The Rockefeller Centre this year installed its “first-ever ‘green’ Christmas tree”.[nytimes] Ra, ra, right? Nah, wrong. You’ll no doubt be overwhelmed by the amount of ‘dressing’ this tree took to make it green. The mayor of New York went overboard with what, on the face of it, looked like an incredibly innovative amount of energy reduction in the form of a new 363-panel solar energy roof, re-greening and forecast milling, and treating the tree for re-use by Habitat for Humanity – all very admirable, and completely disingenuous. The crux of the matter is that this remains a tree without roots, and for all the fancy dressing, we cannot advocate cutting down millions of trees every year for the sake of Christmas.
Green trees – the real versus fake debate
Christmas is the time of the “attack of the mutant artificial tree”! [real trees] so when you take a minute to debate the ins and outs of real versus fake, here’s a list of reasons why you should go with the real thing:
• Real trees are grown here, fake ones are shipped in from China
• Most artificial trees are made from metals and plastics
• Fake trees are not better for the environment [christmastree.org]
• Fake trees are not biodegradable
• Real trees are a little poor on biodiversity, but their product can be recycled
Go one better – buy a new (organic, if you can) tree, in a pot, and plant it in your garden, or in a public area if you don’t have a back yard, after Christmas. If you’re a business and you really want to earn brownie points, contact Food & Trees for Africa and they’ll plant trees for you.
Apparently Americans will send almost 2 billion holiday cards this year, and the UK well over 750 million (the equivalent to 248 000 trees). That’s a lot of paper and air miles. But you don’t have to sacrifice the celebration of Christmas to make it sustainable. Send Christmas ecards:
Or buy charity, recycled or locally made Christmas cards instead of imported cards.
Green gift ideas
Have you noticed how ‘silly’ the Christmas season has become, and how we’re encouraged to spend on bigger and better gifts – usually at the last minute and without much thought. Exchanging gifts during mid-winter (or in our case, mid-summer) can be traced back to the New Stone Age, and it’s a lovely idea, when we’re not mindlessly buying gifts for the sake of it. Christmas shopping can be a nightmare – crowded shops, overzealous music, a barrage of consumables nobody actually needs but you find yourself grabbing anyway in a bid to fill stockings. But it’s time we stopped and asked ourselves just who we’re doing it for, and what the outcome of dizzy shopping is for the environment?
What to avoid:
• Plastic, PVC, or unsustainable goods
• Overly packaged items
• Anything made from endangered wood
What to buy:
• Durable gifts (quality, long lifespan)
• Think less materialistically – see below for a list of ideas
• Support the little guy – avoid big brands and supermarket chains
• 2nd-hand (books, CDs, antiques, local markets)
Some green gift ideas:
Magazine subscriptions – Biophile , Mindshift
Books – Scorched by local journalist Leonie Joubert ; Heat by George Monbiot
Clothing – hemp clothing (hemporium) is sustainable, it requires no pesticides, herbicides and little fertiliser; vintage clothing and locally made items from markets [more green clothing]
Edible gifts – locally made or organic chocolate, local organic cheese and wine or an organic vegetable and fruit box delivery [ubergreen directory]
Green gadgets solar-powered devices, wind-up radios and other [urban sprout directory]
Sustainable gifts – solar lights, low-flow showerheads, geyser timers and hot bags [sustainable.co.za]
Edible gardens Have your own organic vegetable garden and eat it is catching on fast. Why not sponsor the initial month or part thereof for someone you love?
Alternative transport – buy an electric bicycle or an electric scooter and help lower carbon emissions
shop online for organic products and avoid the manic rush completely
Alternative packaging ideas
• Use handmade paper [phumani paper] or [kuyasa] or paper made from hemp [hemporium]
• Get creative – use old magazines or catalogues to come up with innovative wrapping (despite what you think, this can look quite incredible – check this site out)
• Recycle your old wrapping paper (sprinkle with water and iron – it actually works!)
• Use string, ribbon or wool instead of sticky tape, which is a bane for landfill
"The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."
• Boycott the turkey if you’re doing a cruelty-free Christmas
• Avoid over-packaging – buy loose rather than pre-packed vegetables and fruit. It helps cut down on all that waste after Christmas.
• Buy organic wine [support our local organic wine farmers] and chocolate (ps: green & blacks is now owned by Cadburys, so rather buy local handmade chocolate!)
• Support local farmers’ markets like the Porter Estate produce market , Neighbourgoods market, and the Bryanston Organic market
• Compost any vegetable peelings and leftovers [get a worm bin]
• Avoid disposable plates and cups as these only end up in landfill
The way you travel is a chance to exercise environmental values. And there are ways to make the way you travel over the festive season more ecologically friendly:
Stay local – instead of jaunting overseas, holiday in the next province
Go on a cycling holiday – this speaks for itself!
Share a car – sharing petrol between four of you makes more sense than taking 2 cars
Travel slow – cut down on your speed, and you cut back on your emissions (take the scenic route and get there later, but happier)
Go by public transport When last did you catch the train or greyhound somewhere?
Offset your travel if you must travel, then offset your emissions by planting a tree or two [Food & Trees for Africa]
Respect your ecosystem wherever it is you visit – be it the seaside, the mountains or a local community, respect your environment – don’t litter, don’t disrupt local life and buy local.
Make your Christmas matter
Finally, make this Christmas count by supporting a local cause – see urban sprout’s directory for causes to support or visit [greater good SA] – article Submitted by sproutingforth