The countdown to Christmas is officially on, and we’re turning our attention to turkey orders, advent calendars and which corner of the loft we left the nativity scene in. But our much-loved celebrations are costing us more than we realise, with experts linking festive mass consumption to long-term environmental damage.
It’s estimated that an extra 30 per cent of rubbish is produced and discarded during the festive period, which amounts to around three million tonnes of waste. According to data from polling company YouGov, the environment is now the third most pressing issue concerning the nation (ahead of the economy, crime and immigration) so it figures that a wasteful Christmas just won’t cut it any longer. But how do we go about doing better, without saying goodbye to all that festive magic? Here are a few ideas...
Eco-friendly Christmas trees
Did you know seven million trees go into landfill each year? A pot-grown tree with all its roots intact means it can be replanted in your garden afterwards to enjoy - try Pines and Needles or HollyBerryTrees. If only a cut tree will do, choose British, locally-grown trees to keep carbon miles down. Forestry England sources trees from sustainable forests with short transportation lines, or look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo when shopping in stores. After the big day, recycle trees through your council’s recycling scheme (check locations here). Or consider renting one instead. Sites like loveachristmastree.co.uk or londonchristmastreerental.com deliver and collect rented trees, and if you’re sentimental, you can pick exactly the same Norway Spruce, year in, year out. Got an artificial tree? Show it some serious TLC. According to the Carbon Trust, it needs a minimum of 10 Christmases to be less environmentally harmful than a real one.
Eco-friendly Christmas cards
Every year, we throw away 1.5 billion cards, so it’s worth asking - is anybody really going to notice if you don’t send them this year? If scrimping on cards is too miserly, opt for sustainably-sourced designs that have the Forest Stewardship (FCS) mark - it means the paper was sourced responsibly, and avoid glitter (a microplastic) which can’t be recycled. 1 Tree Cards plant a tree for every card sold via the Eden Reforestation Projects charity, using 100% recycled materials and vegan vegetable-based inks. Or go digital - sites like greenvelope.com and paperlesspost.com give you the chance to make and personalise your own cards, without the carbon footprint.
Eco-friendly wrapping paper
Recycle that stash of gift bags you’ve been given throughout the year, or use brown recyclable paper and newspapers as wrapping paper alternatives. Wrapped By Alice sells 100% recyclable luxury wrapping paper and recyclable parcel tape (all made in the UK) or design your own sustainable tissue paper with No Issue. Wrapping gifts in reusable fabrics like Wrag Wrap (it has built-in buttons so you can wrap without tape) means whoever receives it can pass the wrap on, too. Avoid ribbons and tinsel on presents - they’re not recyclable and cause huge issues for recycling plants, getting stuck in machinery. Instead, try hemp cord or twine and decorate with foliage (a holly sprig or pine cone from the garden is as eco as it gets, right?). If it seems like a faff, consider that an incredible 277,000 miles of wrapping paper gets thrown away every year...
According to NASA, parts of the earth are up to 50% brighter in the period between Thanksgiving in the States and New Year’s Day, which as well as wasting huge amounts of energy, also disrupts the ecosystems of nocturnal wildlife. Do your bit by swapping to solar-powered lights (there’s no faffing with extension cords and plug sockets either) or opt for energy-efficient LED bulbs instead – you’ll help decrease your carbon footprint and save money since they last up to 20 times longer than regular bulbs. Using natural foliage in place of tinsel is an easy, cost-effective swap, but for something glitzier, Protect The Planet sells stylish, sustainable (and often recycled) decorations. Or you could DIY - homemade paper-chains, snowflakes and wreaths for the door are a great way to entertain kids during the holidays, and make for cute decorations too.
Eco-friendly Christmas crackers
Save yourself from discovering miniature plastic screwdrivers for months to come by doing things differently this year. You’ll find Nancy and Betty’s beautiful eco-friendly crackers stocked in Harrods, Liberty and Selfridges - British-made, they’re recyclable and printed using vegetable-based inks on FSC paper, and contain plastic-free gifts. Independent sellers on sites like NotOnTheHighStreet will be grateful for your business – these recycled snowflake crackers are handmade in Britain from screen-printed recycled paper. Or fill your own crackers with thoughtful gifts using Keep This Cracker – they’re sent to your door without any single-use plastic, with decorative ribbons made from used plastic bottles. Because they slide open instead of tearing (you’ll still get that famous ‘bang’ noise though, don’t worry), you can keep using them for years to come.
Eco-friendly Christmas food
According to FoodCycle, in the UK, we waste five million Christmas puddings, two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies every year – pretty shameful, right? Plan meals ahead of time to avoid food waste and start making room in the freezer for storing leftovers now. If you really can’t get through it all, download the Olio app so unused food can be put to good use by others in your area. Shopping locally is better for the environment, so take your own bags and buy fruit and vegetables loose when possible to minimise plastic. Social Supermarket sells quality products – including food and drink – that tackle social and environmental challenges, like relishes made with wonky fruit and veg. For those not willing to go cold turkey on the turkey, buy organic and free-range from local farmers and ask yourself if you really need the whole turkey, or whether just a crown will do.
Eco-friendly Christmas gifts for adults
It’s worth investigating how receptive loved ones would be to a ‘Secret Santa’ theme - one great gift instead of five subpar stocking fillers is better for everyone, including the planet. Or stick to digital subscriptions - gift cards for services like Audible, Netflix or Spotify are always gratefully received. For thoughtful, eco-conscious gifts try sustainable shopping sites like Buy Me Once, The Plastic Free Shop, and Peace With The Wild.
Social enterprise The Soap Co has a strong social and environmental ethos and provides work opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled people. Know a wine-lover? Try a delivery from Garçon Wines - makers of the world’s first flat wine bottle, it’s designed to fit through the letterbox and is made from 100% recycled PET (non-single use plastic). The lightweight bottle (they’re 87% lighter than regular ones) means lower CO2 emissions, too.
Read our guide on the best Christmas gift experience days.
Eco-friendly Christmas gifts for kids
Instead of wasting money on toys they’ll be bored of by next week, try gifting experiences instead - like an outing to the skating rink, or a trip to see their favourite film. Budding Attenboroughs will jump at the idea of adopting a penguin or polar bear via the WWF, and a delivery from bubble toy company Dr Zigs will delight little faces (the company boasts impressive eco-credentials).
Ditch the snobbery around second-hand kids' toys, too. Sites like Oxfam, Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace can result in brilliant sustainable bargains (just recycle or donate them again afterwards – Freecycle is great). Still unsure? Toy subscription service Toy Box Club delivers age-appropriate toys and books to your door from just £35 a month, and collects them at an agreed time later – genius.
Read our guide on the best charity Christmas gifts.