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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 December 2006, 13:52 GMT
Dreaming of a green Christmas
Anna Blackburn
BBC News

EcoHouse exterior
A new tenant in January will demonstrate ethical living
At Christmas, people go through tonnes of paper, packaging, food and trees in the name of celebration.

But what are the clever ways of spending money but not ruining the environment at Christmas?

Established in 1989, an eco-friendly house in Leicester offers visitors a chance to see a fully green household in action.

EcoHouse is built using many renewable resources - and is equipped with a raft of clever devices to prove how

environmental features can work in the home.

To further show how simple it is to include environmentally-friendly gadgets in the home, a new tenant is moving into the house in January.

The kitchen is equipped with an energy-efficient cooker, washing machine, dishwasher and fridge. Off the kitchen is a drying room which uses natural air currents via vents in the ceiling to dry clothes, dispensing with the need for a tumble drier.

Solar panels provide heat and electricity - and any extra power generated can be sold back to the National Grid.

The house also has a wind turbine, a toilet composting system, equipment for rainwater harvesting and furniture made from reclaimed timber.

'Better not boring'

Charlotte Jones, affectionately known by colleagues as the ecowarrier, gives guided tours of the house and through her work, knows how important it is to think alternatively.

Ms Jones is quick to point out that green does not necessarily mean boring when it comes to Christmas: "You just need to think about being a bit more creative when it comes to presents and decorations.

"It can be a good excuse to get families together and do something different," said Ms Jones.

Christmas decorations
Plants and greenery from the garden can make great decorations

In fact the EcoHouse holds activities encouraging families to look at what is around them and use materials from the garden.

"Instead of buying decorations, look around you when you're out for a walk.

"Pine cones and fallen leaves can be painted to look really pretty," said Lisa Smith, communications officer for Groundwork, the organisation that runs the EcoHouse.

"Items from the garden can also be a good substitute for a Christmas tree, but if you are set on getting a tree, staff at the EcoHouse have some advice.

"Check that the tree has come from a sustainable source - don't be shy to ask where it has come from.

"And if you buy a tree in a pot, make sure it still has its roots as sometimes these have been removed and it won't grow very well in the garden after Christmas."

Try to make sure your vegetables haven't flown thousands of miles to reach the dinner table
Charlotte Jones, EcoHouse

Once the house has been decorated, thoughts turn to Christmas lunch and this year's cooks can take a few simple steps to turn their food "green".

"The easiest thing you can do when it comes to food, is make sure it has come from local producers," said Ms Jones.

"This means vegetables haven't been flown thousands of miles to reach your dinner table.

"You can also try to buy an organic turkey and with many local farmers, they will be able to tell you the bird's history from egg to table."

Vouchers and subs

And finally thoughts turn to presents. Some of the biggest wastage over the Christmas period comes from packaging.

Gifts are often packed in materials which can only be recycled in certain areas.

Wine and glasses
Glasses made from old wine bottles make an original present

Charlotte Jones recommends vouchers and magazine subscriptions as ethical presents.

"You don't have to make a donation to a charity to give a green present.

"It's the same with subscriptions - and you can recycle the magazines when you've finished with them," she said.

Creativity also applies to wrapping paper and cards. You do not have to be a fine artist to use wrapping carefully.

"Brown paper has come back into fashion and getting the kids to draw pictures or using newspaper can be very effective," said Ms Smith.

These steps can take a little more time and organisation than the usual Christmas routine.

And it may be difficult to convince your sister that wine glasses made from old wine bottles are a better present than the Lulu Guinness handbag you promised her.

But as Charlotte Jones says: "Perhaps by making these changes, we are going back to what Christmas is really about and it can be great fun."

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