How to have a sustainable Christmas

Read Time:   |  8th December 2020

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Dreaming of a green Christmas? Here you can find everything you need to enjoy a sustainable Christmas from wrapping ideas to eco-friendly cards and decorations.


Typically a time for excess, the festive trimmings that come with Christmas leave us with mountains of waste to deal with once the holidays are over.

Figures from packaging company GWP Group show that an additional 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period when compared with the rest of the year. This amounts to in the region of three million tonnes of additional waste which is made up of:

  • 54 million platefuls of food;
  • 500 tonnes of Christmas lights;
  • 8 million Christmas trees;
  • 108 rolls of wrapping paper;
  • £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents; and
  • 100 million black bags full of packaging from toys and gifts.

In just over three days of festivities, the average Brit will create the same level of carbon emissions as they would on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

The good news is there that with a little know-how you host an eco-friendly and sustainable Christmas without skimping on the festive magic. If you need any extra incentive, sustainable festive choices don’t just benefit the environment – they could also save you money.

Here are easy things you can do to help encourage positive change and have a more sustainable Christmas this year.

sustainable christmas

Sustainable Christmas presents

Buy less

Last year people in the UK received 70 million unwanted Christmas gifts. By buying less presents this year you could reduce the amount of waste you contribute to whilst saving money.

Try doing Secret Santa with your family and friends to cut down on the number of presents you’ll need to buy this year.

A great way to cut down on waste and unnecessary gifts is to choose one big present instead. Choosing to gift fewer presents will also ensure people don’t end up with lots of little ones they don’t need.

Secret Santa is an excellent way to cut down on the number of presents you’ll need to buy this year as it means you can put time and thought into one larger present.

Some eco-friendly gift ideas include:

Give your local shops and markets some love this Christmas

Supporting small businesses helps boost a strong, sustainable local economy. You’re also guaranteed to find a gift your recipient doesn’t already own.

Homemade gifts

Homemade gifts are incredibly thoughtful, and with so many of us learning new skills this year, why not put your new-found cooking and creating skills to the test, and whip up a homemade gift for your loved ones?

Give an experience

Though it might seem a world away at the moment, booking someone a memorable learning experience for a date in the not-too-distant future is a wonderful and touching way to move away from more materialistic gifts this year.

Give back to the planet

Christmas gifts don’t always have to be material. By giving a donation on someone’s behalf this Christmas, you’ll be supporting charities that strive to help protect our wildlife, the environment and human health for future generations!


Be conscious of your choice of cards

In the UK alone, a shocking one billion cards are thrown away after Christmas every year. The most eco-friendly Christmas card option is to avoid sending physical cards altogether and instead opting to send e-cards.

If you would still like to send physical cards to family and friends, make sure the cards have the FSC mark which means they are made from recycled materials and do not contain plastics such as glitter.

A zero-waste alternative is ‘plantable’ Christmas cards. These cards are made from biodegradable paper which is embedded with seeds. When planted in a pot of soil, the seeds will grow and eventually the paper will decompose.

Any cards you receive can be kept and reused as gift tags next year.

sustainable christmas

Wrap, don’t scrap: Sustainable gift wrapping ideas

The UK gets through 100 million rolls of wrapping paper each Christmas – approximately 227,000 miles of the pretty paper stuff. That’s enough to wrap the equator nine times.

What many of us don’t realise is wrapping paper is often dyed and laminated and contains non-recyclable elements like foil, glitter or plastic. This means that the paper cannot be recycled and landfill or incineration are the only two disposal options left after Christmas.

Moreover, wrapping paper needs sticky tape to hold it together which again isn’t recyclable. These small bits of plastic often end up in the sea, left to break down into micro-plastics which infects our food chains, waterways and marine wildlife.

To cut down on your carbon emissions why not choose FSC certified wrapping paper or ditch paper altogether and wrap presents this year in fabric. Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese method of using cloth to wrap up and transport gifts, and is a great way to reduce waste this festive season.



Food Waste

The festive period is a hotbed for food waste, and last year 710,000 tonnes of potatoes, 100,000 tonnes of poultry and 96,000 tonnes of carrots were thrown away across Britain. These quantities are staggering, especially given that an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat on a daily basis.

Food waste is not only a social issue but is a financial waste both on a personal level and a commercial level. This is because all the time, money and effort put into growing, manufacturing, transporting and cooking food that is ultimately wasted but this also has a detrimental impact on the environment given that food and drink accounts for 20% of the UK’s CO2 emissions.

Tips to reduce your food wastage this Christmas

Make a list before Christmas Shopping

In Britain, households on average spend £169 on food shopping during Christmas. Most tend to over-buy, fearing there won’t be enough for everyone. Consider how many people are coming, their dietary habits, and then base your shopping list on it can go a long way in preventing food waste and saving money.

Avoid bulk buying just because something is on offer

Don’t be tempted by supermarket deals you don’t need. If the fancy mince pies are on a two for one deal and you know you won’t eat them all, why not donate the extra pack to a food collection service.

