Christmas; it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most terrifying for our environment. More waste is produced at Christmas than at any other time of the year and people are still generally quite mystified by the big real vs. artificial Christmas tree debate. That is why Tiger Sheds have brought you our definitive guide to having a greener Christmas, hopefully some of our hints and tips will help to guide you into the new year feeling more eco-friendly and clued up about how to handle the Christmas period with much greener fingers!
Research has found that only 1 in 5 people now buy a real Christmas tree over the festive period. This means that more and more people are migrating towards bringing artificial Christmas trees in their homes. Although there are many common advantages of artificial Christmas trees, such as cost and convenience, people are generally mistaken in assuming that artificial trees are better for the environment than real ones. We have spoken to Harry Brightwell, secretary of the Christmas Tree Growers Association, who has explained why real Christmas trees are more eco friendly than their artificial counterparts:
“I would say that buying a real tree is a much better choice to protect the environment. Studies suggest that a real tree is five times more environmentally friendly than an artificial tree. One reason for this is that Christmas trees improve air quality. Every acre of Christmas trees grown produces the daily oxygen for 16 people and a hectare absorbs six tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. The trees also have a positive effect on the environment in terms of helping to stabilise soils and protect water supplies.
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Most artificial trees are made of metal and plastics, typically PVC, and are non-bio-degradable. Considering most of these trees are manufactured in the Far East, transporting them to the UK adds to the trees’ carbon footprint. Studies have shown that an artificial tree has three times more impact on climate change and source depletion, compared to a natural tree. Some research suggests that to reduce this overall impact and redress the balance, an artificial tree would need to be used for almost 20 years.”
So, in order to have a ‘green’ Christmas, it would seem that a real tree is definitely the way to go. The next question, then, is what kind of tree to go for. It is most commonly considered that there are two kinds of tree available; live and cut:
· Live Trees – These are trees which are generally considered to be ideal for the eco enthusiasts among us. These are Christmas trees which generally have their roots still intact so that after enjoying the tree over Christmas, it can be re-planted in the garden.
· Cut Trees – Cut trees are those most commonly found in the home at Christmas, Harry Bigwell advises that “when a ‘cut’ tree is taken home it is important to keep it well watered, in the same way as you would care for cut flowers”.
It is definitely suggested that whatever route you go down, you must ensure that the tree you purchase is sustainable in order for it to be friendly to the environment. Sustainable nurseries should follow the practise that a new tree should be planted for every one which is harvested; this keeps the life cycle going and ensures that we are replenishing the damage done to trees of this type each year. Most businesses should have sustainability written into their plan, however, if they don’t it is suggested that these companies be avoided at all cost.
Alternatively, you can always rent a tree.
Christmas decorations are manufactured year after year in high volumes and are made from unrecyclable plastics, metals and materials meaning that they don’t exactly have the ‘eco’ stamp of approval. They also pose other dangers; take tinsel for instance, this traditional Christmas decoration has the tendency to shed which leaves waste on the floor and can be very harmful to small animals if carried outside. Although the Christmas decorations in the loft which you use year in, year out won’t pose any extra damage to the environment, here are a few tips for making future decorations a bit friendlier to the environment:
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· Use natural decor - Instead of cluttering up your home with plastic Christmas decorations, try using natural artefacts on your mantle piece. Nuts, fruit and pine cones make excellent traditional decorations and provide great colours for the home. The most obvious one to use is holly, which is a symbol of Christmas and wonderful natural plant. Just be careful not to put holly within the reach of children as its spiky nature could cause little accidents. See here for some great homemade Christmas decoration inspiration using natural ingredients.
· Buy second hand – If getting creative with natural Christmas decorations isn’t really your thing then instead of buying new decorations and contributing to the damage that they cause, why not source some second hand? Charity shops and car boot sales are a haven for lovely antique decorations at a fraction of the cost of new ones. Pre-loved decorations also have character and will look really traditional on the tree.
· Buy recycled – You can also get hold of new decorations made of recycled materials which are significantly better for our eco system than brand new ones. Nigel’s Eco Store has some great ones made from things such as CD’s & circuit boards which as both good for the environment and look incredibly cool hanging from the tree.
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100-string Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas produce enough carbon dioxide to inflate 60 balloons so it is definitely important to make sure that you are monitoring your energy usage over the festive period. Obviously, you spend more time at home over Christmas, you also probably entertain more than usual and, as the nights are darker, you will need the lights on more than usual. This all means that it is hard to be eco conscious when it comes to energy usage over Christmas, but there are a few things that you can do to both help the environment and the cost of your energy bills.
· Switch to LED – We would suggest that investing in new LED Christmas lights to replace your old traditional ones is much better for the environment, this is because using energy efficient lights made up of light emitting diode (LED) bulbs are 90% more efficient than traditional holiday lights. They also last longer and release less carbon dioxide into the air, therefore, saving you money and the environment harm.
· Outside lighting – Outdoor lighting at Christmas is magical and looks great, but holiday lighting consumes more energy a year than the total electricity consumption of 500,000 homes in one month so it is hard to ignore the consequence that outdoor lighting has on our ecosystem. Try putting your outside lights on a timer so that they don’t stay on all night or during the day when they are not needed as this should dramatically reduce both your bill and your carbon footprint.
· Light a candle – Christmas time is the best time to bring out the candles as the flames add to the festive ambience so why not switch the lamp for a few well placed candles. Try and choose ones made from natural ingredients such as beeswax and soy as paraffin candles contain toxins which are bad for both you and the environment.
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So the big day has arrived, the tree is adorned with low energy LED Christmas lights, your centrepiece is decorated with festive natural pieces and the turkey is roasting in the oven. It’s no secret that organic food is the way forward when it comes to having an ethical Christmas, especially when it comes to meat, and as around 10 million turkeys are consumed in the UK each year at Christmas, it has never been more important to make the switch to organic. We have enlisted the advice of Charlotte Palmer, a Food Specialist, to share with us her top tips on choosing the most ethical foods over the Christmas period. She states that “how we really make a difference is by voting with our wallets/purses and choosing ethical, good business practices supporting local UK farmers and suppliers who respect the environment and animal welfare.”
Charlotte has given us her top tips for choosing the most ethical Christmas turkey:
· The best kind of turkey should unquestionably be authentically free range and, if you can afford it, organic.
· Turkeys would ideally have lots of room, fresh air and be living a free life. Unfortunately, most are confined to large barns and feel too nervous to venture out so be mindful of where your turkey is from and the reputation of the farm.
· Keep in mind that organic means they are not injected with growth hormones or antibiotics, so this is something to watch out for.
We also asked Charlotte why buying a turkey from a local butcher was better than buying it frozen from a supermarket and she said:
“The Butcher should have a relationship with the local farmer, as they normally do, and know a lot about the welfare of the Turkey and the farmer’s ethics. Supermarkets demand birds with a huge amount of breast meat and small short legs this can only be obtained with selected breeding which renders the birds physically unable to mate. Supermarkets are not so selective about how the animals were reared or what it took to get them there. I prefer the word of a butcher over a supermarket manager in most instances.”
This is a sentiment that can be re-iterated throughout the entire Christmas meal, with that in mind we asked Charlotte to give her view on local stockists in general and to suggest some that she has found useful:
“If you are lucky enough to live in the countryside (or in my boyfriend’s case, Essex) there are plenty of farms and farm shops to explore and discover. As a city dweller I go to farmers’ markets all around London to buy fresh organic UK grown fruit and vegetables, raw dairy, eggs and meat. My favourite is the Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market on a Saturday where I often buy my raw milk, butter and cream from Mr Hook and Son. Or West Hampstead has a fabulous market on a Saturday where I can buy all the usuals plus Ellie’s Dairy raw Goat Milk! All the vegetables tend to be organic and biodynamic, and freshly picked that morning. Vegetables at Farmers' markets are fresher and have travelled less miles and spent less time sitting on the shelf. Supermarkets struggle to compete with this as produce can travel for miles and spend weeks either in storage or on the shelf. Supermarkets also reject produce that isn’t perfectly formed. Part of the fun of shopping at a farmers market is finding unusual shaped veg with strange knobs!”
