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    Mar 2018 right left


    Belfast Festival of Learning

    Monday 5th March
    Various, see programme for details


    Green Christmas 20 December 2011

    How to Enjoy a Green Christmas

    Christmas (which has occurred on 25 December since 336AD) is a family feast in the depths of winter (at least for the northern latitudes). Occurring 4 days after the winter solstice, days are short and yet the year has turned and people start to look forward to spring. Memories of last winter’s white Christmas may bring back picturesque images for some of us, while others may be hoping that this mild November weather continues to Christmas. However, Christmas tends to be a time when many of us generate a lot of waste and my aim is to encourage us all to rethink waste and take a different approach.

    First there are the cards…

    Christmas can start quite early, if you go by the houses that light up on November 1st! But for most of us it starts with the annual Christmas card ritual of sending cards to people we never speak or write to for the other 364 days! In fact the UK spends more on Christmas cards than anyone else in the world averaging 55 cards per person and amounting to £1.3 billion per year. Maybe this year you can take a different approach? Only send cards to people who you do see at other times, but don’t send cards to people you will see at Christmas! As to the once a year people, ask yourself WHY? Try making your own – there are pre–folded cards that you decorate yourselves using images from magazines; some people even make their own card from recycled paper! Be imaginative – believe me I would much prefer a home–made card which will be unique to me than an e–card! And all the cards you receive can be saved to decorate next year’s; alternatively you can recycle the cards at various recycling centres after Christmas.

    Then there are the lights…

    So what about the houses which appear overnight and keep their lights on for two months! If you are a fan of having a house lit up to the extent of guiding aircraft to the runway, try going the solar route or at the very least use LED bulbs which use 90% less energy.

    And the tree…

    Assuming you prefer a more traditional style, the next thing in people’s minds is usually the tree! While the tree dates back only to 1841 with Prince Albert introducing it from Germany, the idea of bringing nature indoors connects us with our environment and the natural world at the very time of year when we are probably least connected to it, preferring the warmth of our homes.

    Each year in the UK we use approximately 6 million trees of which fewer than 10% are recycled and less than 5% are replaced. A real tree is carbon neutral and if you get one from a local producer and or an FSC accredited source, you know it is sustainable. Make sure that you take it for composting after the festivities are over. Better still grow your own in a container which can be brought indoors each year. Keep it well watered and you will not have the needle drop issue of cut trees. Now some might argue that the artificial tree is re–used each year but they are generally made from metals and petroleum based plastics, use a lot of energy in their production (generally in Taiwan or China so add in transport costs) and they tend to last no more than 6 years at which point they go to landfill!

    The decorations for the tree…

    Having got the tree, you then have to decorate – and the decorations are often made of the same materials as the artificial tree! It seems a shame to bedeck a real tree (because of course that is what you have gone for) with artificial materials when homemade natural decorations are cheaper and can be either eaten or composted after! Try popcorn on strings using vegetable dyes; bundles of cinnamon sticks tied together with ribbon, gingerbread men, natural berries, ivy, holly and mistletoe. A particular favourite of mine are baked orange slices. Believe me the aromas of spices; fruit and pine evoke the Christmas spirit far more effectively than pink tinsel!

    Then we have the gifts…

    Enter stage left Santa Claus and all those presents. Santa Claus traditionally dresses in red and white, right? Actually only since Coca Cola used him to advertise in 1931 and put him in the corporate colours!

    Choose gifts with care and remember presents for children do not have to be battery operated all the time. If you do go that way, try and use rechargeable batteries. Of course, you may not always get it right but a little thought will reduce unwanted gifts. And should you receive such gifts you can always give them to charity (obviously after a respectful time has elapsed!).

    And the wrapping…

    Be creative in your choice of wrapping. Each year approximately 83 km² of wrapping paper ends up in bins – that would cover Guernsey! If you are buying it avoid the glossy or metallic types which do not recycle so well. Use ribbon or string rather than sticky tape – I cut off the “hanger ribbons” from clothes I buy and use the ribbons to tie up small gifts. “Brown paper packages tied up with string” can look very attractive in their simplicity!

    Food, glorious food…

    You have sent your cards, decorated the house and now your attention turns to the feeding of the hoards! With some forward planning you could have grown much of your Christmas dinner given the surge in interest in allotments. But even if you have just a few herbs on a window sill, you will know exactly where your food/herb has come from and (if you do grow your own) you will know just how good it tastes!

    For most of us the signature meal is the turkey and all the trimmings. You have of course by now, sourced an organic turkey from a local breeder! Inevitably we do feast, cook and eat more than normal. However, the peelings and leftover cooked vegetables can be used to make a vegetable stock/soup after. The raw vegetable stalks and peelings can also be composted if preferred. And the carcass of the turkey makes great stock as well. Any excess fat can be recycled into fat balls for the birds.

    Having cooked the meal, you sit down to your tastefully dressed table lit by beeswax or vegetable based candles which are smoke free, biodegradable and eco–friendly. And you are using your china and glassware – OK that means washing up but at least you are re–using them! And let’s face it – you won’t be the one washing up!

    Finally, and in my mind the best part, is the family walk after the Christmas meal! Whether you are crunching though snow or bundled up against the wind and rain, or enjoying a dry and mild Christmas, that walk, when everyone leaves the warmth of our homes and engages once more with nature is the point when everyone breathes a sigh of relief and starts to look forward to the New Year!

    Merry Christmas Everyone! (Article by Anne Hayes DOE)