping Guide certifies the good, the bad and ugly of virtually all brands available in the shops." Priced at £14.95, find the Good Shopping Guide at http://www.ethical-company-organisation.org/the-good-shopping-guide.htm

Try and avoid battery-devouring gifts and toys. The energy used to manufacture a battery is around fifty times greater than it gives out and between 20,000 Ė 30,000 tonnes of batteries are wasted in the UK each year. Use mains or go for rechargeable appliances where possible or better still buy your friends and family a battery charger. You can even by solar powered battery chargers. The Solio Solar Charger will recharge your iPod or mobile phone virtually anywhere under the sun. Check out the Green Shop http://www.greenshop.co.uk

The average Christmas dinner will have travelled up to 49,000 miles to get to your plate. Be producer aware. Try and buy locally where you can. Farmersí Markets are a good bet and you can buy all your seasonal produce in one place. We are lucky in the South East as we have a good range of farmersí markets and there is sure to be one near you. Not only is local food fresher, it also helps reduce food miles, which in turn reduces CO2 emissions. Buying locally also helps the local economy and this year farmers have been hit very hard. Help them to continue producing our food.

We are spoilt for choice for wines in the South East. The English Wine Producers website http://www.englishwineproducers.com lists vineyards in our area and details of what is produced together with contact information.

Traditionally from eating and drinking to buying and receiving present, Christmas is the time of the year when we feel mean if we donít consume to excess. But you really can have a brilliant time and think of the planet as well. You donít have to have less fun, just choose carefully. And in doing so, you are helping the planet. Now that canít be a bad thing.

Penny Kemp is a broadcaster and writer and runs The Headcorn Sustainability Group and is currently working on making Headcorn and the surrounding area a low carbon community. www.headcornsustainability.co.uk