Friday, December 14, 2007

Another wet blanket

How to spend an ethically-correct Christmas

PARIS (AFP) - Want to spend an environmentally ethically correct Christmas this year? Then switch off the Christmas lights, opt for oysters for dinner, and forget about stuffing stockings with hi-tech gadgets.

Climate experts say there is no single quick-fix solution against the mega wastage of the festive season, but there are a number of common-sense ways of enjoying Christmas without causing undue harm to the planet.

"Each one of us in our own small way can take a series of steps to limit the impact of Christmas on the environment," Nadia Boeglin, of France's Agency for the Environment and Control of Energy (ADEME), told AFP.

Not just a single step, she insisted, such as buying recycled wrapping paper for example, but a lot of steps that set end-to-end can reduce a carbon footprint.

Take Christmas trees, for example. This year's tree should be small and purchased with its roots, potted or not, said Gaelle Bouttier-Guerive of the WWF global conservation organisation. That way it can be left outside on a balcony or be planted in the garden for use again the following year.

Citizens of some north European countries and Switzerland can opt for "good wood" by selecting trees available there that come with FSC certification (the Forest Stewardship Council that guarantees the protection of primal forests).

Although Christmas traditionally is a festival of light, it is preferable to avoid lighting up the garden, said Bouttier-Guerive.

Christmas lights gobble up energy as well as upsetting birds and insects.

For the Christmas meal, go for old-fashioned cloth napkins and porcelain plates rather than throw-away paper plates and napkins, and prepare a meal of local seasonal produce, organic if possible, she said.

Should you opt for caviar, from the endangered sturgeon, carefully check its origin as there is much contraband caviar about, or choose farmed caviar instead.

Oysters, a year-end favourite in France though not popular everywhere, are good for the environment, said Jancovici. They function like tiny carbon-wells that absorb CO2 to build their shells. "It's better for the environment to eat oysters than to eat a big slice of red meat," he said.

Choosing fish is also an environmentally-stacked issue as many species have been decimated by fishing. Atlantic salmon and swordfish are to be avoided at all costs, according to WWF, which instead recommends trout or sea bass.

Note too that fish sold with the MSC label (Marine Stewardship Council) are fish caught with sustainable methods.

As to dessert, make it yourself to avoid cakes stuffed with unhealthy additives and sugar.

But the real key to a waste-reducing Christmas "is to remember everything you ended up throwing away last year to avoid buying too much this time round," said Boeglin.

And the worst environmental hazard of all are useless potentially polluting gifts -- gagdets first and foremost.

"You need to choose presents that please, that are useful and that will not be thrown away," said Boeglin.

The problem there is that "hi-tech electronic goods are popular for Christmas yet the exact opposite of an environmentally-correct gift," she said. They are high energy-users, require lots of energy for manufacture and are difficult to recycle due to their make-up and to the fact they often contain toxic substances.

Consumers can refer to Greenpeace's recent "Guide to Greener Electronics" for information on green-friendly mobile phones and computers. And of course, all battery-using electronic items should be purchased with rechargeable batteries.

Buyers of wooden toys and other objects need to check for the FSC label, or its European equivalent PESC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) for its sustainability.

Recycled or fair-trade goods generally can be considered to be green-friendly.

Currently very trendy are non-material gifts that do not harm the planet such as theatre or concert tickets, beauty salon vouchers and sports-club memberships. "But please don't offer anyone a trip to somewhere far-away," said Jancovici.

And when Christmas is over, the proper green thing to do is to carefully sort the waste for recycling.

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