6 Ways to Make your Christmas More Sustainable

*Deep voice* It’s the most wast-e-ful time of the year!

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love Christmas and the glimmer of light it provides among the dark months. When the cold sets in and I don’t see daylight on work days, I just imagine that comfort meal with family at the end of the year and think, just a few more weeks.

On the other hand, however, I hate seeing all the greed; the adverts promoting grand feasts and supermarket shelves stacked full of tat being sold as Christmas gifts that nobody really wants. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather be gifted a full-sized bottle of Baileys over a 35cl miniature in a tacky mug with some stale marshmallows and hot chocolate powder for the same price. And all the plastic that comes with it…

But there are still ways to enjoy the Christmas season more sustainably. And, if you agree with me on the above points, the following small changes could even enhance your festive season.

During the Christmas period, between ordering too much food, spending too much on unwanted gifts, and all the wrappings in between, the UK becomes 30% more wasteful than during the rest of the year (and we’re already pretty wasteful!).

I’m a strong believer that if enough of the public change their attitudes towards something, the commercial trends will have to take note, like every company that’s released a sustainable range of products in the past few years (missing the point that all of their products should be the sustainable range..).

Anyway, the point is – enough small ripples can make big waves. So let’s dive in:

1. Sustainable Christmas tree services

Last year we bought our first real Christmas tree and we left it in the garden so it would survive longer. It was beautiful and far surpassed the sad fake trees I’ve had my whole life. And the smell! After wrapping lights around it, my gloves were scented with fresh pine. The cat loved it too.

A real Christmas tree adorned with green, blue and purple baubles and silver beads, outside in the sun.

It survived long through the winter, and it was only in the spring that it began to die. If we’d had him inside like everyone else does, he probably wouldn’t have made it past January.

As many as 8 million trees are wasted every year for our strange tradition. It’s such a waste for one month, especially when a forest-worth of them ends up in landfill. There are much more sustainable ways of getting rid of your tree.

If you have a log burner, you could keep it for fuel, or if it still has roots you can replant it in your garden, however not everyone has the space or the money for these options.

Instead, did you know you can rent your Christmas tree? This is a recent discovery for me, but I’m totally for it! And there’s no waste at the end, so you get to enjoy a beautiful, healthy tree and not feel guilty about it.

Even better is the service offered by a Nottingham-local farm that allows you to buy your Christmas tree, and then pay an optional £20 service fee for them to look after it during the rest of the year! Oak Tree Farm will replant and care for your tree ready for the next Christmas. You can name him, visit him, and greet him like an old friend. If you don’t want him back, though, you can return the tree for chipping down instead.

If you’re not keen on real Christmas trees in the house because of the needles and strong pine smell, just make sure the fake tree you buy is decent enough to keep for many, many years to come. If he starts to look threadbare, you can always buy filler branches online to cheer him up a bit. We all need sprucing up from time to time – that doesn’t mean we throw our skeletons away! Although I could use a new one…

2. Plan where you buy from

Really this is a top tip for living life in a consumerist world in general, but – shop around. Think about the people you’re buying for, what they want, which shops and sites you know that might sell it, and always keep one motto in mind:

Don’t buy from Bezos.

I have started to get into the habit of buying from Amazon only as a last resort for niche, hard-to-find-elsewhere items. Because, let’s be real, Jeffy B don’t need no more money.

Not only will this likely help local and independent retailers who actually need the custom, but it also gives me an additional level of joy knowing I made a better buying decision. Usually, gifts from independents have more thought and personalisation in them anyway (and not just the engraving kind), often for a similar or only slightly higher price.

Of course, it’s not always that easy – for specific items someone has wished for, you may need to go to a bigger retailer, but try smaller toyshops, giftshops, bookstores, and chocolatiers wherever you can. And honestly, gifts marked out for the sustainably conscious are getting better, but some just aren’t exciting to find under your tree. Nobody wants a set of coconut sponges and a bamboo toothbrush for Christmas, but you might find some eco-friendly gifts that your loved ones will actually want on my other blog post (smooth segue!).

Christmas dinner

A bowl of rather delicious looking honey-glazed parsnips, with a bowl of bacon and Brussel sprouts in the background.

Christmas is a stressful time, and the thought of not getting parsnips on your Tesco delivery is enough to rustle anyone’s sprouts, but there are other options you could try.

If you have a local butchers or greengrocers, see if they’re doing a Christmas scheme. Other services like Abel & Cole offer organic veg boxes, meaning you’ll have something of everything for the big day.

There’s even a frozen food alternative for everything you need on the Christmas dinner table to reduce those stress levels. COOK’s ready meals are hands down the best we’ve ever eaten, as their products are fresh and UK-sourced where possible from sustainability-conscious suppliers.

Shopping from some of these smaller or independent options may also reduce your plastic packaging waste – winner winner, turkey dinner!

3. Make it your own

I’ve found that the older I get, the less physical items I want. We’re in the very privileged position that if there’s something we need, we buy it. Which is why gifts made by hand mean all the more.

A bottle of Russian Standard vodka stood on a chopping board dusted with piles of ground coffee and vanilla pods.

