The Facts and Figures

The Christmas markets in Manchester have been running for almost 20 years now, this year taking place between 9 November and 22 December. But in just over a month and a half, what was the environmental damage? Although Manchester City Council appears to only provide data for 2014, we can analyse these and make some conservative extrapolations.

> From “general waste collected”, 41.6 tonnes was recyclable; 51% of the total waste was recyclable.
> Hence, the markets accumulated over 80 tonnes of general waste, which is the equivalent weight of six double-decker buses. That’s quite a lot of bratwurst.
> In 2014, they registered that they reduced the rubbish going to landfill (non-recyclables) by 12.5%. Therefore, in 2013 they produced over 45 tonnes of non-recyclable waste.

We can only hope that they have seen a trend in reducing the waste-to-landfill figures, but with what seems to be increasing popularity year on year, the quantity of waste may only be getting worse. The Manchester Evening News reported that, “In past years more than nine million people have visited the Christmas markets through the six weeks of trading and [2017] looks on track to break all records.”

With the as yet unreleased figures from the past four years to be revealed, it remains to be seen what advancements or setbacks the markets have made in tackling one source of environmental strain. The worry would be that 2014 happened to be the greenest year thus far and that, since then, the figures are worth hiding.

High-Grades, Low Performance

On the outdated website, they claim that the markets are the subject of praise by individuals within the outdoor-market industry. The figures boasted and suggested they had an Environmental Management System (EMS) standard in place. An EMS implies that an organisation has put plans in place to consider its environmental impact.

The standard in question is an ‘ISO 14001:2004’ grade. The fact they subscribe to this standard seems promising enough, but it reveals the happy ignorance which confusing jargon can create. First, this grade is an old standard, which has since been replaced by the excitingly named ISO 14001:2015.

Nonetheless, The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which naturally tracks the implementation of codes and guidelines, describes the standard as one which an organisation has if they seek to “establish, implement, maintain and improve an environmental management system”.

Curiously, the standard only implies that the Manchester Christmas Markets should have a policy or idea of what environmental protections it wishes to have. Having essentially self-awarded a standard to live up to, it sadly only appears that they want to achieve it, rather than improve on it, in reality.

Importantly, any ISO 14001 standard “does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria”. So, the meaning behind the grading system in place shows that they only have to prove that they aspire to be green. They explicitly do not have to measure, research, prepare, inspect or wonder whether or not they are green. This is arguably blatant greenwashing as it adopts a little-known and quite ineffective standard and hails it as an achievement, which lacks both honesty and results.

The Good News

On the bright side, the markets’ famed chalet-style huts which pack tightly into the squares and avenues of the city centre are kitted out with energy efficient, low voltage lighting. This may seem a small change, but across the hundred or so huts the savings are to be commended. In any case, a dimmer bulb seems appropriate for a night-time festival setting.

The Christmas Market mugs served as receptacles for your choice of beverage are also arguably a more positive spin on the season’s commercialism. The £3 deposit can either be redeemed following use, or left as payment should you wish to take it away as a souvenir. By opting for non-paper or card derivatives, the waste is cut, and the mugs can obviously be reused throughout Christmas or to remind oneself of the festive period.

Furthermore, the number of local traders selling ‘homegrown’ produce this year is “around 70%”, according to the MEN, which begs the question: does anyone else remember when they were first exotically named the ‘German Christmas Markets’?

Of course, there is a dual benefit to the vast majority of stalls being furnished with local produce. Sustainable Connections, who champion the ‘buy local’ economic model, argue that, when buying locally, “significantly more of your money is used… strengthening the economic base of the whole community”.

Also, in terms of food miles, there are additional positives. With globalisation there is now the ability for our food to travel thousands of miles from farm to plate, with far reaching consequences for the environment. So, by encouraging shorter supply chains, where food and products are sourced locally and sold locally, the carbon footprint is reduced along with the cost in the long-run.

Naturally, the primary concern for the Council when endorsing and growing the Christmas Markets is whether or not they generate economic activity within the City. It has been reported that the Markets are worth £90m to the local economy; by extension this accounts for the wages and livelihoods of many workers and the businesses operating there.

As usual there is always the difficult task of trading off the economic benefit with the environmental cost; with the right strategies in place organisers could make Manchester Christmas Markets the greenest in Europe, as well as the most festive.

iso.org/standard/31807.html

sustainableconnections.org/why-buy-local/

Lucas Jones