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How to enjoy a green Christmas this year
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A is for artificial trees: These are not necessarily greener - although they last far longer, they are made from plastic, not recyclable or from a renewable source and have probably been shipped great distances. There are also question marks over where they are made and the labor used. Real trees also help to remove carbon from the atmosphere while they are growing (more on real trees below under C).

People celebrate in front of a lottery office in Barcelona after winning a part of the main prize of Spain's Christmas lottery. The winners popped open a champagne bottle immediately. The Christmas season will see millions of such celebrations in homes and restaurants across Europe and the Americas and the trash generated will add to environmental problems.

B is for batteries: New gifts at Christmas often mean that households go through a lot of batteries. Batteries contain toxic chemicals, are not biodegradable and are difficult to recycle. As an alternative, use rechargeable batteries or try the new AA size USB rechargeable batteries. By opening the cap and plugging into a USB connector, you can recharge them pretty much anywhere.

C is for...

Candles: Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are no good for your health or for the environment. Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.

Compost: Compost all your food peelings or get a wormery to help break down the vegetable food waste into rich soil nutrition.

Clothes: More than 80,000 tons of old clothes will be thrown away in the UK alone this Christmas, so if you do get a new wardrobe, make sure you donate your old clothes to a local charity shop.

Christmas trees: Real trees are the more eco-friendly choice, as long as you consider where and how they have been grown. Make sure you get one from a sustainable source. You could also choose a tree with roots so that it can be replanted.

This post on www.smartplanet.

Another suggestion: The best way to use a real tree, though, is to use a live one. You can grow your own with a kit from Ecotopia - although it might just be a bit late to start growing one for this year.

Recycle your tree after Christmas. Six million trees brightened up homes and offices across Britain last year, of which only 10 percent were recycled. The rest went into landfill, a wasted opportunity to create biomass that would have provided nutrients for depleted soil. Many local authorities and garden centres will be recycling Christmas trees after the festive period.

D is for...

Decorations: Use recycled decorations. Or decorate your tree with products that are fairly traded and ethically sourced. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has some ideas here. Or get creative and make your own "ideas here".

Defrost your freezer before Christmas: It will work more efficiently and create more space to store leftover food, so that it doesn't go to waste.

E is for eco-bags: Use a cotton or jute shopper bag instead of all that plastic.

F is for food shopping: For some horrifying statistics on how much food we throw away, read this story.

By the time the ingredients that make up the average British Christmas dinner arrive on our plates, they have traveled a combined distance of 78,500 km. Turkeys from Europe, vegetables from Africa, wine from the southern hemisphere, cranberries from the US - the turkey and trimmings add up to the equivalent of 6,000 car trips around the world, new research from the University of Manchester has found.

Buy an organic turkey. Ten million turkeys are eaten every Christmas, so try to make sure it has been reared humanely. Buy local or buy less. Produce bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimizing your carbon footprint. Shop at a local farmers' market, or try growing some of your own vegetables where possible.

Buy your fruit and vegetables loose and ditch all that wasteful plastic packaging. Make sure the goods that are packaged are made from recycled materials.

Buy drinks in bigger bottles rather than small ones. One large bottle generates less waste than several smaller ones.

Try to avoid serving people with paper or plastic plates and cups if you are entertaining.

Pack all your goods into a re-usable shopping bag or re-use old plastic bags. Don't forget to put the vegetable peelings from your Christmas dinner in your home compost bin.

K is for keeping your curtains closed: This may not be applicable to Beijing, but very important elsewhere. Closed curtains keep the heat in and save energy and money. And with all those guests to entertain, more heat is going to be generated anyway.

L is for lights: Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas produce enough CO2 to inflate 12 balloons, so turn them off when they are not needed. If you want to be more environmentally friendly, try switching to either LED lights, choosing lights that are powered by solar power or rechargeable batteries, or installing an energy-saving bulb to offset the energy usage.

If you haven't already - make it a New Year's resolution to switch to energy-efficient bulbs.

P is for...

Plastic-free: More than 17 billion plastic bags are handed out by supermarkets in the UK alone a year - that's 300 for every man, woman and child - causing more than 60,000 tons of plastic to go to landfill sites (more on why plastic bags are so bad here).

Now and after Christmas, use a cotton eco-shopper or take old plastic bags and reuse them. With retailers yet to get the message on excessive packaging, try to avoid purchasing products and food that are overpackaged.

Presents: Check out some of our ethical gift ideas. Buy durable gifts and avoid buying or requesting presents that rely on disposable parts like batteries. Try to look for alternatives, for example, goods that are solar or wind-up powered.

Do you have to buy gifts? Could you buy an "experience" instead? Try cinema tickets, club memberships, gift tokens. Sponsor an animal, buy them some rainforest to protect - but don't give them another unwanted gift that they will simply throw away.

R is for recycle: According to, English households will throw out an additional 3 million tons - that's five sacks of rubbish per family - over the festive period. Much of this will be waste that could have been recycled. There are plenty of tips on which materials you can recycle and how here.

T is for turning off your appliances: Turning your appliances off at the mains, rather than leaving them on standby.

U is for using the right-sized pan: Use the right-sized pan for the vegetables you cook, and only boil the kettle with the amount of water you need.

W is for wrapping: This constitutes one of the biggest Christmas wastes - the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that last year's wasted paper would be enough to wrap up the Channel island of Guernsey. If we all recycled just half of the 8,000 tons produced we'd save 25,000 trees.

Try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper (WWF has some nice paper here), recycled foil or newspaper, and using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up.

So what will you be doing this Christmas? Have you got any more tips?

And even if haven't, why not try to follow those give here for the whole of next year. We could do at least that much to save the planet.

Merry (green) Christmas!

(China Daily December 24, 2007)

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