Carola Long: A wasteful Christmas? Far from it

We recycle already. Sarah Brown is being unnecessarily hairshirt-ish
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The Independent Online

With shopping hours disappearing faster than goodwill to all Eurostar executives, Christmas Eve panic is nigh. But thanks to Sarah Brown, one present-related problem has been neatly solved. Downing Street's very own Martha Stewart has shown us, the grateful electoral flock, how to wrap our gifts cheaply and ecologically, by posting pictures on Twitter of presents at Number 10 encased in newspaper.

Mrs Brown has jazzed up the newsprint with some felt-tip doodlings rendered by her own fair hand. She has also deftly avoided using old papers with sensitive headlines such as The Sun's "LABOUR'S LOST IT", while any metaphorical parallels between yesterday's news and Gordon must be purely coincidental.

The motivation behind Sarah Brown's rather unglamorous presentation is an eco one. After all, around 10,000 tons of wrapping paper are sent to landfill every year, and it often contains solvents and glitter that contaminate recycling. However, it's also typical of the kind of fashionable but token ethical or environmentally friendly gestures that make people feel good about themselves, but are more about the giver than the recipient.

Christmas is a popular time to make a statement about the type of person you want to be, whether that's charitable or just stylish. Many charities are inundated with offers to help at Christmas, yet struggle to find volunteers during the rest of the year. It's also a time to make essential life choices, such as deciding whether you are a Nigella person, a Delia person or more of a Bernard Matthews Turkey Breast Roast kinda chap. This year, what with all that global warming, those lonely polar bears and the big climate summit that didn't go all that well and everything, the hippest Christmas statement is an eco one.

But in contrast to the orgy of waste that the modern Christmas is universally made out to be, plenty of people have been quietly having environmentally aware – if not perfect – December 25ths for years. My dad opens presents with a penknife, carefully peeling back Sellotape to preserve the wrapping for annual use in a gaudy patchwork. The same decorations too, have been festooned since the 1970s, and the tree will be recycled. When it comes to food, while Christmas lunch involves a gratuitous binge, for many families the following days are more moderate and a case study in limiting waste. Every last scrap of food will be used up in turkey soups, risottos and sandwiches. At no other time of year do most of us plan how far food will go so well.

Sarah Brown's use of newspaper is clearly conscientious. But given that there are ecologically sound "third ways", such as re-using wrapping paper or buying recycled versions, it's an unnecessarily hairshirt-ish approach to a tradition where presentation is part of the magic, and it risks alienating people who should be made more environmentally aware. It might be the time of year to make conspicuous moral statements, but good consumer habits have to be for life, not just for Christmas.