Image for Sustainable Christmas ideas: 13 ways to make the festive season greener

Sustainable Christmas ideas: 13 ways to make the festive season greener

Tis’ the season to be jolly careful about your environmental impact. Here’s how to go green this Christmas, while also saving some money

Tis’ the season to be jolly careful about your environmental impact. Here’s how to go green this Christmas, while also saving some money

“OK elves,” hollers Santa, pushing his glasses down upon his nose, “let’s see who’s been good this year.” A cheer goes up around him as he runs his finger down a list, heartily ho-ho-hoing as he passes the names of the well behaved.

Suddenly he stops. The workshop falls silent. “Each year the UK throws away enough wrapping paper to go around the equator nine times?” Santa asks, furrowing his brow, “and they bin 74m mince pies?”

“I’m afraid so, sir,” says the elf to his right. “They’re on the naughty list.”

However it’s carved, Christmas’s impact on the environment is as much a nightmare as anything Ebenezer Scrooge experienced.

Here are 13 sustainable Christmas ideas to ensure your festivities are cleaner than a cracker joke:

1. Rent, recycle or reuse your tree

The most environmentally friendly way to have a tree is to rent one. “Customers love the idea of being able to contribute in some small way towards sustainability and a healthy planet,” says Craig Tennock from Cotswold Fir Forestry, which hires out trees in Gloucestershire, England. “Then there’s the aspect of being able to have your very own personal tree year after year.”

Sustainable Christmas ideas

A growing number of companies enable people to rent Christmas trees. Image: Bernard Hermant

If you can’t rent, buy a potted spruce and grow it in your garden for reuse each year. Or buy a FSC-certified tree to ensure it’s from a well-managed forest and recycle it properly – most councils recycle trees by turning them into chippings, reducing their carbon footprint by up to 80% compared with sending them to landfill.

Plastic trees, which can only go to landfill, have double the carbon footprint of a real tree. If you already have one, keep using it though.

2. Make your own sustainable Christmas decorations

It takes the shine off the decorations when you discover that neither tinsel nor baubles are recyclable. Make your own instead with salt-dough hanging decorations, dried orange slice ornaments and sticks of cinnamon for the tree. Each is fully compostable, while wreaths made using foraged materials like pine cones, ivy and holly can be recycled at the kerbside.

3. Ditch the outside Christmas lights, go solar inside

Outdoor Christmas lights create so much light pollution that Nasa can see them from space, so it can be beneficial keeping festive illuminations inside. Decorative lights cost the UK £3.75m a day to run over the festive period, so opt for solar-powered LED tree lights. Turn them off at night.

4. Use an ethical search engine to look for gifts

If researching gifts online, use non-for-profit Ecosia. The search engine diverts 80% of its advertising revenue towards reforestation efforts in countries like Brazil and Indonesia. Plus, they don’t save your searches, track the websites you visit, or sell your data.

5. Choose cards wisely – and recycle any you receive

The UK sends an estimated 1.05bn Christmas cards each year, but an estimated 1bn of them don’t get recycled – the equivalent of cutting down nearly 350,000 trees. 1 Tree Cards sell 100% recycled cards, printed with vegan inks and using renewable energy. Plus, for every card they send, they plant a tree through Eden Reforestation Projects. Alternatively, buy recycled or FSC-certified cards and avoid those with glitter or plastic.

Sustainable Christmas ideas

Buying cards made out of recycled paper can help prevent trees being felled. Image: Annie Spratt

6. Buy less and buy ethically

A YouGov survey found that 57% of people in the UK receive at least one unwanted gift, so ask people what they want for Christmas – or give them a few options to choose from. Focus on buying less and buying better.

7. Regifting and secondhand gifts

According to a study, the amount of manmade material created each week weighs the same as Earth’s total population. Don’t add to it: regift unwanted presents, search for secondhand gems in charity shops, hand make your own sustainable safekeeps and avoid anything that requires batteries.

Loved Before is one of a number of organisations that find new homes for preloved playthings. They have save many a cuddly toy from an inglorious trip to landfill.

“I see it as changing the world one soft toy at a time,” says founder Charlotte Liebling. “I’m not going to ‘fix’ climate change by reselling bears, but what I can do is show younger generations what secondhand and sustainability looks like.”

Eco Christmas ideas

Foraged materials like pine cones can be used to make sustainable decorations. Image: Annie Spratt

8. Wrap gifts using Furoshiki or recyclable brown paper

The UK throws away obscene amounts of wrapping paper and the plastic, foil, glitter and sticky tape on many sheets makes them unrecyclable. Furoshiki, a traditional, reusable Japanese wrapping cloth is a fab alternative – or else use recyclable brown paper.

9. Buy sustainable Christmas crackers

According to, 99% of Brits throw away the plastic gifts inside crackers. Either buy sustainable Christmas crackers that are plastic-free or try making your own using loo rolls holders, brown paper and a bit of tongue-out craftsmanship.

10. Buy food made through resilient farming systems

“By shopping locally, we can talk to people about where our food comes from, to make informed decisions about the kind of food we want to eat, and the farming practices we want to support,” said a spokesperson from the Sustainable Food Trust.

Do your research for a sustainable Christmas dinner. The Regenerative Farmers of the UK website highlights small-scale producers growing food using nature-friendly farming systems, whilst Big Barn pulls together more than 600 artisan and specialist producers who support local sustainable agriculture.

Eco decorations

The Olio app enables people to share Christmas leftovers with people who need them. Image: Monika Grabkowska

11. Go meat-free (if not, go organic and free-range)

Having a plant-only diet is the best thing we can do to lower carbon emissions and with so many great vegan and vegetarian cookbooks around (try Anna Jones or Vanilla Black), now’s the time to go the full (meat-free) hog. If flesh is your festive fancy, buy local, organic and free-range. Here’s a guide to shopping organic on a shoestring.

12. Plan better, eat less and donate your leftovers

The UK throws away a reported 2m turkeys at Christmas, crowning 270,000 tonnes of uneaten festive grub. To reduce waste, clear the fridge before Christmas, and plan and portion your meals sensibly. Share any leftovers on Olio, an app that pairs you with neighbours who might need them – and supplies recipes to make best use of leftovers.

13. Drink sustainably

“Drink all that stuff that’s been in the back of the cupboard forever,” advises Tim Etherington-Judge, co-founder of Avallen, a Calvados brand aiming to be the world’s most sustainable spirit. Drinking seasonally is important too. “Avoid citrus, avoid summer fruits. Don’t drink passion fruit daiquiris at Christmas,” he says.

Aim to buy locally, from drinks producers who are trying to make a difference like Cooper King Distillery gin, Nc’nean Distillery whisky, Sapling Spirits vodka, Gipsy Hill beer, and fizz certified by the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain.

Main image: Markus Spiske

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