Yule go green this year

It is not only our waistlines that expand over Christmas. From the amount of rubbish we generate to the energy we use – the only thing that seems to go down during the festive season is our bank balance. But that need not be the case, as green guru Lucy Siegle tells Tara Greaves.

I like to think that Father Christmas once wore green because, back then, the festive season was more environmentally friendly - though perhaps it was out of necessity rather than choice.

But this year, more than ever, there seems to be the momentum to go back to that simpler way of life, where happiness did not involve spending the annual budget of Papua New Guinea on the latest must-have toy or ending up with a pile of wrapping paper on the living room floor rivalling Mount Everest.

Journalist, author and presenter Lucy Siegle, who specialises in ecological and ethical lifestyle matters, believes now is the time to rethink the festive season and reclaim the joy and meaning of yesteryear.

“Wrapping paper is perhaps one of my biggest things. It all gets chucked in the bin,” she said.

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“We use enough wrapping paper at Christmas to cover an area larger than Guernsey.”

In fact, in just the three days over Christmas our waste goes up by 10pc - undoing all the good work throughout the rest of the year.

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“I like to put things in boxes. I have painted boxes in the past but also when I left university I worked for a wallpaper company for a while and I have some very posh off cuts that I sometimes cover them with.

“I have been round people's houses and found they have kept the box and used it to put something else in which is always nice to see,” added Lucy, who writes for the Observer and is a presenter on the BBC's The One Show.

Christmas trees are another of her bugbears and this year she wants people to buy real and buy British.

“Recycle it once Christmas is over or try and plant it out - though make sure you get a tree with a big ball of roots if you are planning to do this otherwise it won't survive,” she added.

A recent survey suggested half of us will spend more than we mean to over the festive season but that does not have to be the case.

What more and more people are realising is that, often, being green can save money - particularly on things such as energy bills but also on perhaps not sending everyone and their dog a Christmas card or, as Lucy says, forgetting the glittery, foil-backed wrapping paper - most of which can't be recycled.

“In my opinion there is a general feeling of boredom of the consumer pressure on people,” said Lucy.

Regular readers of her column will know that she gives advice on all manner of green things - and not in a lecture/ranting style, which is perhaps why she is so popular.

“I have been into it for years. My grandfather was an ecologist and as a child I was very interested in the natural world and the environment,” she said.

She wrote her first book in 1999 before the green issue really exploded into the mainstream.

“I noticed a change about five years ago. I have always been keen to present things in a non-eco way, to aim it at a younger more mainstream market and not for guys with beards or women who don't wear makeup,” she said.

“I don't agree with telling people they can't drive or can't fly, I think it is up to the individual to decide.

“I really try not to give consumers a hard time, a lot of people really want to do the right thing.

“I see my job as telling people how that is possible and I don't want people ripped off in the name of green.”

Of course, there will always be those who give a bah-humbug to a green Christmas (and environmentalism in general).

Lucy describes them as a “very well organised group of anti-environmentalists” but she believes that she can counter their arguments with the science of the matter.

“We, as journalists, need to raise our game and be very credible. A lot of people write about it but do not really know what they are talking about.

“They will say hemp is good or plastic is bad without really knowing why.

“Once you know the science of climate change you know who is credible and who is not. It is utterly bizarre that people still doubt it when we have such a consensus from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change - you don't have that for many other things in life.”

We often hear the phrase 'new year, new you' but perhaps this time the change should be made at Christmas instead of waiting for January 1 to roll around.

It is the chance to continue (or begin) being more aware of the consequences of how we live and to make choices about what we buy and do.

So this Christmas eat, drink and be merry by all means but spare a little thought for the planet.

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