Have a sustainable Christmas

An image of a toy elf sitting upon gifts wrapped in recycled paper
Christmas is a joyful time for many, but there’s a lingering environmental impact that isn’t often considered. It’s estimated that we produce 30% more waste each Christmas, and our wrapping paper use alone costs the planet 50,000 trees! But, there’s loads of ways to have a greener, thriftier Christmas, keeping all the wonder, fun and traditions. Which will you try?

Reuse Reuse Reuse

Reusing your existing festive decor is both sustainable and a money saver. If you’re itching for a change, there are tons of ideas online for crafty ways of updating decorations, such as marbling baubles. 

Make it a family activity and turn your bauble refresh into a load of new memories. Sometimes, just putting favourite pieces in different spots or remixing the colours on the tree can make the old seem new.

Eyes bigger than your belly?

Research in 2021 by Schwartz showed that families spend around £146 on the big festive shop but that an eye-watering £79 worth – more than half – ends up in the bin. That’s a shocking 194,600 tonnes of Christmas food waste.

We all love a special Christmas dinner, and a few treats, but think realistically about the quantity of food you need to buy – especially fresh meat and veg. Apart from the money you’ll lose, food waste is a major contributor to climate change.

Choosing the greenest tree

If you already have an artificial Christmas tree, continuing to use it every year is the greenest choice. If you (really) need a new one, buy the best quality you can afford, and care for it so it lasts as long as possible. Going for one with recycled plastic content is a bonus.

Real, cut Christmas trees are a crop – choosing these means that growers are encouraged to plant more to ensure annual supplies, benefitting the environment. Maximise the potential of your tree by disposing of it smartly. They can be chipped as a mulch, turned into a wildlife-friendly woodpile, or collected for processing by a local charity such as the St Barnabas Hospice

The ultimate choice is a living tree, which you grow in a pot throughout the year and only bring inside at Christmas. Such trees suffer in central heating though, so best left to the last minute to be brought indoors.

Or, how about renting a tree? Spend a few minutes searching for ‘Christmas tree rental’ online; you hire a tree when needed, then have it collected and looked after for the rest of the year.

Alternative wrappings

A whopping 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used each year in the UK alone - plus the plastic film it’s wrapped in and pollution from transportation. Why not explore some alternative ideas?

  • Use up previous years’ leftovers for a jolly multicoloured pile of presents.
  • Fabric wrapping – inspired by Japanese ‘furoshiki’ – is infinitely reusable. Use recycled fabrics from old items or charity shop finds like sheets, curtains or scarves.
  • Stash gift bags, ribbons and wrappings throughout the year for reuse.
  • Squirrel away unexpected materials that can be reused – from posters and colourful newspaper or magazine pages, to cellophane from flowers.
  • Recycle last year’s cards into gift tags (especially non-recyclable ones with glitter or embellishments).

Plan to recycle

If you favour matching gift wrap, tags and ribbons each year, choose carefully. Glitter, embellishments, plastic film, or foiled designs are non-recyclable. There are lots of paper-based options available now so avoid plastic rosettes and ribbon (the kind that curls with scissors).

Remember: don’t assume that something labelled ‘recyclable’ can be put in your purple-lidded bin!

Similarly, if you decide to create your own wrappings, remember that adding paint or glue to paper will render it unrecyclable.

Second hand is fun and stylish

Pre-loved gifts and toys can be even more unique than new ones. Take a look in charity shops and see if you can find good condition items that you can gift, saving money and resources while supporting a good cause. 

Check for clothing and accessories that could also be gifted. Extra points for vintage pieces (always considered trendy).

Alternative gifts

Could you take up the challenge to make all your gifts green? Think about how durable it is, whether it can be easily recycled or is overpackaged. Was it made by an unethical company? Has it been shipped thousands of miles or was it created locally?

This is the year of the gift budget – everyone’s affected by rising prices so set a limit with family and friends on how much you’ll spend. It can be good fun trying to find quirky or surprising items to fit the budget.

We all have at least one person who is difficult to buy for, or already has everything they need or want. For these people, think about experiences that they’d enjoy, choose a charity gift in their name, or simply make a deal that you won’t buy for each other.

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