Blog 21 Dec 2021 

What might a sustainable Christmas of the future look like?

How technology innovation can make our favourite holiday activities more planet-friendly

Becky Fields

Becky Fields

Marketing & Communications Business Partner
(she/her)

Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year! Sadly, our delightful Christmas festivities can have a frightful impact on the planet — we produce 30% more waste and throw away 114,000 tonnes of plastic at this time.

There are many ways to have a more eco-friendly Christmas, from shopping locally, choosing eco-friendly Christmas gifts, to buying a Christmas tree that you can re-plant or avoiding plastic wrapping paper. With ambitious global targets to combat the climate crisis, how could science and tech innovations change future Christmases for the better, and in ways we’ve never imagined?

Lab-grown turkey

One of the many joys of Christmas is the delicious food. While much lower in its carbon footprint than beef or lamb, Christmas dinner for six people, including turkey, gravy and pigs in blankets, produces 23.5 kilograms of CO2 – the same amount as a 75-mile car journey!

Lab grown meat, a potential greener alternative, could instead become the future of Christmas dinner. The alternative technology produces meat in a bioreactor, harvesting animal muscle cells in vitro into muscle tissue. Lab-grown meat might sound sci-fi, but biologically, cultured meat is the same as conventional meat – the only difference is where and how it’s grown. All the taste, without the animal and the resources required for rearing livestock.

A study by the University of Oxford estimated lab-grown meat could produce 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, use 98% less land, and use 45% less energy. Although this technology is still being developed on a mass scale, with promising planetary benefits, we could find our future Christmas turkeys coming from the lab rather than the farm.

Edible wrapping paper

For many, Christmas is all about giving and receiving presents – but unfortunately, we throw away 227,000 miles of wrapping paper every year. Using recyclable wrapping is a great way to reduce our impact, but how could we make wrapping paper fully sustainable?

Edible biopolymer wrapping could be a replacement to traditional wrapping paper and single-use plastic. Biopolymers are large structures of repeating molecules from living organisms. Proteins such as seaweed, potato starch, and milk have the potential to be developed into edible biopolymer packaging – wrapping paper we could eat once it’s been used rather than throwing into landfill or recycling.

There’s still a long way to go in developing this into a reality, and there are lots of challenges involved, such as creating a product that can withstand exposure to moisture and making it desirable to eat. But who says we won’t be eating wrapping paper in years to come? 

Vertically farmed sprouts

Love or loathe them, 750 million brussel sprouts are served up at Christmas alongside a whole host of other vegetables. Traditional crop farming requires a lot of space, and as the global population grows, so does our demand for food.

Vertical farms could be the answer to this growing demand. These are environmentally regulated indoor facilities where crops are grown in rows from floor to ceiling. Crops in a climate-controlled environments aren’t reliant on the weather for a successful harvest, and using vertical space utilises more areas for food to grow.

In Decembers to come, you might find vertically farmed sprouts, potatoes or parsnips on your plate next to lab-grown turkey.

Bioengineered party outfits

Buying a new outfit for a Christmas party is something many of us like to do! And although this might seem like a harmless festive habit, the global fashion industry accounts for around 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of the globe’s waste water.

To produce clothing, non-renewable resources are harvested and often only used for a short time before going to landfill or being burned. Many textiles also use animal products, with animal agriculture responsible for an estimated 14 – 18% of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

While many companies now offer a vegan alternative to leather and other items derived from animals, they’re usually made from plastic which is neither biodegradable nor environmentally friendly.

New sustainable fashion innovations, such as lab-grown leather, silk, or fur, could be the answer. Through recombinant DNA expression, where two different DNA fragments from different sources are combined together, we can create bio-engineered fabrics that mimic leather, silk or fur.

And when these materials are no longer needed, they have the potential to biodegrade – a much more sustainable alternative for our items of clothing. Fast fashion is so last year, it’s time for biofashion.

Our planet, our responsibility

There are many ways to have a more sustainable festive season this year. It’s exciting to see what science and technology might be able to bring in years to come, and just how much our traditional Christmases might change… watch this space!

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