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The Energy Cost of Christmas

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 5 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
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We all know about the financial cost of Christmas. Even if we manage to put it out of our minds for the duration of the actual festivities themselves, the arrival of those credit card bills in January have an unpleasant way of reminding us – usually with a bit of a bump! No matter how much you try to economise, you can often be left feeling that you’re fighting something of a losing battle – and trying to save energy at this time of year can make it seem almost worse.

Cooking and Cards

Some aspects of the festive season’s energy cost are pretty obvious and one or two of them just aren’t going to go away; it’s hard to do much about reducing the cost of making a family Christmas lunch, for example, unless you’re going to serve pre-packed turkey sandwiches! According to National Energy Foundation figures, as a whole, we in the UK buy and send around 750 million cards, wrap our presents in 8,000 tonnes of colourful paper and put up over 8 million Christmas trees. All of that, of course, uses energy at every step of the way, from manufacture to delivery to eventual disposal, and that’s before we’ve bought a single gift, switched anything on, or started on the sprouts! Add all the rest into the equation and the cumulative carbon cost of that one special day in December is staggering.

Cutting the energy cost at this time of year doesn’t mean you have to have a miserable day of harsh self-denial, but it does require a bit of thought – and knowing some of the areas where the carbon price of Christmas can really get pumped up.

Lights and Decorations

When it comes to putting up decorations, according to estimates, over 80 per cent of the tinsel and baubles hung in British homes over the last five years were manufactured in China. Incredibly, that adds up to over 66,000 tonnes of Christmas glitter per year. Given the combination of the carbon-intensive way China generates its electricity and the travelling distance involved, it’s hardly a very energy-saving approach – so you might want to consider buying decorations that were made a little closer to home. Probably the lowest energy option is, just like the carol says, to deck the halls with boughs of holly and a few of the other traditional evergreens too – always assuming they haven’t also been flown in from half a world away!

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without lights, but some of them – especially outdoor ones and those large animated and illuminated garden decorations can gobble up a surprising amount of power. Even some of the more modest indoor versions use more electricity than you might think; 40 watts may not sound like much, but multiply that up by the number of individual strings of lights you have, and the hours and days that they’ll be burning and the total soon mounts up. Granted, this alone won’t double your bill, but it undoubtedly makes a contribution – and in any case, saving energy is about more than simply cutting bills. Maybe it’s time for a change; invest in some new LED lights and dispose of your old ones in the appropriate manner, and you’ll be on the way to avoiding one unnecessary energy cost this Christmas.

Presents and Leisure

It may be the time for giving, but what you give can also have a significant influence on energy usage and carbon footprints. For many of us, from the latest electronic craze to that really useful gizmo, much of what we buy as the default option needs either batteries or to be plugged in – and over the year and across the country, all that energy adds up. It has been calculated, for instance, that the amount of energy used by just one brand of popular games consoles in the UK in a single year generates the greenhouse gas equivalent of over 90,000 trans-Atlantic return flights. Estimates also suggest that the CO2 emissions from just one console, being played for 14 hours a week, and left on standby between sessions, equals the average annual total per person, for a country such as Burundi or Chad.

This is just one example; the underlying idea is true for many other types of electronic devices too. The message would seem to be a simple one; if you want to cut the indirect energy costs of Christmas, find a present that doesn’t need power – or at least one that will help the recipient save energy, not be encouraged to use it!

You don’t have to be some kind of latter-day Scrooge to be concerned about the energy cost of your Christmas; it's just good economic and environmental sense, so season’s greetings and keep saving energy!

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