Christmas: What it Costs the Environment

Lucy Shell

With only a few weeks left until Christmas, it is time once again to begin preparing for the festive season. Trees to be decorated, cupboards stocked with family favourites, and the last gifts wrapped up. An image of perfection, but how exactly does our environment fit into this jolly season? Christmas is traditionally a time for recognising what is important in our lives, it is a time for giving and for offering support to others, and it is undoubtedly a time to prioritise our environment.

We can no longer use the facade of the Christmas season to shy away from the responsibility we have in reducing our environmental impact. It is equally as important to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle as it is to celebrate the festivities. Driving home for Christmas does not mean driving away from environmental activism. 

The Most Wasteful Time of the Year

The Christmas period is undoubtedly a huge contributor to the exponential production of waste, and it is encouraged by the deeply materialistic and consumerist society in which we are suffocated. “Every year the UK produces 300 million tonnes of waste, and at Christmas time this includes 3,350 tonnes of glass, 4,500 tonnes of tin foil, and enough wrapping paper to cover the equator nine times” (The Guardian). 

Frankly, this is disgusting.

How can we possibly claim to understand the true meaning of Christmas if we allow this scale of pollution to occur when we sit down to a Christmas day meal? If Christmas is truly a time for family and friends, why has environmental action not become the priority? Why is the desire to have ‘the best’ and ‘the newest’ compromising the Christmases of generations to come?

This costly Christmas is not only, however, the result of consumers participating in a season of mass consumption. It is consumerism itself which seems to escalate in this season of giving. We live in a society which favours the constant necessity to have more. Throughout the festive season we become indoctrinated with a need to participate in consumerist Christmas traditions. Sadly, for many people, Christmas has become engulfed by a modern materialistic happiness; and this is to the detriment of its traditional moral messages. An honest appreciation of the small things in life is now but a shadow to the omnipresent nature of material advertising. Christmas decorations have begun to appear in shops on the day after Halloween, and the boxing day sales last until well after New Year’s day. ‘Tis the season for material gain?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Eco-friendly and Christmas are two words which can be put together. An eco-friendly Christmas means taking the time to enjoy yourself but also taking the initiative to look after our planet. It is a case of taking a step back in order to assess the impact of your festive traditions and consider environmentally-friendly alternatives. Will reusing old Christmas decorations mean a sub-standard Christmas? Will buying less presents result in an insincere display of love? Will using less tin foil mean a mediocre Christmas turkey? No, it will mean a less guilt-ridden holiday season.

Nick Boreham

Nick Boreham











5 Gold Christmas Rules

Second-hand is not Second Best. Giving a gift to someone does not mean buying the most expensive or newest version of something. In Finland, there is a big emphasis in buying items second-hand. “Kierrätyskeskus”, or supermarket-sized second-hand stores, offer citizens a green alternative to high street stores (BBC News). Not only do these centres offer items at lower costs, they reduce environmental impact by reusing the resources which have already been created. Instead of doing your Christmas shopping in a single online order, explore charity shops and online second-hand communities to find a more original and eco-friendly gift.

Less is More. Think before you buy. Is it necessary to buy 10 gifts for someone, or will one really thoughtful gift suffice? Try to distance yourself from advertisements and marketing and the pressure to buy more and more each year. A handmade gift is equally as meaningful, and will probably be tailored to the individual. Remember quality over quantity. According to an article by The Guardian, “WRAP estimates that by 2020, electronic items purchased in the UK would total 10m tonnes, including over 400 tonnes of gold, silver and platinum that has an estimated market value of £1.5bn” (The Guardian).

Christmas Tree: Real or Fake? Whether you choose to buy a real tree or use a fake one, it is the disposal  which contributes most to your carbon footprint. For the “seven million Christmas fir trees” bought each year in the UK, the best option is to buy a locally grown tree and then dispose of it via incineration. Thrown away on a landfill, a fir tree will decompose to produce methane and contribute to climate change as a greenhouse gas (BBC News). Fake trees are typically made of a combination of “plastic and wood”, and so after the initial CO2 produced in creating it, a fake tree can be reused each year (BBC News). A fake tree needs to be kept approximately “10 years” in order for it to match the environmental impact of a real fir tree (BBC News). However not all fake trees are currently recyclable and so they can remain in the environment as plastic pollution. 

Responsible Gifting. We all have a responsibility to be aware where the items we buy come from and how much they contribute to global pollution. Not just at Christmas, but all year around. Companies such as Wholesome Culture and the “Conscious Collection by H&M” advocate sustainable and organically-sourced clothing (ThredUp). Although some sustainable brands may cost more than you would normally spend,  they are part of a movement to limit environmental impact. It is important to recognise that “everything we use has to be made somewhere” (The Guardian). 

Go Local. Whether you are buying a turkey for the family Christmas meal, or you need a gift for that special someone, make the effort to try and source something locally. Local products will often have a much lower carbon footprint because they have not travelled as far to get to you. The same goes for your Christmas tree, why not see if you can source one locally?


Have Yourself a Green Christmas!

Be conscious of the impact you have on both the local and global environment over the holidays. “Actual conservation and sustainability requires a systemic shift in how you view things of value and how you value things”, and this shift starts with how we view the Christmas season (The Guardian).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel