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Santa vs Grinch: A Christmas climate showdown

Written by: Toryn Whitehead 

In the first corner, 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. 

A Study by Gary Haq, Anne Owen, Elena Dawkins, and John Barrett, 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.

Although 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. 

Photo: pixyorg

Round 1: 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. Our disposable, fast, consumerist culture is dangerous – environmentally and socially. Not to mention, it is more rampant at Christmas than at any other time of year.

It is estimated that every year approximately £4 billion is spent on unwanted Christmas presents, amounting to 4.8 million tons of CO2. Too many Britons are forgetting to write their Christmas lists to Santa Claus! However, there is an easy solution: include a gift receipt! This means that the gift can be returned and exchanged for something useful, 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.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.

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.

Round 2: Food 

“And they’ll feast, feast, feast, feast. They’ll eat their Who-Pudding and rare Who-Roast Beast…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. Composting enables food waste to break down safely, as if it ends up in landfill it will rot anaerobically releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more dangerous for climate change than CO2. A low-waste Christmas dinner can reduce our Christmas food carbon footprint by 7kg CO2 per person. 

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. 

Photo: Alice Eaves

Round 3: 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? Remember to turn off your lights at night or use a timer to save yourself the hassle. 

Finally, did you know that 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 to scrunch it up and if it springs back it needs to go in the bin.

Look out for wrapping paper from recycled origins or labelled Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which means it comes from sustainable forests. 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 (The Mancunion is awfully attractive) or magazines. 

New Year’s 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. 

Tags: carbon footprint, Christmas, Climate change, consumerism, Environmental Sustainability

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