What is Christmas dinner's carbon footprint?
Christmas is upon us! And with it comes the season of indulgent Christmas dinners, with all the trimmings and leftover food.
But what is the carbon footprint of Christmas dinner? And what delicious low carbon swaps could you make to reduce your dinner's climate impact?
We broke down the climate impact of a traditional menu for six people and a comparison to low carbon swaps. Check out our list below for all the details!
CO₂e Emissions for 6 people
Low Carbon Swap
Pigs in Blanket
Roast Carrots and Parsnips
A traditional Christmas Dinner for six adults produces 49.99kg CO₂e emissions. That's equivalent to driving 126 miles - or the same as driving from London to Birmingham!
Each person's traditional Christmas dinner produces 8.53kg CO₂e. To put that into perspective, the average meal across the rest of the year produces 1.26kg CO₂e. That makes Christmas dinner six times worse for the environment.
If instead of turkey, your family shares a joint of beef for Christmas dinner, your climate impact increases threefold. With a carbon footprint of 147.49kg CO₂e, eating beef with all the trimmings is equivalent to driving 371 miles - or from London to Scotland!
How to reduce Christmas dinner's carbon footprint
But we have some good news! There are ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas dinner.
Here are some ideas for delicious low carbon swaps. If you do them all, you'll more than half your festive food's carbon footprint to 19.1kg!
That's the equivalent of driving just 46 miles - or roughly the distance from London to Brighton.
One last word on food waste. Around 15% of our dietary carbon footprint comes from food waste. There are always lots of leftovers from Christmas dinner. But, luckily for you, we also have tips for zero-waste dinners to make the most of your delicious trimmings for many days after the 25th.
1. The Christmas dinner centrepiece: Roast Turkey
GHG emissions: 16.12kg CO₂e
Let's start with the centrepiece: the part of Christmas dinner with the most impact on presentation, taste, and environment.
We have some good news for turkey lovers. Your chosen bird actually has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of meat and fish. In fact, a Christmas feast involving beef instead of turkey produces over 6x the greenhouse gas emissions at 97.50kg CO₂e for a 2.25kg beef joint.
However, soy-based feed produced for turkey farming is linked to the deforestation of rainforests. This causes widespread damage to the climate and environment.
For a more sustainable centrepiece, a vegetarian Mushroom Wellington more than halves the climate impact of your Christmas dinner's headline act.
Low carbon swap: Mushroom Wellington (7.5kg CO2e)
2. Pigs in blankets
GHG emissions: 8.50kg CO₂e
Pigs in blankets are a favourite for many at Christmas dinner. Yet these little trimmings have a huge carbon footprint.
This bacon-on-sausage side dish relies on intensive pig farming. As with turkeys, huge areas of land are needed to grow the soy that goes into pig feed. However, pigs don't convert energy from feed into human consumable meat as efficiently as poultry.
If you can't forego pigs in blankets, why not try a plant-based alternative this year? Pig-less blankets, made from Quorn cocktail sausages and Quorn bacon, save almost 90% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional pigs in blankets.
Low carbon swap: Pig-less Blankets (900g CO2e)
3. Sage and Onion Sausagemeat Stuffing
GHG emissions: 3.34kg CO₂e
That's right! Once again, we find pork ramping up the climate impact of Christmas dinner.
Stuffing is undeniably delicious. I'll stand by it being my favourite part of Christmas dinner. But you don't need sausagemeat to satisfy your stuffing cravings.
Replacing the sausagemeat with lentils halves the climate impact of your stuffing. You'll still be left with stuffing that has that oh-so-great crunchy, yet soft texture, while remaining fragrant and moreish.
Low carbon swap: Sage, onion & lentil stuffing (1.65kg CO2e)
4. Roast potatoes
GHG emissions: 3.51kg CO₂e
Roasties are another must-have at Christmas dinner. And, as I'm sure you already know, the key to a good roast potato is coating each piece in fat.
If you choose animal fat, like lard or goose fat, the carbon footprint of your dinner will be higher. Lard comes from pigs, which, once again, relies on intensive farming. And that farming throws large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
To eat low carbon, replace the lard or goose fat with something already in your kitchen cupboards... olive oil! Olive oil has a high fat content that makes your roast potatoes gloriously crispy, but still keeps the climate impact low.