Make room in your fridge before going shopping

A critical factor that prolongs food freshness is proper storage. Organising your fridge before braving the shops will not only make space for your purchases but all also make space for leftovers. If you’re out of fridge space, consider using outside. If it’s cold enough, uncooked hardy veg such as carrots and parsnips can be kept fresh outside.

Don’t bin leftovers

If you end up over-catering, don’t just bin what’s left. Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze. Or why not donate some to a neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen? Compost any other waste.

Buying locally

Shopping locally will support the local economy and employment, and minimise energy expenditure and emissions associated with transport. By supporting small-scale producers you’ll use fewer food miles, less packaging and you can feel confident that you haven’t supported any intensive farming practices.

If you’re buying in a supermarket, try to avoid plastic packaging where possible. And, of course, don’t forget to bring your own bags to be a smart, sustainable Christmas shopper!

Drink Organically

When it comes to your favourite Christmas tipple, organic alcohol is best. Not only does it lower the impact of fertilisers and pesticides on the environment, some say it also reduces hangovers. Win-win.

Sustainable Christmas decorations

Make sure your tree is ‘ever-green’

Elaborate Christmas lights and decorations can transform your home into a magical winter wonderland and for many, the beginning of December is the time to dust-off the decorations and deck the halls.

Buying a real Christmas tree is more environmentally-friendly than a fake plastic one, and The Carbon Trust has highlighted that a real Christmas tree has a “significantly lower” carbon footprint than an artificial tree, especially if it is thrown away in a responsible way after Christmas.

According to the organisation, a natural 2m Christmas tree that is disposed of responsibly has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg of CO2. Meanwhile, a 2m plastic Christmas tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg of CO2, which is over 10 times greater than a properly disposed-of real tree.

When buying a tree:

  1. Choose a FSC approved Christmas tree.
  2. Choose your tree from a local retailer to reduce your tree’s carbon footprint.
  3. Recycle your tree. Once the Christmas season is over, take your tree to a recycling centre where it can be shredded and reused locally as bark chippings or environmentally friendly animal bedding. If it’s potted, you can also replant it and use it again next year!

Switch to LED Christmas lights

When it comes to eco-friendly, sustainable Christmas decorations, LEDs are far better than traditional twinkling incandescent lights, because they use up to 80% less energy. If every UK household swapped a string of incandescent lights for its LED equivalent, over the 12 days of Christmas, we would save more than £11 million and 29,000 tonnes of CO2.

To further reduce your carbon emissions this year switch to solar-powered lights outdoors, and put both sets on a timer. You’ll not only make environmental savings but your energy bills will be reduced too.

Choose eco-conscious Christmas crackers

The ever-popular Christmas cracker can also be a huge contributor to waste in the UK. Most cannot be recycled and the plastic toys normally end up in the bin before the meal is even over.

If you’re consciously trying to reduce your use of plastic, it’s worthwhile investing in reusable and sustainable Christmas crackers, which can be used year after year and filled with small but useful items.

Better still, why not create your own crackers for a personalised touch to your Christmas décor this year? You could also easily make your own crackers out of empty toilet roll tubes for an eco alternative!

Out & about: Sustainable festivities

Reconnect to nature

With the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to get outside for some fresh air and change of scenery. Check out the Woodland Trust  for information on where to go for a frosty forest walk. Remember to follow government guidelines on social distancing and travel.

Carol Singing

Music is a massive part of Christmas, but this year we’re going to have to get inventive to ensure we’re rockin’ around the Christmas tree safely. Why not rally your neighbours and organise a socially-distanced singalong?

Each household could stand at their window, doorstep or balcony (with a tipple of their choice) and, if available, someone could play music using a speaker. It’s a great way of getting people in the festive mood and including those who usually suffer from loneliness at this time of year.

To organise you could drop a note through people’s doors or use the neighbourhood WhatsApp group (if it exists) to gauge appetite and set a date.

Leave the car behind

Travel smarter by sharing lifts, and where possible, using public transport. Cycling isn’t only good for the planet. It’s great for your health too. If you’re making a short journey, consider going by bike – just be sure to remember reflective clothing, a helmet and to use bike lights.

Energy usage

Whether or not you have visitors over the Christmas period, try to keep your energy usage as low as possible. Turn off lights when not in use, carry out ‘tea rounds’ so that the kettle isn’t being used continuously, ensure saucepans fully cover the ring on the hob and turn off the oven a few minutes before food is finished cooking.

Dressing for the party season

Tis’ the season to get merry – which might mean that you feel like you need to find something new to wear. Research from environmental charity Hubbub showed that last year, Brits spent £2.4 billion on new clothing for the Christmas period, with the Christmas jumper being one of the worst examples of fast fashion.

Two in five Christmas jumpers are only worn once over the festive season – yet one in three under 35s buys a new one each year. The research also revealed that 95% of Christmas jumpers and 94% of party dresses are made wholly or partly of plastic materials.

Why not try re-wearing, swapping with friends or buying second-hand as alternatives to buying brand new this year?

Looking for some delicious food to eat at your sustainable Christmas dinner?

Here are the best festive vegan Christmas recipes.

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