Greening Christmas

Integral Ecology | Thu, Dec 20, 2012

By Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

It must be one of the great ironies of modern times that our annual celebration of the one who had “no place to lay his head” should be such a burden for planet earth.  A reflection by Sean McDonagh, SCC.

It must be one of the great ironies of modern times that our annual celebration of the one who had “no place to lay his head” should be such a burden for planet earth.  In her guide to greening Christmas in the magazine, The Ecologist , Ruth Style writes that in Britain, the annual festive jamboree is seriously bad news for the planet with the week long celebrations producing around 5.5 per cent of the UK’s total annual carbon emissions. And it isn’t just emissions that are a problem. The Royal Mail will deliver 150 million cards every day over the Christmas period – the equivalent of 17 for every man, woman and child in the country – but up to a billion will end up in landfill.  50,000 trees will be cut down to produce the 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper needed to brighten up the gifts we hand out to our family and friends.

The average Christmas dinner, says the Soil Association, involves 49,0000 extra food miles, while of the 10 million turkeys reared for the Christmas dinner table, 90 per cent come from intensive units. And it isn’t just the planet that pays either. This year the average British adult will spend approximately £813 on festive celebrations – down £55 on last year – and will wolf down a staggering 7,000 calories on the big day itself.[1]

But it does not have to be like that. One could cut down on wastage by sending e- cards or recycling old cards.

Christmas lights are also a major problem.According to Style the average Christmas fairy light display produces enough CO2    emissions fill two double decker buses. It also can cost anything up to £100 to pay for the extra electricity used over the 12 days of Christmas.So, less lighting is good for both the environment and your pocket.Think of using LED (Light Emitting Diodes) for the Christmas tree this year. LED lights use up to 95 percent less energy than the conventional ones.They also last longer. If LED fairy lights were used by all the 26 million homes in Britain during this Christmas this would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26,000 tonnes and save 9.7 million.

The custom of having a Christmas tree developed in Germany and can be traced back until the 16th or possibly 15th century. In the 19th century the custom became popular among European nobility and spread as far east as Russia.In the late 19th century the Christmas tree became prominent in North America. The song “O Christmas Tree” sung to the tune of O Tannenbawm was often sung around theChristmas tree. Today, Christmas trees are found across the globe.

If growing space is going to be a real issue, choose a dwarf variety such as a Balsam Fir, which has a maximum height of one metre and smells wonderful to boot.

• Buy real Christmas trees, not fake ones. When you take it down, chip it or burn it rather than throwing it in the bin.
• Put the lid on your spuds and sprouts. Covering pans during cooking cuts the carbon footprint by almost half because the water reaches boiling point more quickly.
• Recycling empty bottles from your Christmas drinks party can reduce the carbon footprint of all that alcohol by up to 40 per cent.
• Plan your food shopping carefully to cut down on waste. For example we waste seven per cent of the milk that we buy. Instead of buying two pints today, buy one now and one later. Not only will the extra walk do you good but you’ll waste less too.
• Eat up your leftovers. Most food ends up as waste in landfill where it decomposes and produces methane gas, which is 25 times worse than CO2.
• Wash your Christmas jumper on a cool cycle. A quarter of the carbon footprint of your clothes comes from washing, drying and ironing them at home. Turning the temperature down from 40 to 30 degrees will save 160g of carbon dioxide emissions per wash making a real difference to the impact of your winter woollies.