Low carbon swap: Roast potatoes with olive oil (2.24kg CO2e)
5. Butter-Roasted Carrots & Parsnips
GHG emissions: 1.64kg CO₂e
Other favourite Christmas trimmings are roast carrots and parsnips. These root vegetables are naturally lower impact than meat trimmings.
At Christmas, many people choose to roast carrots and parsnips in butter. This luxury increases the carbon footprint of this side by a whopping 81%.
Comparatively, roasting in olive oil only increases the impact by 20%. You'll lower your carbon footprint and still end up with delicious, sweet roasted veg.
Low carbon swap: Carrots & parsnips with olive oil (1.09kg CO2e)
6. Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
GHG emissions: 1.68kg CO₂e
Love them or hate them; Brussel sprouts are a Christmas tradition. They're also a very low carbon vegetable. Brussel sprouts grow locally and, importantly, seasonally in the UK at Christmas time.
Because of their marmite reputation, Brussel sprouts are often "dressed up" for Christmas dinner. If you add bacon to your sprouts, you'll increase the carbon footprint by almost 800%! And, no, we did not mistakenly add an extra 0 there!
So how to keep the sprouts low carbon while still appealing to your Christmas guests? How about throwing balsamic vinegar into the mix?! Balsamic vinegar will give your sprouts a sweet and smokey taste, similar to bacon, but for a fraction of the climate impact.
Balsamic or not, if most of your sprouts will still go uneaten, consider leaving them off the menu completely. Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change in our food systems.
Low carbon swap: Brussel sprouts with balsamic vinegar (310g CO2e)
7. Christmas Dinner Sauces
GHG emissions: 3.11kg CO₂e
Now, I love my Christmas dinner swimming in sauce. Bread sauce, cranberry sauce, gravy... they're all commonplace over a turkey dinner. But have you ever considered the carbon footprint of these seemingly small condiments?
Bread sauce, in particular, uses high impact ingredients like butter, cream and milk. And gravy made from beef or turkey has a greater climate impact than onion or vegetable gravy.
So, why not skip on the bread sauce this year... especially if you're already swapping turkey for a more sustainable alternative?
Choose a plant-based gravy to cut the carbon footprint of Christmas dinner, too.
Low carbon swap: Bread sauce-less dinner (1.21g CO2e)
8. Christmas Drinks
GHG emissions: 1.23kg CO₂e
We made an assumption here that six adults would each have a 150ml glass of wine each with dinner. If you pair your meal with a 330ml bottle of beer or cider, then your carbon footprint will be about the same. But a dram of whisky or brandy has half the climate impact.
You might assume that alcohol-free is more sustainable, but that's not necessarily the case. For example, a 330ml can of soft drink has about the same climate impact as a glass of wine. And a 150ml grape juice is responsible for 25% more greenhouse gas emissions than both.
Of course, you can always stick with Adam's Ale (aka water) for the lowest impact drink to accompany your Christmas dinner.
Low carbon swap: Whisky, brandy or water (0.62g CO2e)
9. The Christmas Cheeseboard
GHG emissions: 6.25kg CO₂e
We looked at an 850g cheeseboard composed of brie, cheddar, gouda, stilton and goats cheese. For each 140g serving on this board, over a kilo of CO2e is released into the atmosphere.
Cheese is the fifth highest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions from food products. It produces more CO₂e emissions, per kilo, than pork and poultry.
Pair them with fruit and crackers to create a "cheeze" board for a massive 88% smaller carbon footprint.
Low carbon swap: Cashew-based cheezeboard (0.78kg CO₂e)
10. Christmas Pudding
GHG emissions: 6.15kg CO₂e
Finally, to finish your Christmas dinner, you need some sort of pudding. Traditional Christmas Pudding is filled with butter, dried fruits, nuts and eggs.
A more sustainable pudding could be this Sticky toffee pear pudding, which also happens to be vegan to keep your entire guest list happy if you have any vegan visitors. This fruity toffee sponge more than halves the climate impact of your pudding.
Low carbon swap: Sticky Toffee Pear Pudding (2.80kg CO₂e)
Are you surprised by the carbon footprint of Christmas dinner? Now we've shared some ideas for low carbon swaps, what will you try to make your Christmas dinner more sustainable? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below 👇