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Forget a White Christmas, Let's Make this One Green(er)!

Feature story - December 13, 2010
Here we go, ten ways to make this festive season a more sustainable one. Because Christmas shouldn't cost us the earth!

Lanterns at the Greenpeace Climate Rescue Station

Setting off lanterns at the Greenpeace Climate Rescue Station, on the edge of a vast open pit mine, near Konin in Poland. The lanterns carried messages of hope about the climate as they blew over the mine.


1) Don't forget to turn off your fairy lights when you aren't at the tree.
Lighting can account for 15% of household electricity and fairy lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas can leave behind a huge carbon footprint.

2) An estimated 1.7 billion Christmas cards are sent each year in Britain alone. That works out to roughly 200,000 trees -- and how many of those cards are just thrown away after the holidays?

So, try to send recycled Christmas cards, make your own, or try one of our e-cards. And after the big day, make sure your Christmas cards don't go to waste – feed them to one of those giant orange paper recycling bins you've seen around. Yum.

3) Use recycled wrapping paper
It takes 1.3 kg of coal to produce 1 kg of wrapping paper, and the manufacturing process emits 3.5 kg of CO2 -- and that excludes the carbon footprint of packaging and then transporting the wrapping paper around the country. This year, why not just use newspaper?

4) Candles
Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residues, so they don’t do your health or the environment any good. Soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based candles are better because they are biodegradable, smoke-free, and are more eco-friendly.

5) Deck the halls with real holly
Instead of spending money on artificial Christmas decorations that won't biodegrade, let nature decorate your home. Get the whole family involved in making your own decorations from scrap materials, and things you find around the home. Try popcorn, dough, cinnamon sticks, bows, gingerbread, pine cones, or flowers from the garden.

6) Christmas trees: plastic, or real?
If you've been wondering which is better, the simple answer is that real trees are the more eco-friendly choice.

Although artificial trees last for many years, they are made from metal and derivatives of PVC. These require large amounts of energy to make, and also create harmful by-products (such as lead) which can be harmful to our environment. The average life of an artificial tree is just six years and, given that they are not naturally biodegradable, they will potentially pollute a landfill site for many years to come. Most artificial trees are also made in Taiwan and China, so they also carry the additional energy costs associated with transport.

Real trees are carbon neutral, absorbing as much carbon dioxide as they grow as they will emit when burnt or left to decompose. They are also a wildlife habitat and a naturally renewable resource, and generally feel and smell much nicer in your home. If you buy one with roots or in a pot it can be planted in your garden after Christmas, and even used again next year.

7) Be battery wise
Families can get through a lot of batteries, particularly at Christmas. Batteries contain toxic chemicals, don't degrade and are difficult to recycle. If you have to use batteries, it may be worth-while investing in re-chargeable batteries, and make sure you always dispose of old batteries at designated recycling points.

8) Go local
Try to source your Christmas food locally. Check food wrapping to see where the food was produced, opting for locally grown products over food from far-off places.

9) Recycle your unwanted presents
Unfortunately everyone receives at least one unwanted gift at Christmas. Recycle unwanted presents by giving them to charities or orphanages, for example.

10) Give to a charity, or consider an environmentally friendly gift
With a little planning anyone can give presents that are thoughtful, original, and make a difference to the environment too.

Often we find ourselves giving a gift purely for the sake of giving something. So this year why not donate to a charity or organisation in lieu of gifts that just create more rubbish and clutter? Baking biscuits is another great idea: not much packaging, creative, and very tasteful!