Although, obviously, we don’t all have big farmers markets conveniently placed near where we live, it is important to keep in mind that organic vegetables purchased from a local greengrocers are often better for you as well as for the environment. There is a list of Charlotte’s recommended UK stockists at the bottom of this piece.
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One of the most significant environmental impacts of Christmas time is the waste that cards and wrapping paper create. Some of the shocking statistics include:
· Each Christmas as much as 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper ends up in UK rubbish bins
· It is estimated that 1 billion Christmas cards could end up in bins this Christmas
· 230,000 tonnes of food is thrown away on average over the Christmas period
· 13,350 tonnes of glass is thrown away in the UK during the festive season.
What all this waste means is that instead of cards and wrapping paper being recycled, it is being thrown straight into landfill sites and as landfill waste can create methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas, we can see why we need to be more aware of what danger throwing our cards and wrapping into the big could be doing to the environment around us. For example, if everyone in the UK recycled just 1 card this year, this would save 1,570 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases – the same as taking 500 cards off the read for a year and if we recycled the 13,350 tonnes of glass thrown away every year this could save up to 4,200 tonnes of CO2.
As you can see, if we make a change to waste less this year, our environment will thank us for it. With this in mind, here are some tips on how you can waste less this Christmas:
· Use your leftover turkey meat for sandwiches or to make a delicious turkey soup.
· Recycle all cards and wrapping paper either by re-using the embellishments for crafts or by taking them to appropriate recycling bins. Unfortunately due to the wire, glitter, sequins and embellishments often used on Christmas cards, they can’t usually be recycled through your usual kerbside collection. Instead, take them to your local recycling bank where they can be disposed of properly. Recycle Now has a postcode selector which gives you the location of your local recycling centre.
Ensuring that you choose the right tree for the environment doesn’t stop when you purchase it, it is equally as important to ensure that you dispose of your tree correctly. We went back to Harry Brightwell to ask what the most ethical method for tree disposal is.
“It is important to put a real tree to good use by recycling it. For example, it can be chipped for use in parks and playgrounds, or it can be used to prevent shore erosion. Call your local council or garden centre to find out how you can recycle your tree. Some local authorities will collect your tree from your doorstep, while others offer Christmas tree collection points and composting advice for waste. A number of DIY retailers and garden centres offer tree recycling services, so use the postcode locator on www.recyclenow.com to find one near you.”
The BCTGA was established in 1979 to provide a quality standard for Christmas tree growers in the UK and champions the purchase of real Christmas trees. For more information about the BCTGA visit www.bctga.co.uk, follow @bctga on Twitter and like British Christmas Tree Growers Association on Facebook.
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Receiving a Christmas present that you aren’t too fond of happens to the best of us but throwing it away isn’t economical or friendly to the environment. Take a children’s toy for example, if you throw it away then all that plastic is going to be a negative contribution to our environment, if you re-girt it to one of your children’s friends, however, then it will be loved and safer for the environment. If you can’t think of anyone who may appreciate the gift then you can always donate it to a charity shop or similar organisation where it will be appreciated. Not only is the extremely eco friendly but it is also something thoughtful and nice to do, especially if you gift it to someone less fortunate than yourself.
So there you have it, our definitive guide to having a ‘green’ Christmas, we hope that you enjoyed it and have taken some tips and tricks away from it. Have a merry Christmas everybody, and try and make sure that you make a green change this year for a more environmentally friendly 2014!
Charlotte Palmer’s Top Christmas UK Food Retailers:
Free Range Turkey
Free Range Geese
Milk & Eggs
Flour & Mince Pies