Saturday, 14 December 2013

10 ideas for a more sustainable Christmas

 Even in hard economic times this Christmas billions of pounds will be spent on food, drink and presents in the UK. Waste levels over this period rise by 20%, including food, energy, wrapping paper, cards and of course Christmas trees.

Christmas can be enjoyed without abandoning sustainability concerns with a little prioritisation and organisation. The following ten suggestions wont transform us into a sustainable society but they are positive steps worth taking whilst the leadership, policies, institutions and decision-making processes which take sustainability forward are developed:

1. Cards: billions of Christmas cards are sent every year, many not made of recycled card and many thrown out rather than recycled. You could send an e-card instead or watch out for cards made from recycled material or make your own cards from previous ones! Bristol is well set up for recycling card, so we can use the system that's been provided.

2. Decorations: old colour newspapers and magazines can be used to make decorations like paper chains. Paint, glitter, card from boxes or old Christmas cards, glue and a bit of wool or string can be used to make tree decorations. These activities will keep kids happy and occupied doing a creative task that really involves them in Christmas. Far better this than buying sparkly decorations made in a far away sweat shop by child labour then flown thousands of miles across the globe.

3. Trees: millions of Christmas trees are bought in the UK, often to be thrown out, each year. There is enough UK tree waste to fill the Albert Hall more than three times! The best thing you can do if you have a tree is buy one with roots -  if well cared for it can be planted out and used year on year. If you choose a tree without roots make sure it’s from a well managed source and that you use local schemes for turning used ones into mulch for parks and gardens.

4. Wrapping: you may not think of all that sticky-tape securing wrapping paper as plastic but it is. It won’t rot and is single-use. String and wool are both more biodegradable and reusable and so are much the better option for securing wrapping paper. String/wool does not mess up the paper it secures and leaves it in a state where it, with a little care, can be retained and reused – close to ten thousand tonnes of paper is used to wrap UK presents every year. If you have paper that can’t be reused put it out for recycling in your black box!

5. Chocolate: hundreds of millions of pounds is spent on chocolate for Christmas. If you buy fair trade chocolate you will be supporting cocoa farmers, their families and communities much more. They get a fair price for their cocoa beans. Workers rights, pay and working conditions are much better under fair trade.

6. Turkey: ten million or more turkeys are eaten during the festive season in the UK. Millions of these birds are reared intensively in huge windowless buildings containing crowds of thousands. Selectively bred and anti-biotic treated for maximum growth these birds cannot express natural behaviours and cannot mate without human intervention. I’m just not hungry for this kind of food at all and its ecological footprint is very high. If you don’t want to avoid turkey at Christmas altogether its worth paying more for one reared to much higher animal welfare standards.

7. Consumption: find out if you consume resources and produce pollutants at a rate of more than one planet here, (see image below). Monitor gas, electricity, petrol and diesel use and you are measuring sources of environmental impacts – cut energy and fuel use wherever possible, save money and cut pollution. Monitor amount of meat eaten and you are measuring one of our biggest sources of environmental impacts – lower meat consumption and you’ll save money, probably have a healthier diet and cut environmental damage!

8. Food: when buying your Christmas food choose locally, regionally or nationally grown and produced where you can – this cuts down transport environmental impacts and supports producers here

9. Bags: refuse plastic and paper bags by taking your own; avoid wastefully packaged goods; and buy in bulk if possible (both the price per kilo of food and per kilo of packaging is lower)

10. Shopping: make a list before you shop – it helps you stick to buying only what you need and intended to buy. Consider adding fruit trees to your Christmas present list - growing an apple, pear, plum or cherry tree is easy, requires very little work, little space and yields delicious home-grown fruit year after year.

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