Merry Sustainable Christmas

When scrolling down through the newsfeed of one of my social media accounts I encountered the following: “Josie, Mia and 6 others are going or interested in the event “Santa’s Workshop (Making Sustainable Christmas)”. Immediately, the sound of Christmas songs and the smell of mulled wine and homemade biscuits crossed my mind. Then, however, I started wondering about the part saying “Making Sustainable Christmas”: How would it be possible to make that happen? After all, we are speaking about the time of the year which makes people in the UK buy enough trees that would be equivalent to a return trip to New York City when being placed end to end, use enough wrapping paper to go around the equator nine times and bin food worth 2 million turkeys at the price of £275 million. Therefore, apart from being an endearing time to spend with family and friends, it is also a season characterized by massive food waste, high electricity bills and uncontrollable consumption.

But does the high environmental cost we pay to celebrate the festive season mean that we should abolish Christmas completely? Of course, the answer is no – you may be able to make people exclude meat from their daily meals and drink out of paper cups instead of plastic ones, but you can’t just put an end to Christmas!

Instead, we could undertake small steps to make it more sustainable: The annual Christmas meal, for example, is a major part of the celebration. A good way to start would therefore be to use seasonal and organic vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips, which are also less pricy than off-season ingredients. Another thing that can’t be forgotten is the choice of the Christmas tree: According to British Carbon Trust, an artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40kg compared to a natural tree with only 3.5kg. The reason for this is that many artificial trees sold in garden centers are produced in Asia and need to be shipped to Europe first. As a consequence, a plastic tree would need to be used for twelve years in order to offset the amount of CO2 generated during its production process. Therefore, it is more environmentally friendly to opt for a natural tree purchased from a local, small-scale nursery or one with FSC certification to ensure it was sourced from a sustainably managed forest. Being biodegradable, a natural tree can also be composted or serve as firewood after the festive season. To reduce unnecessary waste, there are great ways to recycle when it comes to decoration, gifts, cards and wrapping. For example, this could simply be achieved by using planet-friendly certified wrapping paper and reusing decoration from previous years. Energy-wise, the use of LED or outdoor solar-powered Christmas lights and organic candles can make a big contribution as well.

All these small changes can make a major contribution to the cultural change necessary to change our lifestyle with the aim to sustain the planet. The Christmas season can therefore be seen as an opportunity for us to form lasting habits which do not only allow us to save money but also to make a positive impact on the environment.

Franziska Nguyen


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