December 15, 2008 / 5:09 PM / 10 years ago

Christmas: A time to cut down on consumption?

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - If the environment is high on your agenda this Christmas then ditch the pointless presents, lighten that table groaning with food, change the log blazing in the fire and consider your options to the traditional tree.

“The big opportunity this holiday” said Graham Hill founder of a leading green web site, is “to get together as a family, talk to each other about what Christmas means to us, and then design our own holiday.”

If that is a stretch for most, even the high priests of capitalism agree that consumption these days, whether at Christmas or any other time of the year, has gone too far.

“There is a danger that the green agenda will be side-lined by economic difficulties and that’s not right, but one of the interesting things about this recession will be how it might encourage sustainable or responsible consumption,” Martin Sorrell, boss of WPP, the global advertising and marketing agency told Reuters.

Re-using old wrapping paper, “re-gifting” unwanted presents, and making cards, decorations or presents together with the children are all traditional ways of saving money at Christmas which have taken on a new environmental significance.

But careless Christmas giving is not the only tradition under threat. Eco-Christians are being asked to forego the traditional, heavily lubricated pre-Christmas parties.

“Reserve your celebration for the day itself and the 12 days afterwards,” advises Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who speaks for the Church of England on environmental matters.

Greeting cards can be emailed, or for the adventurous, try Plant ME plantable cards - they look conventional but instructions on the back tell the recipient what flower to expect if they bury it in the garden.

And at a time when many are pulling the Christmas lights down from the attic, the Bishop urges us to turn off some of the lights so you can actually see the darkness and the stars.

“Living in the city, we all suffer from light pollution - you can’t see the vastness of space. Experiencing darkness at Christmas is the surest way to see the light at midnight,” he said, referring to the star the three wise men followed.

The warm glow of a log fire is of course still welcome, but for a green Christmas the logs are not necessarily cut straight from the tree. In the Bay Area of California wood burning is illegal on “Spare the Air “ days this winter.

The answer may be Java-logs made from coffee grounds and wax, or pine logs, made from sawdust and wax. They burn for longer and at a higher heat than their natural wood equivalents, say their makers.


Taking care of food and drink is one of the critical areas of Yuletide consumption and buying smaller amounts of more expensive and locally grown organic food is the green answer, according to some experts.

You can sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture scheme (CSA), where monthly subscribers fund the farmers cash flow and receive a regular delivery of fresh vegetables most of the year.

There are 2200 CSA schemes listed at

Eco-journalist Hannah Pearce has a suitably pared down approach to Christmas day.

“We shall eat no more than usual, keep presents to a minimum, get outside as much as possible and spend time with our friends,” said Pearce.

Her Christmas tree, kept planted in her London allotment until needed, is seven years old. But that approach to tree-preservation does not work for dry areas.

“We don’t ship live trees” said Mark Rohlfs, owner of Santa & Sons who sells thousands of trees to stars and ordinary folks each Christmas from a lot on Ventura Boulevard, Los Angeles.

“George Lopez was just here yesterday, Samuel L. Jackson, and Danny de Vito buy our trees.” said Rohlfs last week. He has been selling his own Christmas trees since 1983 and recently joined a group of environmentally conscious growers ( whose trees are strictly audited by a paid, independent firm.

“Our noble firs get 60-70 inches of rain a year. They wouldn’t survive in the Southern United States,” Rohlfs said.

Trees can also be decorated with issue-oriented ornaments such as “Angels with Attitude.” These are tree ornaments made out of used cans by Kenyan children whose parents have died of


The final issue is what to do with the waste from Christmas - wrapping paper - packaging materials, waste food and unwanted gifts. Recycling is all very well - but with the current slump in commodity prices, a lot of recycling simply ends up back in the landfill. One answer is to re-use the materials yourself.

You can save the wrapping paper until next year or use newspaper or magazine pages to wrap presents and refuse to buy over-packaged goods, said Uliano.

Similarly, waste food can be cut down but composting vegetable scraps and imposing a green shopping policy using expandable shopping bags to limit purchasing only what is actually going to be eaten. Unwanted presents can be given away on Freecycle or sold on EBay.

The result is that by the end of Boxing Day there will be no mounds of uneaten food in the fridge, no bins overflowing with wrapping paper and you won’t be feeling like you need to spend the next month at the gym. Not like Christmas at all, really.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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