Green Christmas-The Trend Is Blue
The mere thought of Christmas evokes excitement; the Christmas tree, the brilliant lights, the delicacies, and the family gatherings! Yet amidst the all-consuming festive spirit, Christmas also brings an excess of carbon emissions which is generally obscured by the brilliance of festivity.
Christmas joys are deeply entwined with an increase in energy consumption which is largely attributed to the copious usage of decorative lights. The extended usage periods of both indoor and outdoor Christmas lighting, along with the higher-than-average usage of home appliances, severely impacts a family’s energy budget, and thereby increases its carbon footprint.
The US Department of Energy has reported that Christmas lighting uses up more than six terawatt-hours of energy annually, which equates to the cumulative monthly power consumption of about 500,000 homes1. It is hard to ignore the environmental detriments that accompany the excessive consumption of electricity on such a scale. Several studies have tried to measure the carbon footprint left behind by Christmas lighting: the Energy Saving trust of Great Britain has calculated that 15,500 hot air balloons can be inflated with the carbon dioxide that Christmas lights alone produce.2
Furthermore, the centuries-old tradition of having a Christmas tree has high carbon emissions associated with itself because of the footprint resulting from the entire cycle of Christmas tree farming, harvesting, distribution, and eventually disposing off. Moreover, the resulting carbon footprint from the wastage of food and the excessive wrapping and packaging of gifts and is another dampener. A calculation of the carbon footprint that UK leaves behind over Christmas claims that food, travel, lighting, and gifts generate about 650 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, and this amounts to about 5.5% of the nation’s annual carbon footprint3.
Data source: http://www.surreyheath.gov.uk/environment/energyefficiency/carbonfootprint.htm
While – in spite of the above – there has never been any suggestion that we ought to stop basking in festivity and enjoying customary Christmas indulgences, the growing importance of climate management should prompt us to minimise our environmental footprint by adopting some of the following measures:
- Switch to LED lights: The increase in power consumption can be brought under control if we use LED lights when decorating for Christmas. LED lights consume only about 10% of the outmoded and energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs, and have a much longer lifespan of more than 20,000 hours4. Moreover, LED lights, being comparatively cooler than the filament-dependent incandescent bulbs, help reduce the chances of household fires at Christmas, caused generally due to the combination effect of hot bulbs, dried paper, and Christmas trees5.
- Self grown ‘Live’ tree for Christmas: Plastic trees, though reusable for years, are made of PVC and consume a lot of resources during their manufacture and transportation. Moreover, the non-biodegradable plastic content clogs up landfills long after the trees are discarded. ‘Live’ trees, self- grown at home in pots or portable containers help avoid use of non-environment friendly practices. Moreover, being locally grown they also help avoid high emission related to farming, harvesting and high-polluting transport for distribution of commercially grown Christmas trees.
- Use recycled materials for Christmas tree decorations. Such recycled and organic decorative items can be obtained from online retailers and charity shops.
- Try turning off the lights in the room when Christmas tree lights are switched on, and then turning off the Christmas tree lights before going to bed.
The adverse ramifications upon the environment of gift-giving, long regarded as indispensable for Christmas, might be greatly reduced by observing the following guidelines when gift-shopping:
- Choose locally made gifts, particularly those crafted from recycled materials. Shun the imported goods which flood today’s marketplaces, as the GHG emissions associated with their transportation are enormous.
- Choosing gifts consisting of recycled materials will have less of an impact on waste streams.
- Opting for battery-free gifts can also be a green approach, as discarded batteries are a major environmental and health hazard.
Wrapping paper is considered to be one of the most profligate aspects of Christmas. 25,000 trees would be saved were we to recycle rather than purchase 50% of the gift-wrapping we use (currently 8,000 tonnes)6. A recent analysis has suggested that a surprising 80 sq. km of wrapping paper is discarded across the UK every Christmas7. Taking note of the following pointers might help improve the situation:
- It is more environmentally-friendly to use brown recycled paper, newspaper, or wrapping paper constructed of fibres such as hemp.
- Remove any adhesive tape before throwing the wrapping paper away. If you can help it, go for reusable ribbons over adhesive tape.
- Avoid using metal-based wrapping materials which are hard to recycle
Among the main excesses and indulgences associated with Christmas is the food, of which surplus quantities are often bought and eventually discarded. Better and more realistic planning of meals would help minimise leftovers. Should leftovers still arise, composting should be adopted to lower the burden on waste streams.
In order to go green this Christmas, look to recycle as far as possible. Recyclenow.com has estimated that English households discard an additional 3 million tonnes of waste over the Christmas season, most of which can be recycled. Recycling anything and everything, from clothes to cards, and wrapping papers to jute bags, helps reduce the amount of waste created over the festive season, and thus minimises our carbon footprint.