By Toryn Whitehead
Standing at 5’7″ with a weight of 260 pounds we have Santa Claus. In the opposite corner, standing at 4’5″ with a weight of 145 pounds we have The Grinch. Santa Claus is fighting to save modern Christmas: excessive consumerism and excessive food waste which has a huge carbon footprint. The Grinch hates Christmas! He is a green eco-warrior prepared to challenge the culture of ‘business as usual’ with a looming climate crisis.
This article will examine the Christmas Smackdown Special between Santa Claus and The Grinch in the context of three main battlegrounds: Shopping, Food and Lights & Decorations. A Study by Elena Hawkins et al. titled The Carbon Cost of Christmas has determined that three days of festivities from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day amounts to approximately 650kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission per person. Based on the average carbon footprint of someone in the UK, this amounts to 12% of our annual CO2 emissions per person in just three days! Our Christmas carbon footprint has been broken down to 26kg CO2/person for food, 96kg CO2/person for travel, 218kg CO2/person for lights and 310kg CO2/person for shopping. Although perhaps travel is only a problem for us mere mortals since The Grinch travels via a rubbish shoot and Santa Claus has carbon-free reindeer, the significance of the battle between Santa Claus and The Grinch is a metaphor we cannot ignore.
Round 1: Christmas Shopping
“The avarice never ends! “I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue.” Look, I don’t wanna make waves, but this whole Christmas season is stupid, stupid, stupid!” – The Grinch, 2000.
The Grinch may be melodramatic, but he is right. 48% of our Christmas carbon footprint is a consequence of our excessive shopping habits. As I discussed in the article The Hidden World of Fast Fashion, our disposable, fast consumeristic culture is dangerous environmentally & socially, and it is more rampant at Christmas than at any other time of year. Anything single-use is not sustainable. It is estimated that every year approximately £4 billion is spent on unwanted Christmas presents, amounting to 4.8 million tons of CO2. Possibly too many Britons are forgetting to write their Christmas lists to Santa Claus, but there is an easy solution for Santa: include a gift receipt! This means it can be returned for something they will actually use, saving unwanted presents from wasting away at the back of cupboard, or worse in the bin – landfill is a disappointing gift after all.
If one third of our Christmas purchases were ethical/low carbon, then the Christmas shopping carbon footprint could be reduced to 200kg of CO2 per person. Presents from your local charity shops are a good place to start. Also check out companies sustainable collections such as ASOS’ Responsible Edit and Nike’s recycled trainers. Although more sustainable options are great for the planet as well as being quite cool and wacky, they can be more expensive. So, if you are on a tight budget – buy the plastic toy your child, niece or nephew wants and find another way to cut carbon this Christmas. It can take more time to uncover a gem tucked away in a charity shop, but there are lots of great presents waiting to be scooped up if you are persistent. Especially this year which has seen considerably more items donated to charity shops from lockdown clear outs than there normally are.
Round 2: Christmas Food
“And they’ll feast, feast, feast, feast. They’ll eat their Who-Pudding and rare Who-Roast Beast. But there’s something I just cannot stand in the least…Oh no. I’m speaking in rhyme!”– The Grinch, 2000.
No one loves to feast and gorge more than me at Christmas, but as The Grinch’s powerful right hook knocks Santa Claus to the ground we are reminded that we must compost this Christmas! Christmas dinner will result in a mountain of raw vegetable waste the size of Mount Crumpit. As I discussed in the article No Space for Food Waste composting enables food waste to break down safely, since if it ends up in landfill it will rot anaerobically releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2. A low-waste Christmas dinner can reduce our Christmas food carbon footprint by 7kg CO2 per person.
The other two ways to we can cut carbon from our Christmas dinner is to eat more organic, local produce and avoid red meat. Red meat such as lamb and beef have a significantly greater carbon cost than poultry meats like turkey and chicken. These impacts are less significant relative to other carbon cutting options, but nevertheless still important. Swapping meat for vegetables and supporting your local economy by buying from local, organic suppliers can save 4kg of CO2 per person and helps contribute to a more sustainable food system. So buy a local, organic, RSPCA approved turkey this Christmas just like the one they have for the annual Whoville Christmas Feast!
Round 3: Christmas Lights & Decorations
“Hate, hate, hate. Hate, hate, hate. Double Hate. Loathe entirely!” – The Grinch, 2000.
Christmas lights & decorations are festive, fun and help to get us in the Christmas spirit. However, extravagant Christmas lighting costs 218kg of CO2 per person. You can save up to 90% of this CO2 by switching to LED lighting. This will slash your electricity bill, which is great for the planet and for your wallet! Timers are another effective tool to lighten the load further… have you ever walked past people’s houses and their lights are still on in the middle of the night? It makes no sense whatsoever, remember to turn off your lights at night or use a timer to save yourself the hassle.
The tree debate: real or fake? The average artificial tree is made up of plastic which comes from oil. This accounts for two thirds of its carbon footprint according to the Carbon Trust, another quarter of its environmental impact comes from the industrial emissions produced when the tree is manufactured. Naturally, in light of this knowledge you would figure that you may end up on Santa’s naughty list if you purchase a fake Christmas tree. However, data from the Carbon Trust suggests it will take 10-12 years for the environmental impact to even out, so to be able to claim environmental benefits you will have to keep any fake tree you purchase this year until 2030. If you do opt for a real Christmas tree, how you dispose of it come January is the biggest determining factor. Carbon Trust figures confirm that a real tree disposed of properly will cause about 3.5kg of CO2 emissions, versus an artificial tree at about 40kg of CO2 emissions. So, remember to remove all the tinsel and baubles and recycle it! The best option is to buy a Christmas tree in a pot that you can replant or reuse next year. But if hoovering up pine needles all December is too much hassle then ditch the car for a week and that will even things out.
Finally, wrapping paper is hated by recycling facilities. It is a common mistake to think that all wrapping paper is recyclable, if you’re not sure scrunch it up and if it springs back it needs to go in the bin. So, make sure your wrapping paper is recyclable this Christmas! Look out for wrapping paper from recycled origins or labelled Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which means it comes from sustainable forests. Even still, help out your local recycling facility by removing any ribbons, bows and tape since these cannot be recycled. The best option when it comes to wrapping paper is a reusable alternative – spoiler, it’s fabric – or we could use old newspapers or magazines.
New Year Resolution
Being climate-friendly should not just be for Christmas. Do not just compost your food waste at Christmas, start an environmentally friendly new habit. Do not throw away any unwanted Christmas presents or old clothes/toys, donate them to a charity shop or recycle them appropriately. So, whether you’re already a green eco-warrior like The Grinch or need to wake up to the scale of the climate crisis like Santa Claus, let’s look to 2021 for a more sustainable, low carbon lifestyle.
Graphic courtesy of Alice Eaves