What can you do to reduce your carbon footprint this Christmas?

The carbon footprint of a typical Christmas in Quebec comes down to the Christmas tree, transportation, presents and food.

Carbon footprint of the Christmas tree: is it better to buy artificial or natural?

There’s nothing like a beautifully decorated tree to start feeling the magic of Christmas! However, is it better to buy a natural or artificial tree?

What about the lights on the tree? What’s their carbon footprint?

Like 41% of Canadians, Stéphane has Christmas lights with LED bulbs. By turning them on 6 hours/day for 18 days, the electricity consumed by the 400 small bulbs will only increase the carbon footprint of the tree by 2%. If Stephane had installed the old incandescent bulbs hidden in the back of the garage, he would have increased this footprint by 15%.

The carbon footprint of Christmas dinner: food waste and the impact of meat

This year, Stephane plans to serve a nice roast turkey like a third of Canadian households and a meat pie for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These great meals will account for about 66 kg CO2eq. for the family. Unfortunately, the holiday season is often one of excess and Canadian families generate on average 25% to 45% more waste than they would normally. By reducing his food waste, Stéphane will be able to reduce his holiday meal footprint by over 30%. And if he chooses an all-vegan meal, he could cut that footprint in half.

The carbon footprint of common gifts: wrapping paper has less impacts than you think

Among the most popular gifts in Canada are gift cards (for restaurants and cafes, movies, books), clothing, technology items (game consoles, headphones, smartphones) and then of course, toys for children. At the foot of the Christmas tree at Stéphane’s, we find :

  • a pair of jeans (33 kg CO2eq.)
  • a smartphone (50 kg CO2eq.)
  • and two books (2.7 kg CO2eq. each)

The carbon footprint of holiday travel

Last year, Stephane and his family traveled by plane to Cuba for Christmas, adding 2.2 tons of CO2eq. to their carbon footprint. This year, the family gathering is set to take place in Sherbrooke. The family will be driving their car, generating 112 kg of CO2eq. to cover the 160 km round trip between Montreal and Sherbrooke.

Stéphane and his family’s total carbon footprint for this Christmas

Overall, Stéphane’s Christmas generated 270 kg CO2eq. for the whole family, or 67 kg CO2eq. per person or the equivalent of 22 natural Christmas trees. Although 42% of the carbon footprint is due to transportation, Stephane’s family greatly reduced their footprint by choosing to celebrate Christmas close to home and by using every available seat in the car to get there. However, the family can still improve their carbon footprint for gifts (33% of the footprint) and for food (24% of the footprint).

So what can you do to reduce your carbon footprint this holiday season?

Food :

  • Limit food waste by planning purchases as much as possible and bringing a container to salvage leftovers
  • Progressively integrate vegetarian or vegan options

Gifts :

  • Remember that the most impactful part of the gift is inside the gift wrap
  • Dematerialize gifts by offering your time
  • Choose second-hand items
  • Give gifts that you are certain will be used

Transportation:

  • Prioritize destinations close to home
  • Maximize your available car space by carpooling, for example.

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The CIRAIG is a research group and center of expertise on sustainability and life cycle thinking based at Polytechnique Montreal and UQAM https://ciraig.org/

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CIRAIG

The CIRAIG is a research group and center of expertise on sustainability and life cycle thinking based at Polytechnique Montreal and UQAM https://ciraig.org/