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Have yourself a sustainable Christmas

Sustainable Christmas
Creating a festive season that causes little or no damage to the environment

The season is upon us for mulled wine, mince pies and all things spiced. For us Christmas is all about time with friends and family, board games, gifts and a lovely filling dinner, but sadly it can be the most wasteful holiday of the year. From plastic decorations for your tree and home, food left over from the weeks’ worth shop that you somehow didn’t manage to eat in one day (who knew!?), and some of the presents given and received.

Fear not this article will help you to make more sustainable choices this Christmas to help the planet and as a result your pocket.


Presents can often be the most wasteful thing about Christmas especially if you’re sending plastic based presents or ones that are not needed/wanted. The best way to tackle waste is to avoid it in the first place so why not try secret santa with your friends and family or set a budget among you so you end up buying fewer but nicer and more thoughtful presents.

Find out what it is that your friend/family member really needs and ideally something they would be buying for themselves anyway. Perhaps you’ve tried a product that is a more sustainable eco version to what they use that you could buy them.

When buying presents try and get them in the shops at the same time rather than ordering online which results in extra carbon emissions and unnecessary plastic packaging.

An alternative idea is to buy an experience, that way you save on waste and get to spend some quality time with your loved one. Another option is to send money to charity in lieu of a Christmas card/present or adopt an animal for them, that way you and the receiver know that the money is being used for something positive.

Along with presents comes wrapping paper and gift bags. Get inventive and gift your presents using recycled gift bags, tissue paper or a scarf that they can wear or reuse. If you do need to buy wrapping paper ensure it is FSC certified so it can be recycled but make sure you remove all non-recyclable elements including sellotape, ribbons and stickers.

Sustainable Christmas presents


When you’re longingly looking at the beautifully decorated tree in Marks and Spencer on your first Christmas shopping trip just think about what you already have at home. Firstly ask yourself do you need any more decorations and is there anything wrong with the ones you have at home.

If you do need to buy new decorations if possible try and buy ones that aren’t plastic or can be recycled. Instead of throwing away your old decorations if they’re still in good condition re-home them, check if a friend or family member wants them and if not take them to your local charity shop where they will have a new life.

Now for the Christmas tree dilemma: do you buy a plastic tree that lasts for decades or a real tree that is disposed of after one use?

With an artificial tree most of the carbon footprint comes from their manufacture. The carbon emissions of a plastic tree are more than twice that of a real tree when burnt and because they are made of plastic they are hard, if not impossible, to recycle.

If a real tree is recycled, which is a service offered by many councils, and bought locally a it can be almost carbon neutral. If it ends up in landfill however it will produce methane which is 25x more detrimental to the planet than co2 so it needs to be disposed of correctly.

Some companies, in the past few years, have started providing real trees that can be used year after year all you have to do is pop them in your garden after the Christmas season is over.

So it seems the best tree you can have is the one you already own (sorry but it’s true) and when it really is time for a new one look at locally grown trees and ideally those which you can plant in the garden in you have one.

For some families Christmas crackers are a staple of their festive meal but instead of getting crackers containing plastic disposable toys opt for plastic free ones which you can buy online or try your hand at making your own. The good news is that from 2020 Waitrose and John Lewis will be producing plastic free crackers!

Sustainable Christmas trees


It’s easy to get a bit excited by all the Christmas food, I manage to do it every year and ultimately end up wasting some. Food wastage can be lessened by not overbuying and planning meals for the Christmas period ahead of time.

Where possible try to freeze any unopened food for a later date this way you only need to use it when you want to. For a Pret style lunch turn your Christmas leftovers in a sandwich and top with a drizzle of cranberry sauce.

Boxing Day is the perfect time to take stock of what you have left over so make a list and get your cookbooks out to see what you can come up with! Lots of left over veggies is the perfect recipe for a warming winter soup and requires minimal ingredients most of which you’ll already have in your cupboards.

Sustainable Christmas food

By making just a couple of these changes over the festive season you’ll be well on your way to a more sustainable Christmas!

Lauren works for a public health charity, has been vegetarian for 11 years (newly vegan this year) and volunteers for an animal charity in her spare time. Her favourite eco product is the Face Halo.

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