Top 9 tips for an eco-friendly Christmas

Written by Lori Campbell on 9th Dec 2021

Christmas is around the corner, but this year there should be less wrapping paper, cards, packaging and food going in the bin, as consumers plan to be more eco-friendly.

New research by Tesco Bank shows almost half (47 per cent) of UK shoppers are looking to buy sustainable gifts, while a separate study from American Express suggests we are happy to prioritise the environment above cost.

If you need some inspiration on how you can help make your Christmas more sustainable, here are our top 9 tips:

1. Buy sustainable gifts – and give LESS

It can be easy to get carried away buying presents at Christmas (especially with how easy it is now to buy online), but take the time to consider how ethical the gifts are and how long-lasting they are likely to be. After all, what’s the point in buying them if they’re likely to end up at the dump or a charity shop sometime soon?

Many gifts available in mainstream shops and online come from halfway around the world. The impact of transportation contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming.

The American Express research found that more than three-quarters of Britons will be buying from smaller independent retailers this year. Local craft fairs and markets are a great source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation and packaging. Online pre-loved shopping sites such as Etsy, Depop and Vinted are great for low-cost, circular fashion buys.

For home gifts try Kinn Living, which makes award-winning vegan and eco-friendly cleaning products and certified organic body care, made in the UK.

To avoid packaging altogether, consider giving gift vouchers or experiences. Global giving platform Patchwork offers ‘The Give List’, which enables children to ask for things like ‘bake a cake with Nan’, ‘swimming lessons’ or even ‘help me write and produce a play’ – as well as new and second-hand gifts too.

If you’re particularly creative, you could consider making your own gifts, such as jams and chutneys, beeswax food wraps or knitted hats.

2. Choose an eco-friendly Christmas tree

Around eight million Christmas trees are bought every December in the UK alone. More than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases are produced by rotting trees after the festive period every year. While fake trees do last for years, they take massive amounts of energy to manufacture and will all eventually end up in the rubbish dump.

According to Carbon Trust, real Christmas trees have far lower carbon footprints than artificial trees. But when buying one, check it comes with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification, as this will mean it has been sustainably sourced. If you’d like it to be organic too, check for Soil Association approval.

You can reduce your tree’s carbon footprint by buying local. And once Christmas is over, take your tree to your local recycling centre where it can be shredded into chippings for woodland areas or animal bedding.

Alternatively, you could look to rent one through sites such as Love A Christmas Tree, Rental Christmas Tree and London Christmas Tree Rental. These will deliver a tree to your door (or you can collect it) and, once Christmas is over, it goes back to the rental company who looks after it until next year. You can even choose to stick with the same Christmas tree every year.

If you would prefer an artificial tree, the Carbon Trust says you’d need to re-use if for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree. So if you buy one, make sure it’s one you’ll keep, or even better get one second-hand.

3.  Use LED Christmas lights

According to energy switching service Flipper, using incandescent light bulbs on your Christmas tree and around the home can cost up to 90 times more to power than LED bulbs as around 90 per cent of the energy they produce is wasted as heat.

So if you want a really easy and effective way to reduce your energy bills and help the environment, make sure you switch all of your lights over to LEDs in the run up to the big day.


4.  Choose eco-friendly wrapping paper

The amount of paper waste generated over the Christmas period is equivalent to between five and 12 million litres of biofuel. That’s enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times!

This year try swapping the tinsel for natural or DIY decorations. Why not recycle or make your own Christmas decorations? Pine cones, holly, mistletoe and ivy all look beautiful (and are fun to forage for with the kids), and smell very festive too.

Alternatively, use paper or fabric bags that you can use year after year.


5.  Don’t send cards

Around 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away each year in the UK alone. That’s a whole lot of waste. You could get your message across while also cutting your carbon footprint, saving trees (and money!) by sending e-cards instead.

If you would still like to send real cards to family and friends, make sure they have the FSC mark and are recyclable – that means no glitter.

You could even choose ‘plantable’ cards (try Etsy and Not on the High Street), which are embedded with seeds. The recipient can then plant the biodegradable paper in a pot of soil and the seeds will grow, while the paper will eventually decompose.

After Christmas, make sure you recycle any cards (providing they don’t have glitter on them) or cut off the front of the card and reuse it as a gift tag next year.


6. Use sustainable decorations

You may have already built up a good collection of Christmas decorations which you reuse year after year. But if you haven’t or you’re looking to extend your collection, have a look for second-hand items in charity shops or eco-friendly options such as those on sites like Protect the Planet, nkuku and Eco Branded.

Alternatively, why not have a go at making your own Christmas wreath with foliage from your garden, berries and pine cones, or paper or saltdough decorations for the tree?


7. Shop locally

One of the simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to use the shops local to you. Many smaller, independent businesses offer a range of gifts that are locally sourced, which is likely to make them more exclusive, too.


8. Cut food waste

Choose foods that are light on packaging, or buy loose items. If you do end up cooking too much, don’t bin what’s left. Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. You could challenge your family to suggest recipes with whatever you’ve got in the fridge.

If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze, or donate some to an elderly neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen. Compost any other waste.


9. Buy recyclable crackers

Crackers are often full of plastic, so look for recyclable or reuseable options, many of which are made from fabric and you can fill yourself. Again, online retailers such as Etsy and Not on the High Street offer various options.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling brave, have a go at making your own. Hobbycraft has useful tips on how to do this.

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