Cut the carbon this Christmas

If you’re trying to make this year’s celebrations a little bit more eco, look no further than our top tips for low carbon cooking and sustainable stocking-stuffers.

This Christmas we’ll receive nearly 60 million unwanted gifts, and on 25th December we’ll waste the equivalent of around 4 million dinners. We’ll discard 108 million rolls worth of wrapping paper, and – when the holidays are over – we’ll be wondering how best to dispose of 7 million real Christmas trees.

And that doesn’t even cover the gifts we keep, the food we eat, the miles we travel….

So how can we eat, drink and be merry without costing the Earth? Let’s start with the eating.

Let’s talk turkey

A Turkey roaming free
A Turkey roaming free

Roast dinner with lashings of gravy is undoubtedly one of the best things about Christmas – with or without the sprouts. So how do you enjoy a festive treat that’s good for your taste buds and for the planet?

Let’s start with those 4 million wasted dinners. Wasting food doesn’t just waste nutrients – it wastes land, water and energy. Worldwide, the carbon footprint of uneaten food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, making food wastage the third top emitter after the USA and China. And that doesn’t take into account emissions from changes in land use.

The type of food you eat is just as important.

Why not whip up a tasty vegan dinner this christmas with fresh, local ingredients!

The global food system as a whole is estimated to contribute to some 20-30% of all human-associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with livestock being by far the biggest contributor.

So how do we cut the emissions of our festive feast?

  1. Whilst turkey isn’t the worst meat in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (beef and lamb are worse), it’s still likely to account for more than half of the emissions on your Christmas plate. Choose a veggie option, or at least save the turkey just for Christmas day and other big celebrations and go meat-free for the rest of the year.
  2. Choose vegetables that are in season and UK grown – traditional winter veg like sprouts, potatoes and parsnips are perfect.
  3. Shop in farmers’ markets and/or buy from local suppliers wherever possible.
  4. Avoid wasting food by only buying and cooking what you need, and get creative with leftovers.

Want help working out what to cook? Check out some of the vegan and veggie cookbooks in our online shop.

Greener gift-giving

There’s no two ways about it: we have to buy less stuff.

It can be hard to know the true impact of the things we buy – plastics have been getting a lot of publicity, but think about the impacts of electronic goods, for example, both in terms of the resources that go into making and shipping them and the energy they will consume when in use.

gift under a christmas tree
Making a ‘green’ gift can be a great way to show you care while minimising environmental impacts

How do we buy less stuff without looking like the family Scrooge?

Trees – fake or fir?

We need to be planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere to help combat climate change – estimates are that we need to at least double UK forest cover.

Because they absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, real Christmas trees help with this – but if they’re left to rot in landfill they will release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

In terms of carbon emissions and impact on climate, lifecycle analysis has shown that artificial trees have lower emissions than real trees if they are used for 5-10 years (estimates vary). But there are other impacts to consider, not least of which is plastic.

christmas as CAT
A living Christmas tree in a pot at CAT that we were able to use multiple Christmases

How do we choose between different trees?

  • If you have a plastic tree – keep using it. If you’d like one, go for second hand – maybe your granny has an unused one in the attic, or try freecycle or charity shops.
  • The solution that a lot of people opt for, if they have the space, is keeping a tree in a large pot and bringing it in each year, or even decorating their houseplants!
  • If you’re buying a real tree, make sure it’s from a sustainably managed woodland – go for UK-grown, FSC approved trees as a minimum.
  • If you buy a real tree, make sure it doesn’t end up in landfill – check what your local council does with discarded trees, or see if a local garden centre or conservation project would find it useful.

Driving home for Christmas

Love miles are a big part of our Christmas emissions – travelling across the country (and beyond) to see friends and relatives, or to buy pressies.

As ever, less is best. If you have to travel, then think about how you might do it with the least impact.

  • Avoid flying
  • Take the train
  • Use car sharing websites to cut down on the number of journeys
  • Walk or cycle wherever possible

We even know of people who have their Christmas dinner via Skype to avoid flying. The added benefit that you can switch off your relatives when you’ve had enough!

driving in the rain
Stuck in traffic while driving home in the rain

New year – new climate resolutions?

When all’s said and done, we’re all likely to overindulge a bit at Christmas, and things like Christmas trees only make a tiny contribution to our annual carbon footprint.

Once Christmas is over, you might want to think about extending this into new year resolutions. You could decide to go vegan or cut down on meat and dairy, for example; pledge not to fly in 2019 or to buy less stuff. Maybe you could switch to a green electricity provider, or join a climate campaign group.

And it’s not all down to what we do as individuals – we’d also like to see some climate pledges from the UK government in 2019. Now that really would be a Christmas present worth having.

We have the technology, a zero emissions society is possible!