After a thoroughly unsettling 2020, many of us will be looking forward to Christmas this year, even though it’s hard to predict exactly what that will look like.
But, while Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, this doesn’t ring true when it comes to the environment.
Figures from packaging company GWP Group show that an additional 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period when compared with the rest of the year.
This amounts to in the region of three million tonnes each year and is made up of:
- 54 million platefuls of food
- 500 tonnes of Christmas lights
- 8 million Christmas trees
- 108 rolls of wrapping paper
- £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents
- 100 million black bags full of packaging from toys and gifts
It’s enough to make you feel queasy. But the good news is there are steps we can all take to help make Christmas a little kinder on the environment – and bit by bit, supermarkets and other retailers are doing their part too.
Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis have all announced their commitment to banning glitter (which can take hundreds of years to biodegrade) from their own-brand Christmas products this year. Morrisons is also removing 50 tonnes of plastic from its shelves.
But what will you do? If you’re looking for some inspiration on how to make this Christmas eco-friendly, here are 15 ways to get started:
1. Choose an eco-friendly Christmas tree
The debate about whether a real Christmas tree or a plastic one is better for the environment is long-running. But whichever option you go for, there are ways to make it ‘greener’.
According to Carbon Trust, real Christmas trees have much 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.
Try to buy local to reduce your tree’s carbon footprint, too. 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.
2. Check your Christmas lights are LEDs
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% 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.
3. Buy sustainable gifts
It can be easy to get carried away buying presents at Christmas but take the time to consider how ethical the gifts are and how long-lasting they are likely to be. There’s no point buying them if they’re likely to end up at the dump or charity shop any time soon.
Keep an eye out for suitable second-hand gifts and take a look at the eco-friendly ranges on sites such as Etsy, the Plastic Free Shop and Ethical Superstore where you’ll find everything from soaps and kitchen utensils, to bird feeders and toys.
Alternatively, if you’re particularly creative, consider making your own gifts, such as jams and chutneys, beeswax food wraps or knitted hats. Or buy gift experiences instead.
4. Choose the right wrapping paper
You don’t have to use ‘traditional’ wrapping paper to make your Christmas gifts look pretty. Instead, consider using recyclable brown paper or even newspaper and decorating it with reusable tags and twine or holly and Christmas tree sprigs.
Alternatively, use paper or fabric bags that you can use year after year.
5. Send no cards, digital cards or ethical cards
The most eco-friendly Christmas card option is to avoid sending cards altogether or to send e-cards. But if you would still like to send physical cards to family and friends, make sure the cards have the FSC mark and are recyclable – that means no glitter.
Alternatively, you could choose ‘plantable’ cards that 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. Take a look at Etsy and Not on the High Street for inspiration.
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 solid 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. Think carefully when buying food
The same applies when buying food – always try to buy from local stores and farmers’ markets if you can. Buying organic meat and vegetables can also be better for the environment as no harmful pesticides will have been used.
If you’re buying in a supermarket, try to avoid plastic packaging where possible. And, of course, don’t forget to bring your own bags.
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.
10. Drink organically
When it comes to your favourite Christmas tipple, organic alcohol is best. Not only does it lower the impact of fertilisers and pesticides on the environment, some say it also reduces hangovers. Win-win.
11. Cut back on food waste
The first step to reducing food waste is to plan in advance and only buy what you really need. If you do end up with a lot of leftovers after the big day, whatever you do, don’t throw them out. Instead, take a look at sites such as Love Food Hate Waste for recipe inspiration.
12. Avoid disposable glasses and cutlery
As yet, we don’t know whether more than six people will be permitted to gather at Christmas. But even if larger family groups are allowed to mingle, it’s unlikely to mean squeezing too many people round the dinner table – current speculation is that the very maximum could be 12.
Even so, if it turns out visitors are permitted and you’re worried you don’t have enough Champagne glasses or knives and forks, resist the temptation to buy disposable ones. Instead, ask guests if they could bring their own.
13. Get a reusable advent calendar
These days there are numerous different advent calendars to choose from – chocolate, gin, wine, Lego, Playmobile… the list goes on.
Many of them, however, contain plastic packaging. So, rather than buying a brand new one every Christmas, why not invest in a reusable wooden advent calendar which can be filled up with different treats each year?
14. Reduce your energy usage
Whether or not you have visitors over the Christmas period, try to keep your energy usage as low as possible. Turn off lights when not in use, carry out ‘tea rounds’ so that the kettle isn’t being used continuously, ensure saucepans fully cover the ring on the hob and turn off the oven a few minutes before food is finished cooking.
15. Think (and think again) before you buy
It can be difficult to resist buying something new for the festive season, but get into the habit of thinking before you buy.
Research from environmental charity Hubbub showed that, last year, Brits were set to spend £2.4 billion on new clothing for the Christmas period, with the Christmas jumper being one of the worst examples of fast fashion.
Two in five Christmas jumpers are only worn once over the festive season – yet one in three under 35s buys a new one each year. The research also revealed that 95% of Christmas jumpers and 94% of party dresses are made wholly or partly of plastic materials.
The charity recommends re-wearing, swapping with friends or buying second-hand as alternatives to buying brand new.