Let me ruin your Christmas
Christmas is approaching and it is the time to be merry, eat lots of food, sing Carols, and enjoy the Christmas tree. But of course, being the eco-mentalist I am, I have to emphasise the enormous cost of Christmas to the environment. On top of everything, I am a grumpy German who doesn’t like to have fun, so let me try to ruin Christmas for you as much as I can.
So, you’re probably looking forward to eating lots of turkey. You are dreaming of a table overflowing with all kinds of food, too much to eat for Napoleon’s Army on their way back from Russia should they happen to pass through your neighbourhood.
How dare you!
On average, a person in the UK prepares food on Christmas that causes the emission of 26kg of CO2. And we prepare way too much of it. The waste amounts to the shells of an estimated 240 million Brussels sprouts, and the peels of 105 million potatoes, 20 million parsnips and 30 million carrots. Simply preparing less food or going on a diet could save 7kg of CO2 emissions per person.
Of course, if you are on a diet on Christmas, that is just going to make you miserable, so you can skip the turkey, goose, or whatever bird you are cooking for a vegetarian alternative. This way, you are not only saving another 3kg of CO2 per person but make sure that all your guests on the Christmas table will be miserable as well.
With 66.6 million people in the UK, we could thus save 0.666 million tonnes of CO2 while making everyone as miserable as possible.
Speaking of being miserable on Christmas, why don’t we all take a page out of the book of former US President Jimmy Carter? If we lower the room temperature in our houses throughout winter by 1 degree Celsius, we can save £42 a year in heating costs and 184kg of CO2 emissions per household.
Want that cosy hygge feeling: Just wear a jumper or two that will keep you warm.
On average, Brits spend c. £430 per person on Christmas gifts. An estimated £100 of these gifts are thoroughly unwanted or useless and will be thrown away afterward. These unwanted gifts create CO2 emissions of c. 4.8 million tonnes, or roughly 5% of a typical household’s carbon footprint per year.
And while we are on the topic of Christmas presents, wrapping paper causes an estimated 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the UK that can be eliminated by wrapping your presents in old newspapers or putting them into a jute sack that used to hold the potatoes you just cooked for your Christmas dinner (or the sack that used to hold coals if you live in a Charles Dickens novel).
Even better, why don’t you instead buy gifts that don’t cause so many CO2 emissions? You can even buy your loved ones carbon offsets to offset their entire carbon footprint for a year. This way, they get that nice glow in their face that comes from looking at a useless piece of paper and having to thank you for it.
Normally, I would go on here about the carbon footprint of travelling to see your loved ones over Christmas or worse, taking a trip to the sun. If there is one good thing about Christmas in a pandemic, it’s that this is all gone, so I am not going to tell you that travelling from London to Liverpool by car is creating 62kg of CO2 while using the train causes 15kg of CO2 emissions per person. I will also not tell you that flying from London to New York in economy creates about 1.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions or about 20% of the average person’s annual carbon footprint. And if you fly business class, that carbon footprint increases by a factor of four to five.
The big one.
Of course, being environmentally conscious you only go for the real thing instead of a plastic tree. The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that exists) has published a life cycle assessment of natural Christmas trees vs. plastic trees in 2018.
According to this study, the manufacture of an artificial Christmas tree causes 14.2kg of CO2 emissions. Since most artificial trees are manufactured in China they have to be shipped to Europe or North America which causes another 2.4kg of CO2 emissions. Then there is the packaging and other things as well as the CO2 emitted as the trees are collected in the garbage and then stored in landfill where they will remain forever, and you have a total CO2 footprint of artificial Christmas trees of 17.9kg CO2.
Meanwhile, a real tree will have to grow, during which time it needs water and fertiliser, both of which create CO2 emissions. But in the 7 to 8 years it takes to grow a 2m tree it also captures a lot of carbon from the air. Thus, by the time your Christmas tree is chopped down and ends up in your house, it has a negative carbon footprint of c. -9kg. Transporting the tree from the plantation to your home is creating a little bit of CO2 in the order of 1.8kg and the water used to keep it alive until you throw it out another 0.08kg. Then, it depends on what happens to the tree. If the tree is burnt after use, it releases all the carbon stored in the wood and more to create a total CO2 footprint over its lifecycle of 7.8kg CO2. If the tree is composted after use, a lot of carbon is released into the air as well and the total CO2 footprint is 4.9kg. Meanwhile, if the tree ends up in landfill and slowly rots there, the total CO2 footprint is negative. It is even better if the landfill is linked to an incinerator power plant where the heat from the landfill is used to produce electricity. In this case, the carbon footprint becomes even more negative.
In general, thus, we can say that under normal circumstances, where a real Christmas tree is being collected and then ends up as garden waste and is composted (as is the case throughout most of the UK), the carbon footprint of a real tree is a little bit more than a quarter of the carbon footprint of a plastic tree. If you manage to use your plastic tree for four years or more, you are actually doing something for the environment.
But then you would have to live with an ugly plastic tree for four years…
I hope I made it clear that Christmas is a major natural catastrophe that we celebrate as if it was a joyous holiday. You could do a lot to reduce your carbon footprint each year as I have described above.
But then again, it’s Christmas, and if there is one time of the year, where we should not worry about our carbon footprint that much, particularly in a year like this one, it is then. So enjoy Christmas and if you still feel guilty about your lifestyle during the holidays, just make up for it in January and February.