While we stuff ourselves silly and tear into the presents under the tree, a hidden cost to our festive excess is slowly killing the planet.
In 2005 the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) produced a report which outlined the impact of Christmas spending in terms of greenhouse pollution, water use, land disturbance and materials used.
The ACF executive director Don Henry said the results of the analysis were shocking.
Spending just $30 on chocolate Santas and candy canes cost 940 litres of water, created 16kg of greenhouse gases and disturbed 26 square hectares of land.
On a national level, the University of Sydney-calculated date found December sales of typical Christmas favourites – confectionary, alcohol, household appliances, and clothes – created 2.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses and used 100,000 megalitres of water.
Of course, no one’s advocating you become Ebenezer Scrooge from this point forth – just that you consider adopting a few new practices that won’t put such a strain on the environment.
Here are just 7 ways to offset the Christmas hangover for you – and the planet.
- Take a staycation: By exploring your own city, or travelling short distances from home, you are dramatically reducing emissions from flying and driving long distances. Just ensure your car is serviced, tyres are inflated to the correct pressure, and the air-conditioning unit is serviced and cleaned. You can estimate your CO2 impact when driving by using the nifty travel calculator on the Carbon Reduction Institute (CRI) website, here.
- Fly on airlines with carbon off-sets: If global aviation was a country, its CO2 emissions would be ranked 7th in the world, between Germany and South Korea. Just one return flight from Sydney to Brisbane is responsible for 381kg of GHG emissions. Fortunately, there are many airlines doing their bit to reduce this impact on global warming. The major carriers in Australia – Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia – all offer credit options compliant with the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), for a relatively miniscule outlay. Visit the CRI site to calculate the emissions of your Christmas trip and what you need to pay to off-set it. The CRI supports Clean Up Australia and its Clean Up Our Climate campaign. An economy ticket on return flight to London from Sydney is responsible for 7.16 tonnes of GHG
- Book with eco-friendly tour companies: Another way to lighten your carbon footprint is to book your holiday with one of the growing number of environmentally-friendly tour operators, both at home and abroad. In Australia, one of the most reputable is the student-friendly Small World Journeys which pays to offset the carbon emissions that result from all of its trips, whether you’re discovering Sydney, or diving in the Great Barrier. The carbon-neutral operator Intrepid, which has offices in Australia, is another world-leader in eco-travel. In 2010 it made a commitment to zero emissions on all its tours.
- Switch on to power savings: They may be pricier at the checkout but LED Christmas lights save your pocket and the environment in the long-run. Frank Skinner, marketing director for ChristmasLightsEtc.com, says LED lights use up to 90 per cent less electricity than their incandescent counterparts. Turning off overnight avoids wasting electricity when it’s not needed and reduces the risk of lights being accidentally left on during the day. But the real failsafe way is to buy a timer, which you can get at Bunnings for as little as $11.50. Also, ensure you only use the air conditioner when absolutely necessary, and set the temperature to as close as possible to the outside reading – 26 degrees is a good summertime recommendation. If you really want to go the extra yard, switch over to GreenPower for your Christmas celebrations. It’s the only voluntary government accredited program that enables your electricity provider to purchase renewable energy on your household’s or business’ behalf.
- Give eco-friendly presents instead A 2010 study found that six million Australians received one or more presents they never used or later gave away – we suspect most of others polled were being polite! But before you throw your hands up in despair this Christmas and say ‘Why do I even bother’, there is a solution for you – and the planet. Below are just a few alternative ways you can show your appreciation and love for others.
- Buy carbon offsets. Whether your loved one is a businessman, about to get married, or just loves to travel, the Carbon Reduction Institute has a package to suit everyone and all budgets.
- Sponsor an orangutan. For as little as $12 a month, you can help support an orphaned or injured orangutan through rehabilitation in one of The Orangutan Project’s care centres.
- Buy a service, not a product – to reduce embodied greenhouse emissions and water, buy someone a voucher for a massage for example, rather than a massaging appliance.
- Give the gift of learning – give your child a tree to plant in the back garden, or a book on science or the environment.
- Think recycling : The strain on refuse centres and recycling depots reaches breaking point at Christmas. To ease the burden, Zero Waste SA compiled a handy 12 Wastes of Christmas list that everyone should get familiar with before Santa slides down the chimney. From tips on buying the right Christmas tree, to disposing of glass and what plastics to recycle, the planet will thank you for years to come. Oh, and if you must splurge on a fancy appliance, make sure it’s one that will last.
- Avoid food wastage: In the U.S it’s estimated Christmas revellers throw out 12 billion kilograms of food each festive season. That’s equal to roughly 37kg of wasted holiday food per person. To help you reduce the strain on the environment closer to home, Foodwise.com.au has compiled a handy list of tips. Some councils will allow food scraps to go into green waste bins, but people needed to check if their local council did, Zero Waste said. It also suggests getting a worm farm – another great gift idea – which can turn the waste into compost to go onto household garden beds.