And by the sounds of it, lots of people out there don’t want half the gifts they get. As much as £42 million worth of Christmas presents end up in landfill. I don’t understand this statistic – I feel guilty sending unwanted items to the charity shop years after being gifted them, let alone straight to the tip!

If you’re a whiz at arts and crafts, you could paint or create something, knit scarves and crochet wall hangings. If you aren’t so inclined, you could create edible presents.

This year we’re gifting our own homemade coffee and vanilla flavoured liqueurs, chilli jams and herb-infused oils. The glass containers are repurposed, and they will be simply decorated with brown card gift tags in a cardboard hamper.

There are lots of DIY Christmas ideas that stretch beyond gifting. You can make your own wreaths, get the kids to create decorations and decorate baubles you’ll keep forever.

Crackers and calendars

You can even make your own crackers if you have the time and patience. I don’t know about you, but after 26 Christmases, nothing excites me less than losing a paper hat and baby-sized nail clippers to my nan’s arm strength. You could even include funnier jokes if you make them yourself!

(Even if you don’t take it that far, you can also buy eco-friendly crackers without all the plastic!)

Similarly, why do we pay up to £10 for disappointing advent calendars full of plastic and foil? I don’t care whether I get a Santa, reindeer or snowman shape anymore. I open the door and it’s… chocolate! And usually not even good chocolate! Isn’t it better to buy a reusable one and add your own things in? This means you can change it up every year, put fun sweets and treats in your kid’s calendar, or you and your partner or friend could surprise each other with small gifts and cute notes.

Creating even just some elements of your Christmas yourself will make it all the more special, and likely save you some money too!

4. Recyclable wrapping

I’m sure we’ve all heard about this one, but just to reiterate –

foil and glitter on wrapping paper = bad.

A rectangular present wrapped in brown paper with a string bow.

If a piece of wrapping paper scrunches up in your hand and doesn’t start unfolding itself, it’s recyclable. Hooray! Now all you need to do is scrunch each roll in Clintons to find the right one for you…

Jokes aside, you can usually tell which wrapping papers are better for the environment – usually the plain brown paper, but this can look lovely when well-wrapped and decorated. In previous years, over 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used at Christmas – enough to go around the circumference of the Earth nine times. I can only imagine the small percentage of this that gets properly recycled.

However, you could use any wrapping paper and it won’t make a difference if you leave sellotape on it. This isn’t recyclable, and is hard to separate when mixed in with all the other rubbish. Paper tape is a sustainable option that means you won’t have to spend Christmas Day peeling away reams of tape, and some are even decorative too!

5. Don’t buy for the sake of it

Before you buy another decoration for the house or another set of lights, stop and think – do I actually need this? Will it get used more than once? Am I just caught up in the magic of a brightly lit shop? Set a mental alarm bell for every time you get the urge to buy something and it’ll soon become second nature.

And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… have this voice with food too. Easier said than done, right? I come from a family where mum would be preparing an entire spread of chocolates, biscuits, sweets, and every kind of alcohol you could imagine from as early as October… and that’s without considering all the fridge food!

If you absolutely can’t break your habit of overbuying at Christmas, try to at least look at the packaging and ingredients. Avoid palm oil products, aim for Fairtrade where possible, and look for the versions of products in recyclable packaging like glass, aluminium, or even nothing at all.

Wherever you choose to buy from this year, remember to also try and reduce the vast amounts of tin foil and cling film that get thrown away at this time of year. Get those Tupperware boxes and Quality Street tubs at the ready!

You can also use all those vegetable scraps to make a tasty stock, and use old bread to bring a sexy crouton texture to your stuffing. There’s lots of ways to reduce your food waste around Christmastime, and it’s important that we do.

6. Choose more eco-friendly lighting

Three eco-friendly jar candles in a box full of shredded paper, labelled, 'Christmas Eve', 'Christmas Day', and 'Boxing Day'.

Obviously you need lots of lights to make everything feel merry and bright! And luckily this tip is an easy one to manage.

LED lights are much more eco-friendly than regular bulbs – and safer too! They’re more efficient as they produce no waste heat, whereas incandescent bulbs create light through heat, wasting up to 90% of the energy used.

They’re also brighter and last a lot longer, so you’re less likely to have those annoying dead bulbs darkening your pretty tree.

There aren’t really any negatives to switching to LED! Just make sure you’re not throwing away your old set of lights just for the sake of upgrading to LED. Get as much use out of them as you can.

Another more sustainable lighting alternative are eco-friendly candles that use soy or coconut wax instead of paraffin. Not only do they smell better than normal candles in my opinion, but they’re actually better for both you and the planet.

Etsy is a great place to find eco-friendly candles, but I also pointed out some good brands of eco candles in that blog post that I’ve already mentioned enough, and the options have only expanded since.

And that’s it! If everyone followed the above steps, we’d reduce so much net waste from Christmas and all enjoy it that little bit more.

If you have any other tips for making the Christmas season more sustainable, drop them in the comments below. Otherwise, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and thanks for reading!

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