With Ireland expected to generate approximately 90,000 tonnes of packaging waste this Christmas, academics at the University College Cork (UCC) Environmental Research Institute (ERI), have come together to provide the top ten tips for a green Christmas.
1. Buy a real Christmas tree!
Given that it involves cutting down trees, this might at first sound counter-intuitive as a sustainability measure. After all, you could re-use a fake tree year after year, sparing a tree every time. But that would be the wrong way to look at it because your plastic tree will eventually end up in landfill, whereas if demand for real trees continues then they will keep being replanted. (Dr Markus Eichhorn, School of Biological, Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences)
2. Give the gift of a plant:
Now is a good time of year to take cuttings from your house plants and pot them up as gifts for your nearest and dearest. It’s easy to take cuttings from many succulents, spider plants or Christmas Cactus and pop them into some peat-free compost in a recycled or re-usable plant pot. Alternatively, mid-winter is a good time to plant a deciduous tree outside in Ireland as it will need the full spring season to develop a decent root-system for the drier months. – (Dr Eoin Lettice, Plant Scientist at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) and the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at UCC)
3. Think about the crackers
15 million crackers will be pulled in Ireland over Christmas, contributing further unnecessary plastic waste. Maybe consider making your own home-made Christmas crackers with recyclable materials (and better jokes). (Dr Tom Reed, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), UCC)
4. Chestnuts roasting on a …
If you’ve been burning coal, peat or wood in your living room fire, then you have been very naughty indeed. Domestic Solid Fuel burning is one of the largest sources of air pollution in Ireland. Your fire is not only harmful to you in your own house, but also to your neighbours, because 90% of the smoke and chemical fumes end up next door. Burning coal, wood and peat is especially harmful to asthmatics, the young, the old, people with existing heart conditions and the pregnant. And just think what it does to poor old Santa when he tries to deliver your fantastic presents down the chimney. We can only hope that he has good medical insurance! To keep Santa (and us) healthy, wherever you live in Ireland, then put some solar panels on your roof, insulate your homes better and install a heat pump. – (John Sodeau, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, UCC)
5. Be a Sustainable Foodie.
Try to resist buying enough food to feed an army, as much of this will probably end up as waste – instead, try a ‘refuse, reuse, rot’ approach to your food shopping. Refuse to overbuy, reuse all leftovers and rot or compost what’s left. Planning ahead by ordering your fruit and vegetables through a local box scheme, enjoy some social festivities and visit your local farmers market, or buy in bulk (plastic-free, of course!) and batch cook so that you’ve more time to enjoy family traditions. (Dr Claire O’Neill and Professor Mary McCarthy, UCC CUBS)
6. Don’t fight at the dinner table!
The Christmas family get together is famed for its fights and fall-outs - all that food, mulled wine, and being cooped up for one day with your nearest and dearest can prove too much. We are always advised to avoid talking about religion and politics at the dinner table. Likewise, if climate change is an issue that raises some hackles at the Christmas dinner table, and one that you feel strongly about, we would recommend that you listen as much as you talk, avoid reciting too many climate change facts, and connect the issue to everyday life such as that local cycle path that could be extended to the community school. Of course, try to avoid gloom and doom and focus on the positive benefits of climate action - it is Christmas after all! – (Dr Paul Bolger, Manager of the Environmental Research Institute, UCC)
7. Leave the door open for Santa!
An open fireplace with a chimney is very handy for Santa but he can also choose to come in the door if you decide to install an efficient stove or upgrade your heating system. Burning a fuel like coal in your fireplace over the winter produces about 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide (a heat-trapping gas). This is similar to a person taking a return flight to New York. Heat-trapping gasses are causing our climate to change in ways that are not good so trying to reduce our emissions is the perfect gift for the planet! (Dr Paul Deane, Energy Policy and Modelling Group, MaREI Centre)
8. Think electric.
Christmas can be when we mull buying a new car for next year. So look at the electric options, you can now choose from battery-electric vehicles (BEV) to plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV) to hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV). BEVs have a motor tax of €120. A HEV, such as the Toyota Corolla, costs about 7c/km and comes with a motor tax of €170.
9. Avoid the plastic!
Earlier this year UCC researchers found plastic 2,100m under the sea off Co Kerry coast. When buying presents look at their plastic wrapping, try to avoid toys or other gifts that would increase the amount of plastic waste you generate. Why not replace the glossy, non-recycled paper wrapping with recycled paper? Whenever possible try to buy your gifts and food from local sources and in family-owned shops, to promote local communities and also reduce the carbon footprint of transporting things all over the world. Nowadays we all enjoy internet shopping, but one should take this time of the year to reflect on the environmental and social costs of big online retailers (Dr Rossana Henriques, Senior Lecturer in Plant Genetics at the School of BEES, UCC)
10. Think of the birds!
UCC research earlier this year outlined how climate change is occurring so fast that common birds such as magpies cannot adapt and are at the risk of extinction. This Christmas leave the gift of water and the correct food out for our feathered friends.