Christmas is a time of over-indulgence and frivolity. Being overindulgent can have serious consequences for the planet. In the UK over Christmas, 150 million cards will be posted and around 42,000 tons of aluminium foil wrap will be used. Over 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be consumed. Around 60 million Christmas presents will be unwanted.
Most of that will end up in the bin, and won’t be recycled. That’s all extra unecessary waste contributing to climate breakdown, pollution and poisioning wildlife.
But Christmas is also meant to be a time for goodwill, giving to others and an opportunity to cherish our friends and family. We can still do all that without putting so much extra pressure on our planet. Here’s a simple guide to doing just that!
Get a real Christmas tree. Despite the re-usability factor of plastic Christmas trees, generally the real thing is greener. You will also be supporting the British forestry sector, which results in more trees being planted. That can only be a good thing for the planet!
Here’s a great guide on finding an eco-friendly Christmas tree. We have a live Christmas tree in a pot that lives outside for the rest of the year. Every Christmas we bring him in and decorate him (he’s called Kristoff)!
I’m sorry, but it’s time to give up on tinsel and glitter. They are insidious micro plastics that break up and get everywhere despite our best intentions. There are now eco-glitter options so if your heart is set on some sparkle, use those instead.
Etsy and Not On The High Street are brilliant places to get unique and good quality Christmas decorations (they work as lovely gifts too!). Focus on natural wooden, ceramic or glass decorations made in the UK (or wherever you live). Aim for quality over quantity so you will have beautiful decor that will last years rather than easily broken plastic trinkets.
A super easy way to reduce your emissions at Christmas is to abandon the fairy lights. Especially the ones outside your house that you don’t even get to enjoy! Do we really need flashing lights everywhere adding to our electricity bills to celebrate Christmas?
Wrapping paper is one of the biggest environmental issues at Christmas. It’s plastic coated so it can’t be recycled resulting in a lot of waste from just one use. There are plenty of alternatives such as newspaper, reusable fabric wrapping or recycled brown paper.
Think outside the box, maybe try using scarves from a charity shop instead. These can all be reused or recycled after their first use. Also avoid using plastic sellotape. Use twine to tie up the wrap or switch to biodegradeable paper tape.
Give more meaningful, affordable and sustainable gifts this year by making them! Making something for someone, even if it’s just a scruffy card, will mean so much more than a present grabbed in a shop they probably don’t want or need. Instant win.
If this sounds daunting, check out this guide to 25 gifts that can easily be made in 15 minutes. Or look on Pinterest for unlimited inspiration. Alternatively, make Christmas food hampers as presents filled with local organic yummy goodness.
If you really can’t brave getting crafty, head to charity shops. They offer an easier, smaller selection of unique affordable stuff. Around Christmas, charity shops often put out unopened gift items that they have been hoarding the rest of the year. I’ve seen some amazing goodies around Christmas!
Charity shops are also perfect for silly or affordable Secret Santa presents. This helps prevent the inevitable waste from those unwanted work Secret Santa presents.
Another option is to get someone else to make the present for you! Head to Etsy and set the search filter on the UK (or wherever you live). Supporting small businesses is more ethical and environmentally friendly than supporting huge corporations. Many of the shops on these sites use only eco-friendly materials.
If you’re really stuck for ideas, head to Lush. It’s the ideal ethical high street store to buy special treats for loved ones. Or have a look at World of Books, it’s full of thousands of secondhand books! You’re bound to find something of interest if you have a book lover friend.
The best way to avoid unwanted presents going in the bin is to buy experiences for your friends and family. This is something my partner, Alex, and I have started doing. The best part is we both benefit from fun trips away!
There has definitely been a shift towards choosing experiences over things happening amongst millennials and maybe younger people too. Here’s a website full of experiences you could give your loved ones if you need ideas.
Another thoughtful option is to get charity gifts. Adopt an animal or donate to a cause on behalf of your friend or family member.
Something else to consider is making Christmas itself a great experience. Christmas should be about making memories with your favourite people. Instead of focusing on presents, think about how you make the most of the few days on holiday. That might be buying something for the day.
For us, Christmas is all about playing board games with our friends and family. Board games are a fairly sustainable option as they are mostly made of cardboard. And once you’ve bought them you can use them year round or at least make sure they come out every Christmas! There’s a huge board game following now so its easy to sell games if they are unwanted so they’ll never go to waste.
Here’s my suggestions of some fun family games to play at Christmas:
- Telestrations. A hilarious Chinese Whispers type drawing game.
- Codenames. A competitive game of word guessing in two teams.
- Exploding Kittens. A competitive card game where you fight to be the last one alive!
- Avalon. A co-operative mission to find the traitors in your group.
- Spyfall. A co-operative game to suss out the spy among you.
- The Chameleon. As a group work out who doesn’t know the secret word.
- Mysterium. A co-operative whodunnit with pretty pictures.
- Dobble. A quick easy matching game similar to snap, perfect for playing with kids.
The biggest way to make a difference at Christmas is giving up meat. Meat consumption is responsible for nearly 20% of greenhouse emissions that cause climate breakdown. If you can’t give up the turkey, at least consider cutting down on the meat in your Christmas dinner. Here’s a list of 43 recipes to inspire you. Or find a pub or restaurant to eat out at on the day that offers a good vegetarian option.
Eating out will also lead to less food waste. We all do it, buy and cook far more food at Christmas than we really need. It’s likely a lot of that goes to waste. Think about what food you buy this year, do you really need that much to enjoy Christmas?
An easy switch to make when it comes to being a bit greener. Crackers are known for their useless plastic trinkets that inevitably end up in the bin. Why not opt for eco-friendly and recyclable crackers with plastic-free gifts people will actually like? Here’s some lovely sets of eco Christmas crackers to choose from. Or simply give up the tradition of crackers altogether.
Do you have any other ideas to keep Christmas as eco-friendly as possible? I’d love to hear about them! Please consider sharing this blog with your friends and family to encourage them to have a greener Christmas too!
Need more ideas? Check out the Essential Guide to a Crap-free Christmas from Sustinable(ish).
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This post was updated 17.11.2019.